Surfaces and Strategies, Contextual Research - Recent Reading

The book Framing Community: Magnum Photos, 1947-Present edited by Maria Pelizzari Antonella has been an interesting read highlighting the work of a number of photographers with an emphasis on the different communities that they have documented through their work. Recently, as I have engaged more with residents in Central Oregon, it has become clear that the ties of community are extremely strong in these remote, rural towns - Having never live in such a small town myself, it has been arresting to witness the camaraderie between neighbors - particularly evident in manner in which people fought to protect each other’s land against the recent wildfires.   

Framing Community, is broken down in to the subsections - Longing for Community, Shifting Community, Contested Territories and Displaced communities - Each has content that could relate to my current project. Artists discussed include Alec Soth, Jim Goldberg, and Peter Van Agtmael - All of whom had already influenced my practice. The photographer Bieke Depoorter was new to me however, and I feel her approach to creating work - From sleeping in her subject’s homes, to having strangers share their thoughts by writing on her on her images, is highly likely to influence my methodologies moving forward. 

On a recommendation, I have also been reading Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects - an anthropological study of everyday life in America, primarily told through a series of anecdotal vignettes. This is not something I would usually read, but I have been enjoying this different approach to documenting contemporary American culture.  Many of the short poetic anecdotes resonate with me - Particularly her reference to ‘Still Lifes’  - a static, charged scene which punctuates ordinary life, as I would hope to capture a similar energy in my images. 


Surfaces and Strategies, Project Development - Dufur / Fire Damage


Last weekend I revisited the town of Dufur, which was recently affected by large scale wildfires. A local resident, Josh, took us to view some of the damage. Having grown a great affection for this area and it’s people, it was incredibly sad to see the devastation caused. Earlier this year, Josh had taken me to see Charles E. Nelson house, a well known abandoned property on the outskirts of Dufur. This month, we revisited this location, the house having been destroyed in the ‘Substation Fire’ which covered 36,000 acres of land. Placing the photos side by side is incredibly impactful, and reminds me of the importance to revisiting locations and working on this project over an extended time period.       


Surfaces and Strategies, Project Development - Shaniko

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph Shaniko, a small town with less than 30 residents in central Oregon. I had visited Shaniko on two occasions previously, and begun to make acquaintances there. Unlike many of the other locations that I have been visiting, there is a preservation society in the town who aim to share and preserve the history of the area. I made my most recent trip to Shaniko to document their yearly event ’Shaniko Days’, a festival with traditional music, food, a parade, and black powder gunfights. It was a pleasure to meet people who celebrate the culture and history of this area and to speak with people who enjoy this local tradition. Visiting special events is a effective way for me to connect with new communities, and is something that I should aim to do more over the coming warm weather months.   

I believe that these images are successful, showing a greater level of intimacy with my subjects than is evident in much of my other work. As I have done previously, I aim to print these images and return to Shaniko to share my work with those who live there. I hope to photograph this community again, greatly appreciating their welcoming nature, hospitality, and willingness to share their lives with me.  


Surfaces and Strategies, Project Development - Workshop Ideas

I have been considering hosting workshops as a method to connect with new residents in central Oregon towns, as well as involve my subjects more in my image making process. This summer I had the opportunity to trial different workshop ideas with some of my teen photography students, I wanted to see what projects were successful as stand alone activities with new students. I also wanted to see what I might be able to facilitate in any location, with equipment I could provide myself. 

I feel very fortunate to work as an art educator, and particularly enjoy teaching teenagers. As mentioned previously, I am interested to learn about the experience of living in rural towns from the perspective of young residents - reaching out to youth groups and offering to host workshops might be would be a good way for me to engage with this demographic. Many of the techniques I taught, such as multiplicity, light painting or cyanotypes are not methods that I use in my own work, but I know that they are popular with younger students and facilitating these types of activities might simply be a way to give something back to these communities and connect with new groups of people.


Surfaces and Strategies, Project Development - Exhibition

My work is currently on display as part of a group show at One River School of Art and Design in Lake Oswego. I selected six images from Witness Marks to display, mounted and framed as discussed in my previous post. I chose the hanging formation based on the space available to me, and although I would have preferred to hang the frames in a straight line, I do not think this formation detracted too much from the work itself. It has been beneficial to share my work with new audiences, particularly the students which I teach at the school. Displaying my work and receiving feedback has boosted my confidence in the project and it’s ability to appeal to a wide audience. It has also been reassuring to learn that I can print these images to a high standard. 



Surfaces and Strategies, Contextual Research - Thinking About Pages

Should you include just photographs?

As I consider possible forms that a publication of my work may take, I am excited at the prospect of combining the vast variety of materials I have been collecting within the pages of a book. Other than my own photographs, I also plan to include hand written text from my subjects,  polaroids, found family snapshots, pages from books and images of discarded objects - all collected from the rural areas that I have been documenting. In doing this, I hope to present a more multifaceted depiction of this area, whilst also sharing the experience of discovering these hidden communities with my viewers.

I have been researching artists who create publications using similar means, and learning from their approaches. Jim Goldberg, who I have referenced in previous posts, is an obvious example - his seminal work ‘Rich and Poor’ (1985) included handwritten comments from subjects and he continues to create work with similar methods today. For his recent series ‘Candy’, Goldberg photographed his birth place of New Haven, Connecticut - intertwining his documentation of current residents with his own personal memories. Goldberg notes ‘There are a mixture of styles and mediums including: photographs, collage, stills from home movies, hand-written text… My intention is get all of these different elements to work together, and make coherent an assemblage of memories.’ (Goldberg in Durant, 2015)

I am also very interested in photobooks being produced by the Reminders Photography Stronghold in Tokyo. Looking at Hiroshi Okamoto’s publications We do not need you, here./ If I could only fly and Recruit as well as Miki Hasegawa’s Internal Notebook, I am inspired to acquire the skills to bind my own book. 


Durant, M. (2015) Jim Goldberg. [Online]. [Accessed 15 July 2018]. Available From: https://saint-lucy.com/conversations/jim-goldberg/


Surfaces and Strategies, Coursework - Thinking About Spaces

For the exhibition element of this module, I will be displaying my work in a gallery space located in One River School of Art + Design in Lake Oswego, Oregon. The space is a somewhat traditional gallery, adhering to O’Doherty’s description of the ‘white cube’ - “Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial- the space is devoted to the technology of esthetics.” (O’Dohery, 1999. P.15). 

However, it does have the distinction of being part of a school building, acting not just as a gallery, but also as a waiting area for students. I am fortunate that my work will not need to fight for attention in a cluttered environment, but am aware that it may still struggle to grab the interest of those who have not entered the space solely for the purpose of viewing my work. I will also be exhibiting alongside other artists, two painters will also be showing in the space at this time. As their work is larger, I have concerns that my photographs may be overshadowed. Hopefully I will be able to discuss a floor plan with them that suits all of our needs. 

I have chosen to display my work in a conventional fashion with framed, mounted photographs. I had considered alternative methods of display, but I do not think that would suit this environment, nor the audience I am likely to receive there. In this week’s presentation, Gary noted that we do not want to alienate our audience or create a situation where a large proportion of our viewers don’t ‘get’ our message. I have decided to ‘play it safe’ with my mode of display here, in the hope that the photographs alone will be strong enough to interest viewers. However, I would like to use the publication form of this work to be more experimental, and aim to take a less conventional approach with that activity.  

I am looking forward to this exhibition opportunity, and feel that I will benefit from showing my work in an educational environment. I teach photography and art classes at this location, and therefore know that there is a open dialogue about art taking place between the faculty, students and gallery visitors. I appreciate other’s opinions of my work, and hope that showing here will lead to useful discussions about my work.  


O’Doherty, B. 1999. Inside the white cube: the ideology of the gallery space. Berkeley: University of California Press


Surfaces and Strategies, Coursework - Thinking About Spaces

Although it has been sometime since I formally exhibited my photography, whilst living in Japan I frequently hosted exhibitions of my own, and other artist’s, work. In 2004, I collaborated with photographer Atsuko Tanaka to form Parades Gallery in Matsumoto - an independent art gallery and event space. This was an incredibly rewarding experience, allowing me to show not only my own photographs, but (more frequently), to curate exhibitions of both local and international artists’ work. When opening, Parades Gallery prided itself on being ‘DIY’ and ‘Not-for-Profit’, and we strived to create an open, inviting space for local artists -something lacking from the town until that time. Whilst being a somewhat traditional ‘white cube’ space, we were often creative with the manner in which we hung our work, as well as being incredibly open to the type of work we would display. Parades Gallery continues to operate today, under the expert direction of Atsuko. My aim is to return to Matsumoto next year to exhibit my MA final major project work. Whilst I miss the creative freedom that Parades allowed me, I know that I must now use the experience I gained there to host exhibits of my work here in the US.


Surfaces and Strategies, Project Development - Sketchbook

Last week, I returned to the town of Dufur to meet with local residents and discuss my ongoing project. As planed, I brought a sketchbook of photos previously taken in the area, and asked for people to contribute to the book. Although I am unsure of how these handwritten notes will be used moving forward, this exercise instigated some interesting conversations with my subjects, and strengthened my relationships with both them, and the project itself. 


Surfaces and Strategies, Contextual Research - Recent Influences

With the announcement that we will be required to undertake a number of larger projects in the upcoming weeks - create a publication, host an exhibition, and facilitate a workshop, I wanted to share the work of practitioners that I am currently interested in, and may influence my own practice moving forward. 

For the series Trona, Tobias Zielony photographed the small, isolated town of Trona in San Bernardino County, California. Once a settlement for employees working in the chemical industry, today the area is known for it’s crystal meth labs. As with many of his other series, Zielony focuses on the youth who live in this desolate area, painting a seemingly bleak future for them and the town as a whole. Looking at this work further encourages me to engage more with young people in my areas of interest, and attempt to better understand their experience of living in isolated, rural locations.

 In the publication of the series, Trona: Armpit of America, Zielony includes text quoted in it’s entirety from a damning blog about Trona. When exhibiting the work it is also included, with pages of text pinned to the gallery wall. Presenting his work with words which are not his own could be considered a ‘hands off’ approach, like those discussed in last week’s lectures. This text could also be seen as a more authentic representation of the town, as it is not one not simply penned by the photographer. As I meet and photograph people in rural areas, I am often invited to connect with them on social media - I am interested in the manner that they represent themselves and express their opinions on these platforms, and wonder if I could, with their permission, incorporate this into my project somehow. 

In the hope that I might offer more opportunities for my subjects to contribute to the creative process, I have also been looking at the work of Jim Goldberg, in which he invites his subjects to write their thoughts over his photographs. Speaking about his early use of this approach, Goldberg notes. ‘At the time, a lot of documentary and photojournalism was from the outside looking in. And I was interested in something else – letting people describe experiences in their own words, from the inside, with pictures that sometimes supported, and sometimes perhaps undercut, what they were saying’. (Goldberg in Jones, 2016). Having concerns about myself as ‘an outsider looking in’, I am interested in experimenting with Goldberg’s approach, and will invite my subjects to add writing to their images on my next shoot. 

Goldberg’s Raised by Wolves is also providing me with ideas for the publication that I will make. Although his subject matter differs greatly from my own, I am interested in his method of compiling photographs, video stills, found documents, and handwritten texts to create a narrative and document the lives of his subjects.


Jones, S. 2016. In my own words: Jim Goldberg, photo storyteller. [Online]. [Accessed 05 July 2018].
Available From: http://www.huckmagazine.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/flipping-gaze-photos-jim-goldberg-documentary-storyteller/ 




Surfaces and Strategies, Coursework - Strategies of Freedom

This week, we were asked to reconsider our relationship to our preferred apparatus by creating five images using a method not familiar to us. When initially assigned this task, I was drawn to the the work of Doug Rickard, who use images from Google Street View, and screen grabs from Youtube videos, to create a insight into American culture. This led me to ‘virtually’ explore the locations that I have been photographing on Google Street View. I did find some quiet striking imagery though doing this - and it led me to question my own practice and it’s value. Apart from the quality of the images, some of the images taken automatically by the google street view camera are not that different from photographs that I have taken myself. This realization is further fueling my decision that I need to be approaching my practice in different ways and exploring new means of creating work. 

Not wanting to simply emulate the methods of other practitioners before me, who have sourced remarkable Google Street View imagery, I also looked to more traditional methods of image making and ‘camera less’ photography. I have been collecting discarded objects in the towns I have been visiting, and wondered if I could somehow incorporate these into this activity. I decided that I would be interesting to use these objects, in particular paper items - such as pages from found books, in a cyanotype process or by painting them with liquid light emulsion. I wondered if perhaps I could create photograms of foliage from my shooting locations, or print my own images onto them from transparencies. Unfortunately, due to the short time frame, I was not able to actualize these ideas this week, so instead I decided to work with digital means to create a similar effect. These images were all made by printing my own images on pages from found books using an inkjet printer.

The results were quite interesting and the printed pages have a tactile quality usually absent from my work created though digital means. Printing upon objects found in the towns that the images were taken in does create a physical connection between the locations, and the resulting work. I am definitely interested in experimenting with liquid light, and have ordered the necessary materials. Also, if I am able to host a workshop with communities in central Oregon, perhaps this would be an interesting activity to facilitate.



Surfaces and Strategies - Coursework, Strategies of Sharing

Recently, I have been considering ways that I could collaborate more with the communities that I am photographing, so I greatly welcomed this week’s presentations, which explored ideas relating to collaboration and participation. I understand that my practice is inherently collaborative - I rely on the participation of my subjects to create my work. However, for some time, I have felt uncomfortable attempting to represent communities which are not my own, and the lack of opportunities I provide for my subjects to contribute to the work. These thoughts have led me to contemplate ways in which I could facilitate greater participation from my subjects, and involve them more in the image making process.

With the work of Wendy Ewald in mind, I had thought of providing young residents within the towns with cameras so that they can record their own daily experiences. On this method, Ewald notes - “It came to me that the kids were taking more powerful and more intimate pictures than I could. They knew their surroundings and had uninhibited access to private family situations” (Allen, 2016). The towns that I photograph usually have aging populations, as younger generations now choose to relocate to urban areas. I believe that young people are likely to have interesting perspectives on living in these  isolated, rural areas, and I would be curious to hear their views.

I have also considered interviewing residents, and presenting this as either text, or audio, with my images. In the series King School Portrait Project, Gemma-Rose Turnbull and her collaborators combine handwritten text with images in an seemingly organic, freeform manner that appears to accurately portray the personalities and views of those depicted. I believe that the success of this project was reliant on the collaborative manner in which it was created, and If I wish to work with young people in a similar way, I too will need to allow my subjects to have creative control. Allowing others to dictate which images can or cannot be used, and how the are presented, is likely to be a challenge for me, but I understand that it would be beneficial for me to attempt a different approach to creating work.

I have also been considering the audience for my work, and believe that there are ethical implications of displaying this series in an environment that my subjects are unlikely to be patrons. Wendy Ewald’s collaborative projects often culminate with the resulting images being displayed on large banners and installed in public places. I am interested in such methods of display, which appear to be more democratic, and plan to explore the possibility of showing my work on abandoned properties in the towns that I am photographing.   

I believe that there is potential in these ideas, but now I must take practical steps to decipher weather they are feasible. As a teacher, I am comfortable working with children and teenagers, and my status as both a educator, and an MA photography student may help me to form relationships with schools or youth groups in Central Oregon. My first steps will be discussing these ideas with a faculty member, and deciding if I should take my work in this direction.


Allen, E. 2016. Wendy Ewald with Esther Allen. [Online]. [Accessed 26 April 2018]. Available From: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/wendy-ewald/


Surfaces and Stategies, Coursework - Trailer

Surfaces and Strategies Teaser Trailer for current project, Witness Marks

Password: Falmouth

Archive Video Footage, in order of appearance -

Oregon Trail II - https://archive.org/details/012177
New Oregon Trail (Castle Films) - https://archive.org/details/0902_New_Oregon_Trail_02_00_03_05
Gold Rush Daze (Merrie Melodies/Warner Brothers) -https://archive.org/details/GoldRushDaze
American Look (Perlinger Archives) - https://archive.org/details/6391_American_Look_M04199_01_15_18_17
Marlboro Commercials (Legacy Tobacco Documents Library) -https://archive.org/details/tobacco_yyp23e00

Music -

Bill Callahan - America!
Ry Cooder - Paris, Texas


Making a ‘trailer’ was an incredibly fun activity, it took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to explore an alternative form of story telling. As I am interested in combining different mediums into my current work, I enjoyed experimenting with film this week and feel encouraged to use it again. 

Inspired by the idea of the ‘remix’, I decided to use archive footage to open my trailer. I selected videos which presented a glorified view of the American West, with a voice over which described the adventure, adversity and rewards of the westward expansion. The latter half of my trailer was comprised of my own footage - shot with the aim of presenting the contrasting view of Oregon, as it is today. 

As a expatriate living in the U.S. I am interested in the representations of America which I grew up with, and the reality of ‘middle America’ today. I hope that my trailer communicated some of these ideas in a enjoyable, and somewhat humorous way. I truly enjoyed the activity and I am intrigued to receive feedback from my peers and tutors.




Surfaces and Strategies, Coursework - Introduction / Strategies of Looking

In the Surfaces and Strategies module, I plan to continue developing my current project which I have been working on over the previous two modules. Witness Marks, is an in-depth photographic exploration of rural communities in Central Oregon. The original impetus for this series was to photograph the town of Antelope, a secluded, unincorporated community located in the Oregon high desert. Today, Antelope consists of mostly derelict, uninhabitable buildings, and has a population of less than fifty, however, in the 1980’s it became the center of national attention when it was overrun with an influx of residents from a nearby cult commune. As the project has progressed, I have begun to photograph many other remote towns in this part of Oregon, each with their own unique and unusual histories to share. Whilst uncovering the past, I have become equally captivated by those who continue to reside in these areas today. With their declining populations and limited resources, I am intrigued by those who continue to live in these small, isolated towns.

The working title for this project, Witness Marks, refers to a term used in carpentry and construction. It describes a notch, groove or scratch which indicates where a fixture has previously been, leaving an indentation which can be used as a guide for future assembly. As I visit the remnants of once thriving towns, I too search for marks which remain upon the landscapes and communities to piece together stories from their past. 

As I move forward with this work, I hope to pursue avenues other than traditional documentary style imagery to investigate my areas of interest, so I was interested in this week’s focus on Rephotography, and Repeat Photography. I enjoyed seeing the multitude of approaches that artists have used to revisit the past through photography, and have been considering ways that I could integrate similar methods into my own practice. In response to this week’s activity brief, I decided to return to a site that I had previous visited and photographed. Around 4 months ago, I took photos of an abandoned property, nearby which, I later found a discarded family album (see more about this trip here). Since shooting at this location, I had wondered if the images within the album had been taken at that particular house, and if they had been, wondered if any of the rooms shown in the snapshots would be recognizable today.

Upon revisiting the house and comparing the vacated rooms with those depicted within the found album, it became clear that these photos were not actually taken there. This was disappointing, but I decided to photograph areas within and around the house that could potentially resemble scenes from the photo album. I hoped that I would still be able experiment with some of the methods we had been shown in this week’s lectures. I attempted to digitally combine some of the photographs from the found album with my own shots of the house today, but the resulting images were not successful. This is not in a style I would ever be likely to use myself, and perhaps due to the frequency of such images being created and shared, I found them to be quite cliched, the effect too heavy handed. Aligning two photos side by side was more successful, and if I were to find a location that truly depicted a property which had fallen into such a state of disrepair, I believe that this would be a preferable approach to take.




Informing Contexts, Project Development - Found Objects

I have been considering presenting photos of found objects alongside documentary style shots since I first embarked on my current project. Over time, I have been collecting items that I have found, often abandoned, others purchased at junk stores in towns that I have visited. Some of the objects appear to have sentimental value, such as the Wasco year book from 1952 or the family photo album, and I wonder how they came to be thrown away. 

The can of soup branded ’All American’ speaks to me, as it was bought but never used. Its label is now faded, its contents useless. The antlers, once belonging to a living creature have been snapped at the skull, and discarded.

Ride West Into Danger, a young fiction book, has a dedication inside, appearing to have been a prize for a 6th grade writing contest in 1953. The adventure novel tells the story of a young boy who must travel west in the early days of the western expansion, with characters making statements such as ‘Most everybody that amounts to anything is going west’. I believe that the image of the book’s cover may work well as an opening image for the series.  

I shot these objects out of context, as I had been planning, using a product lighting set up. I experimented with different colored backdrops, with varying degrees of success. I had hoped that the colored backdrops could make the images feel less sterile, be aesthetically pleasing, and also date the images somewhat. I often reference Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood, within which, different colored backdrops are used. 

I am still considering the success of these shots, and how I will integrate them into my other images. I will experiment with sequencing, aiming to present the images logically with my other photos. It would be beneficial for me to discuss the use of these images with my peers or tutors before including them with my series, so I am unsure if it would be wise to include them in the imminent submission of my work in progress portfolio.  


Informing Contexts, Project Development - Kent, Dufur, Culver, Shaniko

On my most recent shoot, I revisited towns that I had previously photographed - Dufur, Wasco and Culver. I also explored Shaniko, Moro and Kent, which I had not yet been to. On this excursion, I aimed to capture more portraits as I was unhappy with those that I had taken on my previous outing. I believe that I was more successful this time, primarily due to the fact that I growing more confident in approaching strangers and making them feel at ease as I photograph them. 

I found Kent to be a particularly interesting location. It has a population of around 60, and consists of many abandoned properties falling into disrepair. I hope to revisit it again in the near future to learn more about its history and the people who live there today. 

Reviewing my images with Jesse, he advised me to focus on creating consistency between my images. I agree that this is something that I need to work on, and should decide upon an average focal length and depth of field to use routinely.


Clayton, Dufur

Michael, Dufur

Michael, Dufur

Dufur

Wasco

Jane & Glen, Shaniko

Culver

Moro

Kent

Kent

Kent


Informing Contexts, Contextual Research - Recent Influences

In this post, I will share a selection of resources which have been informing my current practice. Firstly, the images of photographer Sage Sohier and the book Americans Seen.

‘These photographs were made between 1979-1986 when I was a young photographer living in Boston. In that pre-digital and less paranoid era, families–and especially children and teenagers–used to hang out in their neighborhoods. A kind of theater of the streets emerged from the boredom of hot summer days and it was a great time to photograph people outside.’ - (Sage Sohier)

The phrase ‘theater of the streets’ is such a wonderful description for these photographs. The subjects appear to be arranged in a staged manner, but at the same time, there is an is an energy and authenticity that comes from the fact that these people are being photographed in their everyday environments. Looking at my own work, I know that my images involving people are often not as strong as my straight landscape shots, and that I would benefit from changing my approach to taking portraits. After looking at Sohier’s images, on my next opportunity to photograph people in the communities I am visiting, I will attempt to direct my subjects more, and perhaps also try to involve more people within one scene.

Looking at these images around 30 years after they were taken, I understand that a sense of nostalgia is also adding to my enjoyment of Sage Sohier’s Americans Seen. I recognize that I enjoy visiting and photographing remote towns in central Oregon, because the architecture and way of life there can feel somewhat like traveling to a different time period.

I found my recent tutorial with Paul Clements very beneficial, and he made some welcome suggestions for artists to look at. I found the above images by Inge Morath very helpful with regards to composition. The way that she placed her subjects within the surrounding architecture is something that could work well for me. She has also used the natural lighting to great effect, something that I have been less concerned with when shooting recently. Now that I am more comfortable working in these areas, I feel that I should make an effort to shoot at certain times of day. 

I am also very interested in another of Paul’s recommendations, Susan Lipper’s series Grapevine. Learning that Lipper spent extended time in Grapevine, and was (to use her words) ‘adopted’ by the family shown in the photographs, further reinforces my belief that I need to become more involved with the communities that I am photographing. Only through doing this, can I hope to achieve the level of intimacy that Lipper does with her subjects. Again, as with Sage Sohier’s work, the photographer played a directive role in creating these images, ‘resulting in a body of work that exists both within and outside the documentary tradition’. (Lipper, S. 2016)

Other than photography, I find that literature often influences my practice, and have been enjoying reading books based in central Oregon. I recently acquired an English translation of Oregon East, Oregon West: Travels and Memoirs by Theodor Kirchhoff 1863-1872. Kirchhoff was a German writer who lived in Oregon to write about the American West for nineteenth-century german magazines. Although a little dry, it does offer an insight into Oregon in the period following the western expansion from a European’s perspective. I have also recently discovered the author Willy Vlautin, a writer and musician based in Oregon. His novel Lean On Pete was particularly evocative in it’s description of the rural areas surrounding Portland. I look forward to seeing the film adaptation from the British Director Andrew Haigh, the cinematography for which appears to highlight the natural beauty of this part of the United States. 

Bibliography 

Kirchhoff, A. 1987. Oregon East, Oregon West: Travels and Memoirs by Theodor Kirchhoff 1863-1872. Portland: The Oregon Historical Society Press.

Lipper, S. 2016. Susan Lipper Biographical Note. [Online]. [Accessed 09 April 2018]. Avaliable From: http://www.susanlipper.com/about.html

Sohier, S. 2017. Americans Seen. Paso Robles: Nazraeli Press.

Vlautin, W. 2010. Lean on Pete. New York: Harper Perennial.


Informing Contexts, Contextual Research - To Subdue the Continent: Photographs of the Developing West

If we consider the West as not only a cultural idea deriving from geography but as mythology, then the West implies freedom, individualism, heroism.  (Phillips, et al., 1996)

In 1996, The San Francisco Museum of Modern art presented the exhibition Crossing the Frontier: Photographs of the Developing West, 1849 to the Present. The catalogue made to accompany this exhibition has been an incredibly useful resource when attempting to historically contextualize my work in progress. Sandra S. Phillips’ essay To Subdue the continent: Photographs of the Developing West  describes the rapid development of the American West and the simultaneous depiction of this new land through paintings and, soon after, photography. Phillips articulates ideas surrounding the ‘mythology’ of the American West and its representation of freedom, individualism and heroism. Phillips traces these associations back to Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century belief that justified the expansion of the US throughout the continent as God given. Phillips also draws an interesting distinction between photographs which are landscapes, and those of land use. With Ansel Adams falling into the former category, and photographers such as Richard Misrach the latter. 


Informing Contexts, Project Development - Christmas Valley, Wagontire, Fort Rock

On my most recent shooting excursion, I ventured farther south than before, visiting the towns of Fort Rock, Culver and Christmas Valley. I also stoped in Wagontire and Millican, two particularly remote locations which both now consist of abandoned gas stations and little else.

The landscape in this part of Oregon is more desert like, and appeared to be even less densely populated than the areas to its north. Christmas Valley appears to have an interesting history (See Article), and is an area I would like to explore more. 


Informing Contexts, Project Development - Exhibit

Last week I had the opportunity to show my work in progress at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland. Blue Sky reserve a small corner in the gallery as an open, non juried exhibition space, and I felt that this would be the ideal circumstances to print and hang work that I had previously only viewed and distributed digitally.

As the wall space was small, I decided to print one large photograph with the rest of my images presented in a small zine. Through this process, I learnt the printing capabilities of my work. I found that this print (20x24) was not as sharp as I would have liked it, so next time I will print this image at a smaller size. Making a publication was also beneficial, as I was able to experiment with layouts and printing company options. Initially, I used Blurb to print my book, but was unhappy with the finish. Magcloud suited my needs better, providing preferable paper, and a seemingly better quality print with more accurate colors.


Informing Contexts, Coursework - Speaking Photographically

Being able to fluently discuss my practice and articulate the ideas behind my work does not come easily to me, so it has been useful to focus on it this week. One of our activities was to source an interview with a practitioner who interests us and note how they reflect upon and evaluate their work. I selected Alec Soth, as a photographer who has influenced my own work for many years, and whose method of working and subject matter are similar to my own. Rather than selecting a single interview, I read numerous conversations with Soth, and enjoyed learning more about his approach to photography.    

Across all the interviews, Alec Soth speaks of his practice in a way that is understandable and relatable for a wide variety of audiences, and I feel this mirrors the kind of work that he makes. On numerous occasions, Alec Soth uses an analogy to music to discuss the different formats that photography can be disseminated - 

‘Most photography nowadays functions like most music: free online. I’m a fan of this and have always engaged in things like blogs, Tumblr, and Instagram. But this streaming flow seems to make more physical, tactile experiences all the more important. This, I think, is part of the reason photobooks, like vinyl records, have become more popular of late. People want to touch something. But people also want an experience. This is where traditional exhibitions as well as more temporary installations and performances come into play. A traditional exhibition is like going to the symphony; a pop-up show is like going to a rave.’ (Soth in Martin, 2014)

I agree with his analogy, and it reminds us that each method of distributing photography, be it online, in print, or as an exhibition, has a unique and valid role. Soth himself is known for his photobooks, and also has his own publishing company - Little Brown Mushroom. In each of the interviews, he notes that the photobook is an important format for him - ‘I’ve never been obsessed with the single image, I’ve always been obsessed with a great book. That’s fundamentally what I want to do.’ (Soth in Noble, 2015)I can relate to this myself, and with the aim to eventually publish my current work as a book, I have begun making small zines of my work in progress.

I often consider how to achieve narrative through my work, and this is also addressed by Soth in the interviews. He mentions using supplementary material, such as text or moving image - ‘I know that inherently photography isn’t very good at narrative but I long for narrative, so I’ve been able to incorporate narrative but outside of the project a little bit. With the early projects I would do it with these footnotes, with Broken Manual there were these filmmakers following me around, with Songbook it’s the Dispatch.’ (Soth in Noble, 2015)

Across the interviews, I definitely relate to Soth when he speaks of a need to travel in order to create images. His most known series  Sleeping by the Mississippi  began after he received an artist’s grant which allowed him embark upon a three month trip to create the work. ‘The big revelation for me was that I needed to travel, I didn’t know I needed to travel, but I later learned that I thrive on that’ (Soth in Noble, 2015). For his more recent project, LBM Dispatch, A collaboration with journalist Brad Zellar, the duo posed as reporters from a fictional local newspaper. Soth notes the detailed research that they would do before venturing to their shooting destination, knowing all the while that they were ultimately likely to photograph something entirely unrelated. ‘It’s just to have a place to go. I don’t do well driving totally aimlessly. So many of the pictures just come on the way to finding something else.’  (Soth in Kelsey, 2015). This is certainly something that I try to do myself when traveling to new locations. Lately, I have also begun to look for special events in the areas that I am photographing, in the hope that I will have more opportunities to meet interesting people to photograph. 

Lastly, a quote that particularly resonated with me on the subject of photographing people. In an interview with Aperture on the reissue of Sleeping By the Mississippi, Soth notes ‘I’ve always been a big defender of Middle America, saying that it’s far more interesting and complicated than people give it credit for.’ (Soth in Schuman, 2017). I agree with this sentiment, and feel Soth’s work is successful in presenting a multifaceted, humanistic view of Middle America - Something I aspire to do similarly in my own work. 


Bibliography

Kelsey, C. 2015. The Songs of Alec Soth. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Avaliable From: https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/alec-soth-songbook-sean-kelly

Martin, L. 2014. When to Hold ’Em and When to Fold ’Em. A Conversation with Alec Soth.  [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From: https://aperture.org/blog/hold-em-fold-em-conversation-alec-soth/

Nobel, L. 2015. Interview 028 Alec Soth. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From: http://thephotographicjournal.com/interviews/alec-soth/

Schuman, A. 2017. Alec Soth Revisits His Legendary First Book. [Online]. [Accessed 25 March 2018]. Available From: https://aperture.org/blog/revisiting-alec-soths-masterwork/


Informing Context, Contextual Research - America in Pictures: The Story of Life Magazine

Following on from my research into National Geographic’s representation of America, I was interested to watch a BBC documentary about another iconic American publication - Life Magazine. Although I was familiar with Life, I did not know how influential it had been - the documentary states that at times, it was read by over half of the country’s population. I also didn’t realize that in delivering stories primarily visually through photo essays, it had been the first magazine of its kind. 

 I found an interview with with Life photographer Burk Uzzle to resonate with me. He had some interesting views on living in, and photographing, small town America.

‘The Ideology of the magazine was to go for that superb moment, the exalted moment. […] So, why would I live in a small town? In a way, its more intense here than it ever was in New York.. All the years that I lived in New York. Because, I get to know the people more deeply. I’m more involved. So there is an intensity of involvement possible within all the aspects of America in this little town of Wilson, more than I ever had in New York.’ (Uzzle, 2011)


On The Road. 2015. America in Pictures: The Story of LIFE Magazine. [Online]. [Accessed 21 March 2018]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRm-uIscwdY&t=1528s  


Informing Contexts, Coursework - Responses & Responsibilities / David Campany, Safety in Numbness

This week, we looked at practitioners who aim to evoke political, social or environmental change though their imagery. At this time, I am not aiming for my work to be an agent for change, so I am not particularly concerned with these ideas in relation to my own practice. However, David Company’s essay Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’was referenced in this week’s lectures, (having been previously mentioned in the Positions and Practice unit) which has made an impact on my work in progress. 

In his essay, Campany discusses photographers who chose to capture the ‘traces of an event’.  He refers to this kind of imagery as ‘aftermath’ photography, a term which i believe could be applied to many of the images have recently made.

Antelope Cafe. Antelope, OR

Stevenson, WA

Wasco, OR

Antelope School. Antelope, OR

‘Lamplighter’. Antelope, OR


‘What are we to make of the highly visible turn toward photographing the aftermath of events – traces, fragments, empty buildings, empty streets, damage to the body and damage to the world?’ (Campany, D. 2003).

Campany’s essay notes just how common it is to see this ‘late photography’. There is a definite trend for this imagery in contemporary photography, and although he lists practitioners whose work he considers ‘interesting’, such as Richard Misrach, he also states ‘as I write it is hard to avoid the cheaper moodiness of images of derelict buildings and urban wastelands on display in galleries across Europe and North America’.  (Campany, D. 2003). I am familiar with the latter, and I must be conscious that my photographs do not fall into this category. Although I know that these ‘aftermath’ images are impactful, I too have seen them many times before. Moving forward, I will continue to shoot this subject matter, as they are common features in the locations I am documenting, but I have decided to focus on them far less.


Informing Contexts, Coursework - A Sea of Images

In this week’s presentation, National Geographic: Representing, Re-Presenting, Reproducing, we were invited to analyze the imagery of National Geographic and consider the ways in which the magazine has reproduced or recycled myths and stereotypes about non-western cultures. National Geographic has been widely criticized for this, and coincidentally, this point has recently been addressed by the magazine’s editor Susan Goldberg. In a special issue of the magazine released this month, (The Race Issue) Goldman states ‘For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It’. 

The focus of both the lecture, and Goldman’s article, was National Geographic’s representation of non-western countries, so I was interested to see how the U.S. had been portrayed by the magazine over the years. Had America also been subject to bias representation? I suspected that America would be portrayed in an exceptionally positive light, particularly in the early years of the publication. Looking at Taschen’s book, The United States of America with National Geographic, my initial assumptions seem to be correct. Even the way that the book is advertised seems overly patriotic - A glossy image of a fruit stand abundant with peaches, another of girls in cotton dresses climbing a white picket fence, are displayed proudly upon the star spangled banner. 

However, this positive patriotism seems to have waned over the years. According to a BBC Culture review of the book -

‘By the end of the 1960s, the magazine’s unabashedly positive approach was beginning to show cracks. “By the early 1970s, American culture had shifted under the influence of nearly three decades of postwar economic prosperity, the rise of mass media, social unrest surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the rise of counter-culture,” writes Walker in the new book’s essay. “Domestic travel was less of a novelty, and Americans were better informed than they had once been.’  (Macdonald, 2016)

Looking at National Geographic today, It seems that they are making a conscious effort to provide a broader, more authentic image of America. The release of The Race Issue is perhaps a response to the pressure that has been placed upon the publication to more accurately portray the diversity of the country. 

I was interested to see the work of photographer Peter van Agtmael showcased on The National Geographic website, as his work is quite unlike the imagery I associate with the magazine. I find Agtmael’s series Buzzing at the Sill to be incredibly impactful in it’s raw, complex representation of America. The project is incredibly diverse in its subject matter, and therefore does not seem to make generalizations about any one group of people. 

The images themselves are also quite ambiguous, which disallows us from making hard and fast judgements - All very unlike the National Geographic images of the past. Applying these ideas to my own practice, I think I would benefit from diversifying my subject matter, and attempting to paint a fuller picture about the communities that I am documenting. In doing this, perhaps I can avoid making generalizations about Americans living in rural areas, and perpetuating the stereotypes that people have regarding them. 


Bibliography

Goldberg, S. 2018. National Geographic: For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from: 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism-history

Keefe, A. 2017. The Fractured States of America. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/04/peter-van-agtmael-america/

Macdonald, F. 2016. The Images that helped define America [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20161107-the-images-that-helped-define-america

Van Agtmael, P. 2017. Buzzing at the Sill. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from: http://www.petervanagtmael.net/buzzing-at-the-sill/BATS_001/



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