Informing Contexts, Coursework - Constructed Realities

Although we have already discussed how all photographs are constructions to some extent, this week, we have been analyzing images that are purposely fabricated or staged to a more extreme extent, and that intentionally challenge the viewer’s assumed authenticity of photography as a medium. These kinds of photographs create a push and pull effect for the viewer, as they sway between an understanding that all photographs have an indexical relationship with the real, but also the knowledge that this image has been drastically manipulated or constructed. 

At first glance, it is easy to mistake the images from Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Diorama series for wildlife photography, shot in an array of exotic locations. However, just as the name of the series suggests, these images all depict dioramas located in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. What is interesting about this work, is how the photographs make the dioramas come to life. When viewed at the museum, the stuffed, motionless animals placed in front of a painted backdrop, appear entirely fake. However, when reduced to a flat, still image, they become easily mistakable for the real thing. On this Sugimoto notes ‘However fake the subject, once photographed, it’s as good as real.’ (Sugimoto in Coppelman, 2015)

Philip Lorca diCorcia also blurs the lines between reality and fiction in his series Hustlers, which depicts male prostitutes in L.A. in early 1990’s. To create this series, diCoria scouted locations, set up elaborate lighting, and meticulously planned out his images, before approaching male prostitutes to ask them to model for him. Each resulting image is titled with the man’s name, age, place of birth and the fee that diCorica paid him to pose for him, this cost being the same as their customary price for a sexual act. There is a definite filmic quality to these images - The scenes are illuminated like movie sets, and the poses and locations invite us to create a narrative surrounding these isolated moments. Whilst so much of these images is entirely fabricated by diCorica, we are simultaneously aware that the subjects themselves are real. The glamour and falseness of the Hollywood style production is juxtaposed with the gritty authenticity of the protagonist in each image.   

At no point do Sugimoto or diCorcia attempt to conceal the methods they used to construct the images above. In the creation of fine art photography, purposeful manipulation is often expected, and excepted. However, the following image, by photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin came under fire when it was initially published, as such fabrications are not permitted in the world of photojournalism. 

This image is included in Paolo Pellegrin’s The Cresent, a series documenting poverty, crime and violence in the Cresent neighborhood of Rochester, NY. The image was initially captioned ‘A former US Marine corp sniper with his weapon. Rochester, NY. USA 2012’, however, the subject in the image, Shane Keller, soon disputed this description, claiming that he is not a former US Marines sniper, nor was the image taken in the Cresent neighborhood, and goes on to explain how the shot was constructed by the photographer. (Read in full here). At this time Shane Keller was actually a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, which was working in collaboration with Magnum to create this series. He was asked by Pellegrin to pose with his firearms in the garage of his apartment building. This intentional misrepresentation is considered unethical and unacceptable in the world of photojournalism. Although Pellegrin has since defended the accusations, and the caption has been changed, this case illustrates the importance that context plays in the viewers allowance of a photographer to construct images. 


Bibliography

Bicker, P. 2013. Trade: Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Hollywood Hustlers [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: http://time.com/3803327/trade-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hollywood-hustlers-drug-addicts-and-drifters/

Coppelman, A. 2015. Eerie yet gorgeous scenes make taxidermy spring to life [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: https://www.wired.com/2015/01/hiroshi-sugimoto-dioramas/

Shaw, M. 2013. When Reality Isn’t Dramatic Enough: Misrepresentation in a World Press and Picture of the Year Winning Photo.  [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: https://www.readingthepictures.org/2013/02/when-reality-isnt-dramatic-enough-misrepresention-in-a-world-press-and-picture-of-the-year-winning-photo/

Sugimoto, H. 2017. Diorama. [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-54

Winslow, D. 2013. Paolo Pellegrin Responds To Claim Of Misrepresented Winning World Press, POYi Photos [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: https://nppa.org/node/36604

World Press Photo. 2012. Paolo Pellegrin ‘The Cresent’ [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from: https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2013/general-news/paolo-pellegrin/06



Informing Contexts, Coursework - The Index and The Icon

Photography is fundamentally different from other art forms with regards to its relationship to representation and truth. Although a viewer is no longer likely to view Elsie Wright’s famous Cottingley Fairies, as genuine today, purely because it was presented to them in the form of a photograph, it is still commonplace to believe that a photography is tied to reality much more closely than other art forms, or to look through a photograph to the subject it depicts. There is a causal, indexical relationship between the subject in the photograph and the subject in real life. As Sontag writes, ‘A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened’ (Sontag, 1977, P.5) and ‘A photograph is not only an image, it is a trace, something directly stenciled off the real’ (Sontag, 1977, P.154)

Morgon Ashcom plays with this ‘expected’ authenticity in his series What the Living Carry (2017), an early inspiration for my current project. In Ashcom’s work, we are presented with what appear to be fine art documentary photographs of a rural, American town. Alongside theses images are letters addressed to Ashcom, a hand drawn map, and objects photographed out of context. The viewer is invited to imagine the significance of these artifacts, and one begins to draw connections between the different elements - putting names to the people and places depicted in the photographs, and creating their own narratives. In reality however, this small town is a completely fictional. No such place exists, and the letters and map are all of Ashcom’s own creation.

I am particularly interested in Ashcom’s use of what appear to be readymades, formal appearing documents and maps, as well as objects shot out of context. This kind of image is accepted as a reproduction of reality to an even greater extent than other forms of photography. It’s apparent lack of artistic flair suggesting that it is objective and unmanipulated. However, as Ashcom’s work shows, this form of image is no more bound to truthful representation than other forms of photography.

I plan to use similar means to build on the the narrative in my series Witness Marks. I have considered transcribing first hand narratives from my subjects, or photographing significant objects out of context, to be presented alongside my images as ‘evidence’. With the aim of uncovering the stories and histories behind the places I am photographing, I believe that this would add interest and intrigue this work, along with an element of veracity.  

Last week I considered the different contexts in which my work could be consumed, and I proposed that my work could be seen in the realm of art, but also hoped that it may be also be viewed as documentary photography. If presented as art, any subjectivity or manipulation on my part would be accepted and understood. However if I wish for this series to be consumed as documentary photography or photojournalism, then a level of objectivity and ‘accurate’ representations would be demanded by my viewer. I must keep this in mind as the project progresses to guide my approach from now on.   


Informing Contexts, Coursework - Photography, The Shape Shifter

Where are you now?

My current work is an in-depth photographic exploration of rural communities in Central and Eastern Oregon. The main focus of this project was initially the remote town of Antelope, a tiny community of less than 50 residents. Despite it’s ‘living ghost town’ status today, Antelope became the center of national attention in the 1980’s, as it was overrun with a huge influx of members from a local cult commune. As this project has progressed, I have also begun investigating other communities in this part of Oregon. My aim is to retrace and retell the history and stories behind these places, but also to learn more about the lives of those who currently reside there. With the vast majority of Americans now living in urban areas, I aim to discover what motivates people to stay in these rural, secluded towns.

 A selection of my work to date on this project, can be seen here.

In which contexts could your work be consumed?

I am interested in the area that fine art photography and documentary photography overlap, and I aim for my work to sit in this realm. I currently see the ‘point of reception’ for this work as the traditional locations of display for art photography, such as a gallery space, or in art publications (online or print). However, I also wish for this work to have the potential to be viewed as documentary photography. For my work to be seen in both contexts, I believe that I need to obtain much more information about my subject matter and present it with my images. One way I aim to do this, is though recording personal narratives from residents in my areas of interest, and presenting this alongside the photographs.  

Stephen Shore - ‘The Frame’ & ‘The Mental Level’

As a photographer, I have always found the idea of ‘the frame’ to be a stimulating concept, with the analogy of a photograph as ‘quoting out of context’ resounding with my own practice. With my work, I enjoy having the ability to pick and choose fragments from reality, reorder and edit them, and present them as a constructed story of my own design.

Shore’s concept of the ‘the mental level’ is now also at the forefront of my mind, as I move forward with my project. Whilst wanting to present more information with my images, perhaps with written text, I still want to retain an air of mystery and intrigue. Shore describes the way in which we read a photograph as akin to a feedback loop - ‘A complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination and intention’ (Shore 1998, p.76). I aim for my work to operate on this mental level, inspiring curiosity and leaving the viewer with as many questions as answers. I look to the work of practitioners such as Christian Patterson and Alec Soth as models for this type of work. 

Image: Christian Patterson Redheaded Peckerwood 2011

http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/15-Redheaded-Peckerwood.html



Positions and Practice Collaborative Project - ‘Double Game’

 A collaborative project with Lasma Poisa, Double Game is a ‘visual conversation’ that was recorded over five consecutive days. Each day, an image would be sent from one participant to the other, requiring a response in the form of a associated photograph. By creating corresponding images that included the same themes, characters and icons, a story with no predetermined narrative was formed over the duration of the collaboration.


Positions and Practice - ‘Photography and the Art of Science’

How has the relationship between photography, science and technology affected how we attribute ideas around knowledge and truth to the photographic image? 

Although art and science often seem in contrast to one another, as noted in the presentation Photography and The Art of Science, photography has always had a closer relationship with science than other art forms. From it’s birth, photography was an act of science, and it has been used since it’s creation to document and observe for scientific purposes. The camera allows us to see things that would not normally be visible with the human eye, allowing us to observe with greater intensity and gain new knowledge about a subject. We have therefore attached the idea of truth and objective representation the photographic image. However, as discussed in relation to last week’s topic, the camera is not autonomous, it has always been a reflection of the photographer’s vision. Further more, the photograph has always been susceptible to manipulation, rendering it as unobjective or unreliable as any other visual art form. When considering the relationship between photography and science, I was reminded of a series I had created some years ago, initially inspired by the dubious art of spirit and aura photography.  

Breath #17, From the Series Breath (2013)

I had discovered, that by breathing on the lens of the camera, and using a specific arrangement of lighting, I was able to render an illumination in my images, a glow that appeared to emanate from my subjects. This series, entitled Breath, aimed to depict the breath of each individual, as I requested that they breath on the lens of the camera to create a filter of condensation, unique to them, before I took their photo. In my images I tried to emulate the style of spirit and aura photography. Unlike these forms of imagery however, I did not manipulate the images in anyway.

As the breath is something that is usually unseen, I was interested in the way that this could be captured by the camera lens. In Richard Morse’s series InfraThe Enclave and Heat Maps, he uses infrared film and thermographic cameras, to depict scenes not visible with the human eye. Both the infrared and thermographic technology Mosse uses were developed by the military to discover camouflaged installations hidden in the landscape. He uses these methods in his photographs to ‘make visible’, or draw attention to, humanitarian disasters that are usually overlooked by the media.

Richard Mosse, Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo (2012)

“Mosse employed this film to document an ongoing conflict situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This humanitarian disaster—in which 5.4 million people have died since 1998—is largely overlooked by the mass media. Frequent massacres, human rights violations, and widespread sexual violence remain unaccounted for. In a kind of advocacy of seeing, The Enclave attempts to cast this forgotten tragedy in a new spectrum of light, to make this forgotten humanitarian disaster visible.” Mosse, R. 2017 The Enclave [Online]. [Accessed 3 October 2017]. Available from: http://www.richardmosse.com/projects/the-enclave

I find Mosse’s work particularly compelling, in the way that it challenges the accepted norms of documentary or war photography. As I aim to move my own practice into a more documentary or photojournalistic realm, it is interesting to see work which challenges the known conventions of the genre, and how powerful the affects can be.


Positions and Practice, Contextual Research – ‘Mirrors / Windows’

What do you make of the mirror and window analogy?
As a practitioner do you identify more closely with one or the other? 

 The concept that photography can perform as a window or a mirror has led to me reanalyze my photographic practice. The vast majority of the work that I have created in recent years has been documentary in style, bordering on the genre of travel photography. I had seen this work as performing as a window rather than a mirror, in that I depicted Japan (the country in which I was living) as it was, without altering the subjects of my photos before shooting. It is true however, the the photographer always crops a larger whole, and that through choosing what to direct my camera towards, and through editing my images, I presented a very specific view of Japan. This I disseminated to viewers living elsewhere. When reevaluating my images of Japan, I thought of the work of Sam Pritchard, a photographer with whom I had collaborated with in 2015 when curating a show of his work. Also from the U.K., Prichard’s work too focuses on Japan, but with an almost contradictory approach to my own. 

 

Sam Prichard, Scramble Crossing – Shibuya – Tokyo (2014) https://goo.gl/6yPo11 


Sam Prichard. Installation view PHOKUS | Future world Photography, Parades Gallery, 2015. https://goo.gl/1WAivL

Prichard had a fascination with Japanese cityscapes from a young age, and through his work it is clear to see how his photos mirror his own preconceived idea of Japan, as futuristic and technologically advanced.

 “In my photography, I try to create the illusion that it is some kind of digital future world that lives up to my childhood expectation of the place.” (Prichard, S.)  https://goo.gl/2uGmz5

My own work, in stark contrast, depicts Japan as deeply steeped in tradition. Even down to my use of black and white film, it perpetuates the idea that Japan is far from modern or futuristic.


In the lecture Week 1 Presentation 2: Windows On The World, the presenter discusses the photographs of John Thompson, a Scottish photographer whose work documented the people and landscapes of foreign countries. The presenter attributes the popularity of his work to ‘the appetite that existed for information about distant places that viewers were unlikely to ever see for themselves’. I believe that this desire for imagery from distant places so different from ones own is still apparent today. As a photographer, much of my motivation to shoot is driven by an eagerness to fulfill this need for images of elsewhere. In bringing the idea of the photograph as a mirror to the forefront, I feel that I will be more conscious of my own bias when creating imagery of countries or cultures that are not my own. Whilst my work provides windows into the worlds of others, it is clear that my images are also a reflection of my own interests and beliefs. As is highlighted by Sontag in On Photography, “Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience.”(Sontag, 2005 p.4) Sontag, S. 2005. 

On Photography. [Online]. New York. RosettaBooks LLC. Available from: http://www.lab404.com/375/readings/sontag.pdf  


Introduction

Introduction After graduating with a BA Hons in Photography from the University of Arts London, I worked as a photography assistant before moving overseas in 2013. I have worked as an educator for the past 4 years, teaching English, art and photography to youth in both Japan and the United States. I spent the last year in Chicago, where instructed photography for GTA Photography Classes and elementary art for the British International School of Chicago. My photographic practice is predominantly documentary in style and I favor working with film and analogue processes. As a photography and art instructor, I am also interested in the nature of arts education. Through obtaining my masters I hope to progress my practice to a professional level, and have the ability to teach photography at post secondary and college level institutions.


Using Format