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.
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.
Jane & Glen, Shaniko
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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/
A preview of images from my recent shoots in Cascade Locks, Dufur and Friend.
I feel that the image from Cascade Locks is particularly interesting. I was intrigued to find this edenic, utopian vision of the west, as it was portrayed in the period following the western expansion, in this faded mural. The image of the tattered flag is also strong, and could be a good opening image, setting the scene for this series.
This week we have been discussing voyeurism in photography and I have grown an interest in the use of this term when considering images which are not of a sexual nature. In Train Your Gaze, Roswell Angier posits that voyeurism is not necessarily about sex, but is about the a separation between the seer and seen.
The basic condition of the voyeuristic scenario is distance, an essential separation between seer and seen. Despite this distance, which by definition is unbridgeable, despite the un-requite-able nature of the desire that drives it, the voyeur’s gaze is a privileged one. (Angier, 2007, p.61)
Currently, I am creating work in communities which are not my own, and I gain pleasure from viewing the lives of others, which are so different from mine. I would consider this to be voyeuristic in nature. In the past, I have made work as an outsider, looking in, and have attempted to convey this ‘otherness’ in my images. For example, in my series Distance, I intentionally aimed to illustrate the emotional and physical separation I felt from my surroundings when living in Japan. With my current work however, I am aiming to bridge the gaps between myself and my subjects, building relationships with those I am photographing and a deeper familiarity with the landscape. In doing this, I believe that it makes my practice less voyeuristic, but I also understand that the relationship between the viewer of my photographs, and the subjects they depict, will not change. The viewer will remain as a voyeur.
As I create windows into communities of which I am not a native member, I feel a responsibility to represent them as fairly and accurately as I am able. There are many photographers who I look to as models for this. When photographer Stephan Vanfleteren spoke of the Belgian city of Charleroi, the subject of his series of the same name, he described it as “Love at First Sight” (Vanfleteren, 2015). His images are compassionate, and represent Charleroi, and it’s residents, with warmth and respect.
Photographer Lucas Foglia is another practitioner who has created in-depth series about marginalized communities. I look to him as an example of an artist who works seemingly harmoniously with a community which is not his own, gaining the trust of its residents and representing them in a positive light.
Whilst I cannot completely remove the element of voyeurism in my practice, or in the gaze of those who view my images, by approaching my work with an admiration for both the landscape and people I am photographing, I hope to create work which represents this region in a manner that both I, and my subjects, feel comfortable with.
Angier, R. 2009. Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. [Kindle e-book]. New York: Fairchild Books.
Foglia, L. 2017. Photographer Lucas Foglia’s Website. [Online]. [Accessed 22 March 2018]. Available from: http://lucasfoglia.com/.
Panos Pictures. 2015. Stephan Vanfleteren: Charleroi. [Online]. [Accessed 22 March 2018]. Available from: https://www.panos.co.uk/stories/1-5-1104-1573-SVF/Stephan-Vanfleteren/#.
Last week I took a trip to Stevenson in Washington to view a potential shooting location for my project. Although my series focuses on Oregon, Stevenson is on the edge of the neighboring state, just minutes from the Oregon border. I was made aware of this location by a local film maker who is shooting here, and I was interested in photographing two abandoned properties that lay on the outskirts of the small town.
I do not have plans to return to this location, but I gained some interesting images on this trip. As we explored one of the buildings, I also discovered a family album. As I intend to integrate found objects such as vernacular photos into my project, I am interested in photographing this and presenting it alongside images of my images of the abandoned house. Of course, I can’t be sure that those pictured in this album once lived here, but it is extremely tempting to believe so. I cannot help but begin to form a narrative about the family pictured living within this house, and wonder how it could have come to be the way that it is now. By presenting the photos of the house alongside this album, I invite my viewer to contemplate the same idea.
Family Album Found at Abandoned House, Stevenson WA
The most significant indexical power of the photograph may consequently not lie in the relation between the photograph and it’s subject but in the relation between the photograph and its beholder (p69. Olin, 2012)
In this statement, Margret Olin notes that the relationship between a photograph and it’s viewer may be more significant than the relationship between a photograph and the subject it depicts. All images are made up of signs, which the viewer decodes to create meaning. Therefore, every image has the potential to be read in numerous ways depending upon the individual viewer, or ‘decoder’. This is important for photographers to be conscious of, as the intended meaning of one’s work could be easily misconstrued.
Advertising images are loaded with ‘signs’ which are designed to trigger a desired reading from a target viewer or potential customer. As I am currently creating work in rural communities in America, I have become interested in the way that the American West is portrayed in popular culture. Looking at advertising campaigns which present this part of the U.S. may help me to strengthen the intended reading of my own photographs. The Marlboro Man was a hugely successful advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes, which ran in the United States for over fifty years. A brief semiotic analysis of this advertisement allows us to identify a few of the key ‘signifiers’ and what may be ’signified’ by them.
Signifies - American, America, Outside, The West, Masculinity, Mysterious, Independence
Signifies - Recklessness, Rebelion, Addiction,
Signifies - Anger, Passion, Boldness, Heat
Signifies - Freedom, Relaxation, Time, Enjoyment
Signifies - Familiarity, Classic
Signifies - Manual Work, Ruggedness, Equestrian, Outside, Nature, Masculinity, Strength, Farming, Rodeo
Although I know that this imagery is constructed, and is an unrealistic portrayal of Marlboro’s consumers, the advertisement is still successful as I assume that my reading of the image aligns with Marlboro’s intended meaning. I am also aware that this advertisement is targeted towards male consumers, but yet the meaning remains more or less the same for me. This is considered the ‘dominant’ reading. As there is the potential for multiple readings of any imagery, a different viewer may instead have an ‘oppositional’ or ‘negotiated’ reading of the same advertisement. For example, in some cultures, the cowboy character might not be seen as a hero, or as a representation of freedom, and the resulting reading would be very different.
When looking at Marlboro advertisements, I thought of Richard Prince’s ‘rephotography’ of imagery from the same series of print advertisements. Looking at Princes Untitled (Cowboy), I find that I read Prince’s photograph in a very similar way to the advertisement above. I decode this image as - America, The West, Freedom, Masculinity, Nature etc. However, I also note an additional meaning - Marlboro. I have also shown this image to other people who are unaware of Prince’s work, who have the same response. This shows how impactful the original advertising campaign was, as divorced of any accompanying text, it still brings to mind the cigarette brand.
Olin, M. 2012. Touching Photographs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Time Magazine. 100 Photos, Richard Prince Untitled (Cowboy) [Online]. [Accessed 20 February 2018] Available From: http://100photos.time.com/photos/richard-prince-cowboy
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.
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
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.
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
Positions and Practice PHO701, 17/18 Part-Time Study Block S1, Oral Presentation
For full screen viewing, please watch on Vimeo
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.
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 Infra, The 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.
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
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.