Part 1: The Constructed Image

Project 4 : Photomontage in the age of the internet

 Thoughts on Stephen Gill

 I was very attracted by Gill’s work in Hackney Flowers  and so disappointed about the high cost of the book. In this series he used fragments of organic material with his photographs to create a layered look at life in the Hackney Marshes and I followed this idea by montaging real flowers on prints for Assignment 1.

He creates his own book, selling them through his own Bookshop Nobody’s Bookshop . I enjoy his work, his curiosity, zest for life and eclectic approach to photography. All his work seems so different. He put found objects actually inside his camera made images of street scenes then concentrated a magnifying glass onto some of the negatives to create markings in Outside.  A back injury and the suggestion of using a shopping trolley to carry his equipment led him to explore the use of shopping trolleys (mostly by women) and produce a series of portraits . For several years he had wandered around taking pictures of things we don’t normally pay attention to, like people asking for directions to places, or 24 hours in the life of a seaside bench. Some were collected together in his book Field Studies . There’s an article here about this but I was unable to find the series on his website

In Buried  he took photos in Hackney Wick and buried them there, varying the amount of time he left them according to rainfall as he liked the feeling of chance. It reminded me of the print I left in the nearby Copse   last year before I even knew about Gill’s work. I haven’t looked for the print since before last November so made sure to check on it the other day.  It’s still there, rolled up underneath its large, fallen branch but there’s so much undergrowth around it now that I couldn’t reach it even with a long stick.

In the YouTube video below Gill is talking  about the Best Before End Exhibition in Foam, Amsterdam in 2013.

I was struck by his idea of collaboration with a place, how he steps backwards whilst the subject forwards, and if he feels strongly about something then this is an immediate catalyst towards allowing the subject to carry him. In an earlier YouTube video of him talking to Martin Parr here about an Exhibition in Brighton, and work he produced in Brighton for this, Gill talks about the need to ‘shake off what you think you know” and extract what a place feels like – how he scooped up articles, and pressed and dried sea life – like a hoover.

I’ve been thinking about his personal voice. To begin with, reading about him and watching the video reminded me of my youngest grandson who is intensely curious about life, and used to have his pockets bulging with ‘treasures’ found on the common. Then I thought more on Stephen Gill and how he is exploring the nature of objects and of photographs, creating tactile photography and noticing the smaller things in life. he concentrates more deeply on this whilst I tend to be more like a butterfly, trying an idea out then moving on. I can learn a lot from him.

 

References

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/10/03/stephen-gills-trolley-portraits/
http://www.nobodybooks.com
http://www.stephengill.co.uk/portfolio/portfolio#num=content-941&id=album-36
http://www.stephengill.co.uk/portfolio/portfolio#num=content-225&id=album-9
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/may/15/photography

 

 

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Project 3 and Exercise 1.3

Project 3 : The Found image in photomontage

I did most of the reading for Project 3 some time ago but have only just attempted the exercise. This was for two main reasons, both of which, put together, created quite a strong force-field to hold me back.  Instead, I concentrated on completing the first assignment, getting out into the open air and away from the computer. The two reasons:-

  • whilst I can envisage a project and the kind of photographs I might want to create I couldn’t imagine myself holding a concept in my mind whilst being able to select a variety of already created images from newspapers or magazines.
  • I have felt exhausted; anxious and angry about the current political situation; the behaviour of some politicians and some of the vitriol unleashed on social networks and in the media. Having done so much talking and thinking about it, I didn’t feel as if I had sufficient energy left to start experimenting with something I didn’t think I’d have much ability to do anyway.

Eventually, being me and not wanting to think I hadn’t even tried, I decided to make the effort. I have extensive notes in my paper log so here I will just note aspects that particularly caught my attention. In retrospect I realised I needed to do the exercise to get a beginning understanding of the motivations and use of photomontage. In fact, experiencing my own reactions to what’s going on in the UK at present did give me an insight into the anger and frustration that can lie behind the cutting art of photomontage – what Kennard and Phillipps term “the visual arm of protest”.

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The Dada Movement

Mary Warner Marien(2002) notes that photomontage/collage began with the cut and paste work of album makers and combination printing of photographers such as Oscar Reijlander but, “the anti-establishment photographic experiments that originated in Soviet and German experimental photography had different social roots and dissimilar social aims from these Victorian forbears (2002: 246). The Dada Movement, initiated by artists who took refuge in Switzerland during WWI, spread to Berlin and then to Moscow. The group objected to the War and to the bankrupt materialism of the age and they envisioned a new art that would express their despair and also sweep away tiresome conventions and intellectual barriers. The Dada Manifesto  was written in 1918 by Romanian-born artist Tristan Tzara. The origins of the name Dada “seem to owe to a moment when two enthusiasts thrust a paper knife into a French-German dictionary and it pointed to the word “dada” or hobby-horse” (Marien, M.W. 2002: 242).  When another group of Dadaists met in Berlin, as Germany was disintegrating, they adopted photomontage as a key medium, accentuating the disruptiveness of chance collisions of images and sounds. . They were more political than the group in Zurich wanting to make social statements and it seems that Hannah Höch and Ralph Haussman were two of the earliest Dadaists to create photomontages.  Their work appeared at the first International Dada Fair in Berlin  (1920) . Höch’s collage Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1920)  was a cacophony of cut and pasted images and with the word “Dada” scattered throughout.

Hannah Höch (1889-1978)

There is a good selection of images on the Scaruffi website  and, apart from reading a Guardian review of the Exhibition at the Whitechapel in 2014 ,  I found some interesting analyses of Höch’s work online in a Feminist Art Archive here  .

Apparently she was bisexual, had a long affair with a (female) Dutch poet and a short marriage to a (male) German pianist and words and music often appear as a kind of backdrop in her work, ‘the landscape to her scissored figures’. Although she was accepted into the Berlin Dadaist group (and characterised as the It girl of that group for most of her life), Höch was not accepted as an equal.  She commented, “Most of our male colleagues continued for a long time to look upon us as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us implicitly any real professional service” and also wrote a story The Painter  about an artist filled with resentment at having to wash the dishes ‘at least four times in four years’, who is dismayed that women can be so little and still not be moulded or shaped. That thought really appeals to me. There is another quote from a note of hers regarding Ralph Hausmann in a Telegraph article here  “If I hadn’t devoted so much of my time looking after him I might have achieved more myself” and so I wonder if her story was about him – and whether he knew that.  I realise that I might be focussing too much here on her domestic life but it does appear that it was a constant battle to become recognised by the men in her circle.

Her work was anti-art ‘but quite energetically anarchic, tough and punchy yet always delicate. Höchs explored gender and sexuality, with montages making men into women and vice versa – often forming women in her pieces from dolls, mannequins,or children which were often thought of as unimportant in her society. In her 1930s series From An Ethnographic Museum she savagely ridiculed Nazi ideals of racial purity using pictures of objects in ethnographic collections with symbols of Modernism and fusing black/white, blue-eyed boys and dark-skinned girls. Kreibel (2009: 62) refer to a remark by Maud Levin on the effects of Hoch’s photomontages and “how they make evident that human hands have constructed the image, insisting on the artifice of assemblage and the infiltration of the symbolic order, denying the photographic rhetoric of unmediated access to the material world”.

John Heartfield (1891-1968

I found a useful website about his work here  in addition to the recommended essay by Sabine Kreibel. Heartfield  was baptised Helmut Herzfelt and legend is it that he anglicized his German name in the midst of WWI “to signal a brazen refusal – a cheeky rejection of the “spontaneous and irrational anglophobia that took hold of Germany shortly after the English entered the war on the 4th August 1914 (S. Kreibel, 2009: 59).  Kreibel comments on the violence inherent in Heartfield’s work “…. The semantics of rips, fissures, gaps, hastily cut-and-pasted passages convey a rhetoric of savagery, issuing a disturbing psychic charge” (ibid p. 61). Photography and scissors were his weapons and he used the slogan Use Photography as a weapon twice both above and below a self-portrait that appeared in 1929 in AIZ a mass-circulation magazine that was communist in orientation. The self-portrait shows him apparently cutting off the head of Berlin police chief Karl Zorgiebel with long-handled shears following Zorgiebel’s prohibition of outdoor meetings and demonstrations after violent street clashes between and among communists, socialists, and National Socialists. This prohibition had then been extended to the May Day Marches, an annual working-class tradition. Kreibel points to the difference between the AIZ reproduction and the mock-up of the montage . In the mock-up   you can see that the head is separate from the neck . Five months after the publication of this image, Heartfield used  a different form of montage that relied on psychological discomfort. Whoever Reads Bourgeois Papers Becomes Blind and Deaf! (1930)  portrays a realistic version of a man with his head smothered with newspapers. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a prose poem that contains the words “I am a Cabbagehead, do you know my leaves”.  In German the word “Blatter” means both newspapers and (cabbage) leaves, so acting as a visual pun and transforming a nationalist Prussian song “Ich bin eine Preusse, kennt ihr meine Farben?” (“I am Prussian do you know my colors?”), into an indictment of the socialist picture press (Kreibel, 2009: 64) as, Kreibel also informs, through the uniform worn by the man in the image, Cabbagehead is coded as a socialist, “the community adversary”.

This visual evocation of the power of a newspaper also put me in mind of my thoughts recently on how, on the whole, people might only read a newspaper that affirms their own political point of view.  This was reinforced when I read a recent article in the online website of The New York Times  regarding social networking site Facebook’s continuing attempts to rebut accusations of political bias in its news content. The article refers to a recent document that details how its editors and computer algorithms “play roles in the process of picking what should appear in the “Trending topics” section of users’ Facebook pages”. I’ve also noticed articles appearing more often recently on post-truth politics – the notion that there might be facts but politicians create their own truths’ around them and dismiss alternative explanations as ‘opinion’ or biased. The recent Referundum events being an example of this.

As this post is getting to be quite length (and without any images for visual variety) I will move on to Exercise 1.3

Exercise 1:3

Peter Kennard (1949-)

I remember seeing Peter Kennard’s work Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1981) at a V&A Exhibition on Postmodern photography a few years ago.  Cruise missiles inserted into a beautiful pastoral scene and looking almost as if they belonged there.

Kennard began using photomontage as political protest at the time of the Vietnam War and he and Cat Picton-Phillips have been working together since 2002, initially to make art in response to the invasion of Iraq. In this interview  they are talking about Photo-Op – the montage of Tony Blair taking a selfie against the backdrop of a volcanic eruption at a time when the decision to go to war in Iraq was made in the face of widespread public protest (I remember participating in a silent vigil in Woking town centre the night before). They felt the need to create something that reflected and validated this opposition and sentiments they felt weren’t reflected in the mainstream media at the time. They run photomontage workshops and their website offers free downloads to use personally or publically in visual protests (with a voluntary contribution to the International Solidarity Movement.

Their work continues but, so far, I haven’t been able to find much reference to other artists who currently  use photomontage for political dissent.

 

Use readily available images to make a short narrative series of four to six collages based on a recent or contemporary news event

I began this post by describing my reluctance to complete this exercise. I had started to collect newspapers over several weeks though and a few days ago I sat down early evening  and cut-out various pictures and captions that I thought might be useful. They still didn’t seem to form any patterns for me and, at one point, I even thought of throwing them up in the air and seeing how they landed. However, I had another look the next morning and put together three montages using newspaper cuttings, a banana skin anad some images downloaded from free-use sites. This was the most I did because I have an eye sight problem at the moment (a cataract in my left eye) so my eyes soon get tired. In fact I just about went cross-eyed at the cutting-out involved.

 

Two different versions – the one with banana skin being more of an upright mini-installation. I laid them flat for the second one. Post-truth politics was in my mind together with a short article I read A Woman Steps Out onto the Glass Cliff: Theresa May to Lead the UK referring to research that has found a tendency for women to be promoted in times of crisis and this ‘glass cliff’ harms the woman’s likelihood of success.

 

How a badly thought-out decision led to the unleashing of unexpected events, revealing what lies beneath an apparently democratic society.  The first one was taken with my iPhone and I think it has more ‘action’ about it. The smoother look of the scanned montage doesn’t seem to have the same effect.

I have to say that, although I found this exercise difficult and it challenged my boundaries, I did gain reasonable understanding of how these montages can be effective when used appropriately.  It also gave me some ideas as to how I can use them in the future that were reinforced when I went on to look at Stephen Gill’s work for Project 4 which looks at found images scanned and/or manipulated on-screen.

 

References

 

http://collagemuseum.com/heartfield001.htm
http://courses.washington.edu/femart/final_project/wordpress/test-taylor-k/
https://theartstack.com/artist/john-heartfield/self-portrait-with-police-president-zorgiebel-mock-up
http://www.391.org/manifestos/1918-dada-manifesto-tristan-tzara.html#.V4ezdFc8TFw
http://www.johnheartfield.com/John-Heartfield-Exhibition/john-heartfield-art/heartfield-dada-political-art-theatre
http://www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/contemporary-art-and-war
http://www.kennardphillipps.com/
http://www.kennardphillipps.com/photo-op/
http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/DadaSurrealism/DadaSurrReadings/HochPntr.pdf
http://www.moma.org/collection/works/37360
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/technology/facebook-guidelines-trending-topics.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10545071/Hannah-Hoch-The-woman-that-art-history-forgot.html
https://www.artsy.net/artwork/hannah-hoch-cut-with-the-dada-kitchen-knife-through-the-last-weimar-beer-belly-cultural-epoch-in-germany#!
http://www.scaruffi.com/museums/hoch/index.html
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kennard-haywain-with-cruise-missiles-t12484
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jan/13/hannah-hoch-whitechapel-review

Kreibel, S (2009) Manufacturing discontent: John Heartfield’s mass medium, New German Critique 107, 36(2), pp.53-88.
Marien, M.W. (2002) Photography: A cultural history. London: Laurence King Publishing.

 

Exercise 1.2 Part Two

David Hockney

Whilst I was researching Yorkshire artists painting during the 1940s I came across Harry Epworth Allen (1894-1958) see here who was born in Sheffield and lived there all his life apart from War service.  He was recognised as one of the Yorkshire Artists group and his style is often regarded as surreal. When I looked further at some of his paintings  they reminded me of David Hockney’s paintings – not in terms of colour but the use of curves and perspectives.

David Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937. He studied at Bradford School of Art from 1953-57, followed by National Service (as a hospital orderly due to being a conscientious objector) and then study at the Royal College of Art in 1959. A chronology of his biography and works begins here and he has had a rich and varied artistic career, embracing new forms of artistic technology with an enthusiasm and energy that provides a model for someone like me who is beginning to feel ‘elderly’ at times.

Hockney has often used the medium of photography. In the late 1960s he realised that polaroid shots of a living room, glued together, created a narrative. He began to work more with photography and stopped painting for a time but returned to it when he became frustrated with what he terms the limitations of photography and its “one-eyed” approach. In the early 1980s he produced photo collages, calling them ‘joiners’ . He arranged a patchwork to make a composite image, firstly using polaroid prints and then 35mm processed colour prints. Since 2009 he has painted many portraits, still lifes and landscapes using firstly an iPhone app and, since 2010, the iPad and he now carries his iPad around with him like a sketchbook.

I referred earlier to his comment on the “one-eyed” approach of photography and such comments are not new.  On drawing grasses “…I started seeing them. Whereas if you’d just photographed them, you wouldn’t be looking as intently as you do when you are drawing, so it wouldn’t affect you that much” ( M. Gayford 2011: 32.) On ways of depicting that world that escape the ‘trap’ of naturalism. “Most people feel that the world looks like the photograph. I’ve always assumed that the photograph is nearly right, but that little bit by which it misses makes it miss by a mile. This is what I grope at” (ibid 2011:47)

David Hockney Photograph Photography is Dead. Long Live Painting

In 1995 Hockney painted Sunflowers for Jonathan  as a get-well painting for his friend and patron Jonathan Silver who had been diagnosed with cancer and just had an operation. This then became a photograph that appeared in an Exhibition of post-modern Photography I saw at the V&A in 2011, with the title Photography is Dead. Long Live Painting  . This is a photograph of a ‘real’ vase of sunflowers, probably referencing Van Gogh, seated next to a painted version which is positioned to appear in correct perspective for the camera. It is an inkjet print from a colour transparency, printed on watercolour paper. The title is ironic as it seems to decry photography but relies on the camera for its execution.

When I saw the photograph I thought it was delightful.  It made me smile and I thought what a wonderful get-well card it made – playful, yet clever and making a visual comment about photography.  I decided to create something in response for the exercise which then developed into my Assignment 1.

 

References

Gayford, M, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
http://www.artinconnu.com/2009/04/derbyshire-of-harry-epworth-allen-1894.html
http://artuk.org/discover/artists/allen-harry-epworth-18941958#/1http://www.artnet.com/artists/david-hockney/sunflowers-for-jonathan-a-CHALYLyBdxCabnZ58lyMDg2
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O131404/photography-is-dead-long-live-photograph-hockney-david/
http://hockneypictures.com/illust_chronology/illust_chrono_01.php

Project 2 : Exercise 1.2

Exercise 1.2

  • Discuss a photograph that takes an existing work of art as its starting point. Write a 500 word reflection
  • Re-make an existing work of art using photography.

I developed this exercise by a rather circuitious route.

I have a very interesting book Snapshot : Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard (W.E.Easton (ed) 2011) that looks at early photography and how this was used by many Post-Impressionist artists. These artists made many personal and informal snapshots, some of which were used as an aide towards their painting, printmaking and drawings, similar to the way in which the camera obscura was used by artists in previous centuries. What I noticed in looking through the book again was how the style of some of the photographs – use of light, composition etc were mirrored in their Art, and vice versa. I mused upon what kind of artist I might be if I could paint, having made several attempts to learn over the years, and decided I might probably be an Impressionist. Having written that, though, I do have to acknowledge that I often look for clarity in photographs – not sharpness necessarily but clear distinctions. Maybe that’s two sides of the same coin though.

In June we were due to spend a few days in Honfleur, Normany – a town whose environs (including its port) was very popular with Impressionist painters due to its wonderful light (see here ).

 

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Indeed the painters Gustave Courbet, Eugéne Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind formed the école de Honfleur.  and I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the Eugene Boudin Museum, and be inspired by paintings there and what I saw in Honfleur to re-make one of their works.  Boudin’s works  are famous in Honfleur and one of his views of Honfleur can be seen here  on a website dedicated to him. Unfortunately, I arrived there to find that the Museum was closed for ‘works’ until August.

However, I did manage to find a gallery of prints of Eugene Boudin’s work running alongside the walkway to one of the lighthouses in nearby Trouville.

So, I returned home having re-made some existing works of art by photographing photographic prints of oil paintings, in-situ in an outdoor exhibition. Being dissatisfied with that experience I thought some more . As I’ve written previously I have in mind to use my own archive for some of the work during this Module, particularly photographs and letters from the mid to late 1940s and so I decided I would do some internet searches for Yorkshire artists from that period.  Some of the work of these painters then reminded me of David Hockney’s work in Yorkshire. This work is later, but, of course, he’s Yorkshire born and bred, as am I, so I decided to re-make one of his works using photography. This led me on to poppies in fields and Assignment 1.

 

References

Easton, E.W. (2011) Snapshot: Painters and photography, Bonnard to Vuillard (Phillips collection). United States: Yale University Press.
http://www.eugeneboudin.org/biography.html
http://www.eugeneboudin.org/The-Entrance-to-the-Port-of-Honfleur.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/8889228/Honfleur-France-a-cultural-guide.html

 

Project 2: Through a Digital Lens

Jeff Wall

I previously wrote about Jeff Wall’s work here  and have now taken a closer look at his re-staging of of Hokusai’s colour wood block print Ejiri in the Suruga province which is no 18 of his Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji . There is an excellent online site here but I enjoyed looking at Katsushika Hokusai’s work so much that I obtained a book of his views of Mount Fuji . In A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993 Wall transported the scene to the landscape around Vancouver.

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I don’t think Wall is  appropriating the print as an object and so questioning authorship but using it as an inspiration and transferring it to another time and landscape. I actually prefer the original because it has much more sense of movement to me even though a print from wood-block. What also came out for me was that reminder of how nature can take us by surprise with similar events occurring  despite distance of time and continent.

Wall’s carefully composed and intricately image was shown in a lightbox in Exhibition and Laura Mulvaney wrote an article about it in the Oxford Art Journal (Extract here ) In the original article Mulvaney writes, 

I was fascinated and bewildered by the seemingly incompatible temporalities it depicted –100 separate photographs fused together into a seamless tableau. In the tradition of the ‘instant’ but, at the same time, the perfection and simultaneity of nature and gesture was more reminiscent of the carefully composed effects of a Hollywood studio. I was disorientated and unsure of what I was actually seeing. (Mulvaney, J 2007)

Mulvaney wrote further – once she had discovered how the photograph was created – that she felt that she had experienced a ‘technological uncanny’  that she thought was interesting for three reasons – the actual sensation, the evocation of C19th experiences of new and multiple forms of technological uncanny, then followed by a new interest in Wilhelm Jentsch’s 1960 essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny later dismissed by Freud in his later essay on the same topic. I wrote about the ‘uncanny’ previously here  and I keep asking myself why it is that the woodblock print with its stylized figures seems more realistic to me and with more sense of life than the digital montage created by Wall that incorporates actual people.

Wendy McMurdo

Wendy McMurdo’s experiments began at an early stage in the introduction of digital photography. Double images of children were used to both explore issues of identity and to represent the first generation of ‘digital natives’ .  In writing of the dematerialisation of photography occasioned by the transition from analogue to digital, Daniel Rubenstein (2009) refers to McMurdo’s work. In his view this work

….problematises the notion of the dematerialised digital image, suggesting that it is not defined by the absence of materiality, but on the contrary, by the presence of the observer who evaluates the differences and the similarities between the original and the digital double (2009: 6)

Going back to my responses to Jeff Wall’s work, maybe this is a part of it. Obviously I compare the photograph with the print but, I know that the figures in the print are representations of people. What I look for in the photograph is a sense of life – a living breathing person and yet I am stopped because I cannot tell if the montages are actually of the same person or different people. Wall could have used several people but, then, why fuse 100 photographs together.

I have written before about my own experiments with digital montage in relation to self-portraits and how, when presented with another version of myself, I didn’t know what kind of conversation I would be having – there was no purpose to the montage other than to see if I could create one.    Seeing dual images together ‘stopped’ me. I might have found it easier to use the chair techniques in Gestalt psychotherapy – a physical movement between two chairs where I would feel myself as a real person in each chair yet with conflicting feelings/thoughts.

I have recently created a digital montage of four photographs of my husband in our garden. He rarely stands still long enough for me to take a photograph, in fact we have very few photographs of him compared with the hundreds he must have taken of me. I both enjoyed creating the montage and also the feeling of ‘capturing’ him.

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I also spent some time creating a landscape digital montage.  Our local Church now has a labyrinth in its grounds.

What if there was a labyrinth in the woods.

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 Think of where it might lead as you venture around its paths.

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Labyrinths fascinate me, founded as they are in myth and tales of heroes and heroines. I could build a story around this.

 

 

References

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai): from After to Before the Photograph Oxford Art J (2007) 30 (1): 27-37
http://oaj.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/1/27.extract
http://www.hokusaionline.co.uk/code/36_views_mount_fuji.html
Hokusai, K. (2013) Views of Mt. Fuji. United States: Dover Publication
Rubinstein, Daniel (2009) Digitally Yours; The Body in Contemporary Photography. The Issues in Contemporary Culture and Aesthetics, 2&3. pp. 181-195. ISSN 0955003725

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project 1: The Origins of Photomontage

Readings

(i)Geoffrey Batchen

Batchen queries whether the social and cultural conditions making photography conceivable were also the same as those from which emerged computing as there was a network of people interested in both in the mid 1800s.  The fear also that art would be taken over by photography due to its immediacy and representation (Batchen 2002:2).

From the beginning there was a link with photography being associated with death – there was certainly a fashion for some time in those early days for photographing the dead, particularly children. There was also an anxiety regarding the death of painting and with the growth in technology and digital manipulation there became the fear of the death of photographs as being faithful to objective reality, due to the recognition that fakes could be passed off as real. To me this seems unrealistic given how much we know of the ways in which even the early photographs altered photographs in the darkroom. Considering the death of art, Batchen reminds us that digital images are and their manipulation by the human hand “ …are actually closer in spirit to the creative processes of art than they are to the truth values of photography” (2002: 18)

Due to the constraints of early photography the subject had to remain very still for long periods which made them look as if dead , “….photography insisted that, if one wanted to appear lifelike in a photograph, one first had to act as if dead.” (Batchen 1999: 11) and I do think that this continues with portraits where the subject is expected not to smile. Photography fixed a moment in time and, in a linear sequence, could show the passing of time – the changing of light and shadow so “Whatever its nominal subject, photography was a visual Inscription of the passing of time and therefore also an intimation of every viewer’s own inevitable passing” an aspect that Roland Barthes wrote about in Camera Lucida ( Batchen 199:13). Barthes view was that at least we would know that the person was once there in front of the camera.  I thought about that, given the exercises in layering to come, but decided this still held true if an actual photograph is used – however, what about computer visualizations such as in electronic games, mock-ups of housing estates etc. Batchen refers to these digital images as ‘signs of signs’, ‘representations of what is already perceived to be a series of representations:” (2002: 19). Turning to what it is to be natural/human, Batchen further reminds us that most of us are no longer ‘natural’ human beings – given that we eat genetically enhanced food and experience various forms of medical intervention.

(ii)Joan Fontcuberta

In his chapter I Knew The Spice Girls” (2014) Fontcuberta uses a manipulated photograph to write about truth and reality. A photograph from a magical street booth in London, Spring, 1997 where you can select an individual or group to join, ‘I still have the graphic proof to back up my boast’ (2014: 57) (and he also cleverly uses a specific date and place to add to his fiction and give the appearance of verisimilitude). Now I did have a written debate with fellow student Stephanie regarding whether this couldn’t be true anyway because such photo booths couldn’t have been invented in 1997 anyway. I think she proved me wrong with some internet links!.

Now Fontcuberta turns to the alleged death of photography – another move in the cycle from art to photography to …electronic photography and his question:

If photography is to be  understood not as a certain technique of representation but as a particular culture that sustained certain values, then we must establish whether digital photography will continue to sustain that set of values or replace it with others. (2014: 59)

According to Fontcuberta the photochemical process of photography, known long before, only came to fruition in the early C19th because ‘…. The tehnico-scientific culture of positivism required a process that could certify the empirical observation of nature’. Back we go to the indexical nature and ‘truth’ of photography now threatened by the digital where fictions can be constructed, like the Spice Girls photography, but be viewed as authentic.  I find this particularly interesting because there is now much written regarding Photoshopping techniques to make me slimmer and more beautiful, but not much comment regarding these images that keep appearing on home pages of sites such as Yahoo purporting to show hybrid animals and strange creatures probably from other worlds. Magical thinking continues into adulthood quite often – including to me because when I saw Fontcuberta’s Exhibition  at the V&A  I really wanted to believe such creatures could exist even though I knew they were his creation. Fontcuberta talks to the difference today in that although manipulation has always been present in photography, ‘….the difference now is our degree of familiarity with them and ease of use. Demystification and defeteishism. A new critical awareness’ (2014: 62).

He then moves on to think of the shift in our reception of images – the photograph as information and visual data (as in archives) and the photograph as object (as in museums) so that ‘ …. digital technology has dematerialized photography, which has now become pure visual data, content without physical matter, an image without a body.’ (ibid). Going back to the photo booth,  the old style looks to objectivity and registers human typologies (I hadn’t thought of that), whereas the digital ‘implants the notion of image as construct and discreetly nudges us towards photomontage and manipulation’ expanding our options.

The layered image : Exercise 1:1

The exercise ask us to do some further reading and then, using the list of artists as inspiration, create a series of six to eight images using layering techniques. To accompany these also produce a 500 word blog post on the work of one contemporary artist-photographer who uses layering techniques.

I found the photographers mentioned all very interesting in their different ways. I also paid attention to the ideas they were aiming to convey through the use of layering.  As I went through the exercise I quickly became aware of when I was ‘practising a technique’ to achieve something interesting to look at and then moved on to thinking how I would use the layering.  I was particularly interested in Helen Sear and Esther Teichmann and I can see their influence in the images I chose and how I used layering as I began to understand more of their intentions. In referring to a series the exercise could be suggesting I use similar examples of layering but I took the opportunity to experiment.

First attempts

_MG_3213 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging from the landscape – merging two images together

_MG_6321 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View obscured – making the layering obvious. A flower mask; a pretty external appearance; the language of flowers.

CB web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My younger self but ageing has affected my eyesight so that I nowI need to have a cataract removed from my left eye. My view of the world has become fragmented and I might return to this in a later exercise on photomontage.

Figures in a landscape

Beginning to think about objectification and woman as object.

The statues themselves are in the gardens of York House, Twickenham and they are quite unusual. I photographed them in 2012  in normal colour and also infra-red. Now I merged two with landscape images at around 50% opacity.

_MG_6490 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I merged them at full opacity

Having looked at Esther Teichmann’s work and bought one of her books I was fascinated by the way in which she used photography as a portal to another world. Her installations layer portraits with larger backdrops of environments and again this is something I want to return to.

tr_MG_0692 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first layering used an infra-red image  (before processing) against the ‘backdrop’ of the cascade in Virginia Water. I could see the placement of the layer and different tones didn’t really work but thought there were possibilities.

_MG_3722 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think they translate more effectively into a muted pastoral view of an escape into landscape, but then I had an idea as to how I could utilise this for a return to the topic of objectification and the photograph.

_MG_0140 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

My final image (see below) is influenced by the work of Helen Sear

Helen Sear

Helen Sear  studied Fine Art and to me this is very evident in her work where she utilises both painting and photography. She is based in Wales and her work is very connected with exploration of the landscape and her immediate environment both there and in France.  Sear also re-presents the nature of experience and does this in a variety of ways.  This is what appeals to me because I was beginning to get fixed on the idea that ‘personal voice’ meant that I would always have to work in a particular way. Sear’s series Sightlines uses pottery/porcelain birds to obscure the faces of the female subjects so it is the eye of the bird that draws attention – in fact the eye is a recurring motif in her her work (as in her series Spot” where the eyes of birds are masked by dots). Is she connecting them with ‘bird’ as another noun for a young woman; flying away from home; building a nest; seeing young women as decorative objects; flighty? A review of her work on another website informs me that the background has been rendered  ‘with light brush strokes of gesso creating a dynamic between the digital and hand rendered. I have been intending to try painting on a photograph and this reminds me again that I still haven’t turned intention into action.

The book Inside the View (Chandler & Morris 2012) looks at key bodies of her work created over the previous 25 years. The first series, Inside The View, has what I would call a woman’s view of landscape, and a painterly one at that.

Reminiscent of the loss of self in the sublime, yet, there is nothing triumphal of abysmal in Sear’s self of hesitancy and vulnerability, decentered from a singular viewpoint that seeks to control the world (2012: 12)

This is not ‘the sublime’ but something more – a merging of woman and landscape. The women have their backs to us , obscuring their point of view.  The work of Susan Trangmer and Elina Brotherus come into mind but with Sear’s work there is more a sense of merging with the landscape whilst retaining the boundary of self. Photographs from different times and locations are combined, questioning the notion of the photograph as document and ‘truth’. Through use of an electronic tablet , Sear has drawn a series of lines through which the landscape emerges. In David Campany’s view  the line is the image and it ‘makes a virtue’ of an early photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot of a piece of lace included in his treatise The Pencil of Nature  Sear has achieved an image containing layers and textures that is created by a combination of computer and digital drawing.

In a later series Beyond the View the colours are stronger, more vivid. The layers appear more separate as if looking through at the woman and the overlaying landscape is more definite, creating more distance between the woman and the viewer.

My final image from the exercise

Whilst influenced by Helen Sear’s work I decided to approach my image in a slightly different way – to attempt to evoke that sense of being temporarily absorbed in looking at something I have created whilst being surrounded by my outdoors environment. The viewer is looking at me whilst also being able to see what I can see if I look up.

_MG_7934 web

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, as ever, I found the whole process of working on layers quite absorbing and an almost meditative experience, entering into the images and seeing something different emerge. My further steps will be to experiment using an electronic tablet whilst keeping in mind that the layering needs to fit the concept.

 

References

Batchen, G (1999) : Ectoplasm: Photography in the Digital Age from Squires, C (Ed) 1999. P9-23)
Batchen, G (2002) Each Wild Idea, Cambridge, MA:MIT Press
Fontcuberta, J (2014) Pandora’s Camera, UK, Mack
Chandler, D. and Morris, S. (2012) Inside the view: Helen Sear. United Kingdom: Ffotogallery.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/reviews/helen-sear-lure
http://davidcampany.com/helen-sear-inside-the-view/
http://www.helensear.com/about/
http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/Feb2007.html.