Rest of the World Google Hangout – 28 July, 2019

Mark, Alan and I had a lively meeting. Mark and Alan each discussed their tutor feedback for C&N Assignment 1. Alan then went on to give us some feedback on his recent trip to London and shared some thoughts about the Cindy Sherman exhibition (which will be coming to Vancouver later in the year — happy to have a well know photographer exhibiting in my “neck of the woods”), the exhibits at the V&A and the TPG’s History of Latin American photographers. I found this quite interesting in light of the recent research I had done on Salgado and the comparison of his work against his contemporary Mexican counterparts.

I had presented the same colour/B&W diptychs for feedback that I presented to the Documentary hangout a week earlier for Assignment 2. Some of the interesting comments were “the rubbish blends into the background – becomes part of the environment”, “the foreign bodies = colour”, “nature is taking back”.

Alan shared a term that Mark and I were not familiar with regards to my work: “pathetic fallacy” – which is used in theatre and literature where  inanimate objects of nature are given human emotions. I think he was applying this to my deforestation images. I’ll have to have a think about where this can take me.

Alan and Mark then shared their possible ideas for C&N Assignment 2.

We then discussed Alan’s upcoming exhibition at his local pub/bistro and he mentioned the company that he was buying his frames from – a Canadian company which produced excellent quality – http://www.deserres.ca.

We will resume our hangouts in September as I have family visiting from South Africa for the month of August – next one to be 15 September.

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B&W portraits as a documentary strategy

While Daniel Meadows documented  ‘the “English people”, especially those whose quality of life he believed to be under threat’ (Lane, 2011: 157), Zed Nelson documented a dying way of life. Occupations and leisure pursuits that are fast disappearing such as miners, fishermen, boxer, war veterans and shipbuilders have been captured by Nelson. Nelson created studios in situ at the various locales and photographed his subjects in a controlled environment: the miners as they emerged from the mine shaft after working long shifts, looking tired; the fishermen as they came off their boats after a catch.

The photographs, apart from being an historical record of bygone industries and leisure pursuits, are imbued with nostalgia. The photographs have an old quality about them and one can easily mistake them for having been made in the early 1900s instead of around 1990. The political overtones lie heavy on these images. Modernisation is doing away with certain ways of life. New generations will have to look elsewhere for jobs and not follow in the footsteps of their ancestors.

And then we have the war veterans. Sadly for many of them, Nelson’s photograph may very well be the last ever taken of them in their uniforms/medals. Do we have enough photographs of the brave men and women who fought in WWI and WWII for us to remember them? Probably not.

In a similar manner, Irving Penn has created portraits of tradesmen and women that we hardly ever see these days: the charwoman, road sweeper, the milkman. Taken in 1950 in studio, Penn has photographed all his subjects with dignity. The photos are all full frontal and the subjects look directly at the photographer/viewer. Again Penn’s photographs serve as a record of those particular trades in that epoch.

Bibliography

Getty Center Exhibitions (2009) Irving Penn: Small Trades. At: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/penn/ (Accessed on 30 July 2019)

Lane, G. (2011) ‘“The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England’ In: Photographies 4 (2) pp.157–173.

Morrison, B. (2011) ‘Goodbye to all that | Zed Nelson’ In: The Guardian 12 March 2011 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2011/mar/12/goodbye-to-all-that-zed-nelson-photographs (Accessed on 30 July 2019)

Exercise: Daniel Meadows

Brief:

Listen to Daniel Meadows talking about his work, then read the essay ‘The Photogrpher as Recorder’ by Guy Lane.

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 40)

For some reason the Vimeo link provided in the course manual comes up as ‘not found’. Luckily I think I have managed to find the same video on Youtube by looking at the full reference given in Jan Foray’s write up and doing a google search (thanks Jan!).

Daniel Meadows doesn’t like to think of himself as a photographer. He prefers to call himself a documentarist, and uses different tools, as well as photography to express himself.

Having led a very sheltered life – boarding school at an all boys school – very limited exposure to the opposite sex or to other cultures, Meadows toured the country in a double-decker bus after graduating from art school, running his Free Studio. His reason for running a free studio was to meet people and hear their stories. He quickly realised that his photographic interests didn’t lie in advertising photography, but his work centred around ordinary people and that engagement played a huge role in his work. He saw himself as a mediator for other people’s stories.

As he progressed he picked up new skills and ran digital story telling workshops using technology that was easy for people to learn. The stories were all in the first person, briefly scripted and the people making them tended to use photographs to tell their stories. Visual histories began to emerge.

Meadows feels that it is important to do these things because it is all about power. The ordinary people in the street “live in awe of people who live on the TV screen” and feel that time is slipping by without addressing the issues that we would like to talk about. After all not everyone is madly concerned about high end politics or affairs on the other side of the world. Very often what goes on in one’s own village is of more importance. Meadows states that if one can make one’s own media then the power has shifted. I found this a very interesting point and quite profound. Perhaps we don’t always realise that we do actually have a voice and the means to use it.


The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England

For the second part of this exercise we are to read G. Lane’s The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England. In this journal article Lane discusses Daniel Meadows’ The Bus Statement.  Lane tackles the work in three sections: the first deals with representation of the English photographic practise and its history. The second discusses the relationships that exist between documentary practices, modernity and the idea of a national identity. Finally Lane deals with the document’s function and distribution.

Drawing inspiration from Michel Foucault’s The Archeology of Knowledge, Lane unpacks his theories quite succinctly. When Daniel Meadows embarked upon his Omnibus project he was working outside any photographic mould that existed at that time. His work reflected something new – there was a youthful element to the way he worked and also that ran as a theme through his work. His advertising pamphlet also reflected this. By photographing himself full length, full-faced in front of the bus dressed in a trendy jacket his potential subjects could see what type of record he wished to make. The object of Meadows Free Photographic Omnibus survey was to create a historical record of English life ‘especially those whose quality of life … were under threat’ (Lane, 2011:157) as according to Meadows no such survey had been created since that of Sir Benjamin Stone.

The importance of this seminal photographic work is borne out by the fact that a copy of the Bus Statement now resides in the archives of the Arts Council at the V&A Museum as evidence of changes that were happening in photographic practise at that time. Other benefits that arose from Meadows’s work was that new types of photographic courses were being offered at colleges, galleries geared for photographic work were opened, e.g. the Photographer’s Gallery and discursive spaces were created in the Creative Camera and Album magazines. Meadows received funding from the Arts Council for his project, but he also raised sponsorships from private enterprises. As a result of this, private companies saw this type of sponsorship as further means of furthering their public relations in the community.

Daniel Meadows’s project was a contemporary debate – he identified issues such as social change, over-population, pollution, and urban modernisation.

‘Meadows’ apparent fears can be identified as part of a broader discursive shift
within the history of documentary practice, occupying a moment when anxieties “come
less from disturbances associated with class than from beliefs about race and gender, or the fear of ecological disaster”’ (Lane, 2011:170). Has anything really changed since the 1970s? Aren’t most news stories these days about some or other race or gender issue/war or the latest ecological disaster (climate change)?

Meadows’s Omnibus Project was a “record of life in England”. But was it really? Didn’t Meadows concentrate mainly on the working class segment of the population? How then, can this be a record of life in England when portions of the population are missing? How can one propose to offer an idea of national identity when not all classes are represented?

Lane concludes his essay by stating that it is the absence of tradition that unites the three themes previously mentioned. However, by photographing certain calendrical events such as the annual summer holiday in Blackpool, the Derby and a Conker festival, Meadows was anchoring a definition of Englishness, which in turn reveals his desire for stability, continuity and tradition at a time when national identity was brought into sharp question.

I’ll close with a final quote from Guy Lane. A statement that has been prickling my brain and giving me some food for thought.

“Tradition … is in reality made, in an unceasing activity of selection, revision, and outright invention, whose function is to defend identity against the threat of heterogeneity, discontinuity, and contradiction” (Lane, 2011:172).

 

Bibliography

Daniel Meadows: Early Photographic Works. (2011) Directed by National Science and Media Museum At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL0A41FCC3DBFE9641&v=-KCuapO2xAc (Accessed on 6 July 2019)

Lane, G. (2011) ‘“The Photographer as Recorder”: Daniel Meadows, Records, Discourse and Tradition in 1970s England’ In: Photographies 4 (2) pp.157–173.

Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Victoria and Albert Museum (s.d.) Sir Benjamin Stone & the National Photographic Record Association. At: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/sir-benjamin-stone-and-the-NPRA/ (Accessed on 30 July 2019)

Documentary Hangout – 18 July, 2019

Only Anna and myself made the hangout this time. We are both hoping that a few more students will sign up for documentary and join us after August as we both feel that having a course-specific hangout is very beneficial. I feel it tends to concentrate the thought processes a little more.

I had uploaded a few images for Assignment 2 which is very much a WIP at the moment and I just wanted some initial feedback regarding colour and B&W presentation. Anna promised to look at the images later in the week and she then provided me with some written feedback which I sincerely appreciate. Thanks Anna! She encouraged me to go ahead with my idea as the images made her want to find out more about this place that I had photographed (in reality it was about 4 places that I had photographed, but the majority of the images I had uploaded came from the one place). Her feedback from a viewer’s point of view was that colour was the way to go as there was more information she could extract from the images in this way than the B&W set and that ties in with my gut instinct too. She suggested looking at Edward Burtynsky’s work (check), and also Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines. My tutor had also suggested Crewdson’s work when I first mentioned this idea to her and I’m beginning to think that it must be the uncannyness of the setting that is chiming with Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines, so I’ll definitely have another look at that. The work of Mitch Epstein, Jonas Bendiksen and Edith Roux also triggered a connection in Anna’s mind when looking at my work and with regards to the B&W images the landscapes of Toshio Shibata. So plenty to research for me.

Anna chatted about her move to level 3 and possible tutor choices and the process around this. She will have a better idea once she has had a chat with the programme coordinator. Apart from that she is busy wrapping up her work for the next assessment.

I will send out a blanket email to all documentary students in mid August and hopefully we can interest any newcomers to join our hangout sessions. Next session to be in September, date still to be confirmed.

Some More Experimenting with B&W

I am quite enjoying experimenting with B&W conversion and have watched a few more videos on the subject. They all follow pretty much the same technique with a few slight variations. Some convert to B&W first and then begin the processing, others process the colour image completely and then convert to B&W and process further, and others advise applying an HDR effect with highlights and shadows and then setting white and black points. So I’ll experiment with these techniques and see which works, but I have a suspicion that the technique will probably depend on the actual image itself as to which technique lends itself to a more successful conversion.

A few more images that I’m playing with are below.

Discarded mattresses awaiting transport to landfill

I like the B&W of the mattress image. The mattresses form structural elements which works well in B&W and the corrugated shed also echoes these elements. The dark sky with the white clouds also adds an interesting element to the image. I should probably experiment a little more to see how far I can darken the skin.

Collection of fluorescent lighting tubes

Both the colour and B&W work for the fluorescent lighting tubes. The B&W emphasises the form of the tubes and seems to concentrate the viewer’s gaze on the tubes as there is no distracting colour elements to pull the gaze away from the subject.

Plastic PVC plumbing pipes

I’m a little ambivalent about which version works best. I think I’m leaning more towards the colour on this one. There doesn’t seem to be enough contrasting elements in the B&W version. Although the lighting tubes and the plumbing pipes might make an interesting juxtaposition with their dark/light elements. I’ll leave that decision to when I make my final edits.

Oil drums

There are enough contrasting as well as structural elements to work in favour of the B&W image. Like the lighting tube image above the lack of colour focuses the viewer’s gaze onto the oil drums. I have to say that I find it deplorable that people just dump these drums on the edge of the forest.

Tyres

The colour image works better for me here. There isn’t a huge tonal range in the B&W.

Abandoned trucks and cars

Same for this image. The darker vehicles seem to blend too much with the forest. I think it would have been more interesting if I had been able to include more sky in the image.

Propane tanks

I prefer the colour image personally, but I think the B&W also works as the distracting red and blue elements are gone and the focus is on the propane tanks.

I need to get out and see if I can find more images on the highway construction and the deforestation themes. Hopefully I can find a few more strange “collections”.

Exercise: John Mraz – Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America

John Mraz’s essay touches on various works by Sebastião Salgado highlighting the continuing discourse about the aesthetics of documentary photography. He describes Salgado’s first photobook, Other Americas (1977) as one of sadness, misery, doom and having a ‘dominant tone of mystery’ (p.16). He compares Salgado’s work to other Mexican photographers, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Naco López, Héctor García and the Mexican New Photojournalists.

The abovementioned Mexican photographers use ironic humour and other techniques like low camera angles to present serious or gloomy subjects such as death in a more light hearted way or present it as part of the Mexican cultural experience. Salgado’s images in Other Americas, however, are difficult to understand. The only text accompanying the images is a date and the country in which the photo was taken.  Mraz is of the opinion that Salgado was heavily influenced by Robert Frank’s The Americans and the same sense of alienation and estrangement runs through his Other Americas body of work. Salgado focused solely on rural landscapes, ignoring any religious or political discourses that could have informed his work. Instead as Shawcross and Hodgson state ‘Salgado forces us, by offering great beauty as well, to pay more attention, to be truly awestruck’ (Aperture 108: 3). Looking at Salgado’s images invoke a sense of the sublime in the viewer. One can not help but be awestruck by the beauty and the horror depicted in his images. His later work especially, has a lasting quality, unlike a news picture which loses its significance or impact as soon as the next big news story, war or disaster comes around.

Other Americas was aimed at the Western world, Salgado perhaps compromising in his presentation, in that he presented the work as he thought the Western world would want to see it. According to Mraz, the work is too ambiguous and lacks context, it lies in an ‘historical vacuum’ as far as a Western might be concerned. Perhaps for a Latin American viewer the ambiguity disappears and the context is there, because he/she will understand the culture. Personally I can make this connection coming from Africa, I will understand and perceive an African-type photograph of this nature better than my fellow students in North America or the UK will, because I will have a familiarity with the conditions, customs and rituals, even if I haven’t experienced them myself, but would have been exposed to them through local media or learned about them in school. I believe this is the disconnect that is occurring with Salgado’s Other Americas.

Mraz states that traditional photojournalism is more concerned with information, particularly in presenting certain situations. On the opposite end of the scale are images that are rich with symbols, but lack the information giving more in to expression‘… Fine art photojournalists make photos that tell us more about the photographers than the photographed … the images of traditional photojournalists tell us more about what they are photographing than about those who have taken them’ (Mraz, 2002: 22).

Stuart Franklin argues that this criticism against the aesthetic quality of Salgado’s work is misplaced and I tend to agree with him. Why penalise or condemn work that is aesthetically pleasing as well as being of a documentary nature? Why should only blurry, poorly composed photos be acceptable in the documentary genre? Franklin gives the analogy that one would not criticise a writer for using certain verbs or complex sentence structures in his writing, so why do we subject photographers to this criticism? Can it be because no one wants to challenge the rhetoric or discourse? Both Franklin and David Levi Strauss touch on this in their commentaries about Salgado’s work. The problem lies with essentialism – the ‘dwelling on the notion of a fixed or unchanging world … it privileges a fixed and ideal way of life or tradition and is blinkered to anything else, to change or development’ (Franklin, 2016: 46).  Levi Strauss (2005:7) states that according to Eduardo Galeano Salgado’s ‘transgression‘ is that his images ‘question the hypocritical frontiers that safeguard the bourgeois order and protect its right to power and inheritance’. It is this disturbing quality in Salgado’s work that causes so much dissension among viewers.

Salgado rectified his presentation method in his later work Terra. In this book there is no pandering to the developed world. He made extensive use of captions to highlight the socioeconomic conditions. The work is presented in two parts: the first depicting the people, their work and land and hardships emphasising ‘how dignity and poverty are inseparable companions of the rural population’ (Mraz 2002: 24). The second part of the book concentrates on the urban migration and land takeovers in the rural area. By structuring the book in this manner Salgado has provided a historical background to Latin America’s plight. Several images that appeared in Other Americas have been brought into the Terra book. This time the contextualisation is present and some of the previous confusion and mystery is resolved.

Bibliography

Mraz, J. (2002) ‘Sebastião Salgado: Ways of Seeing Latin America’ In: Third Text 16 (1) pp.15–30.

Book review:  Other Americas by Sebastião Salgado. (2014) [user-generated content online] Creat. Doe, J.  14 August 2014 At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUrNx47y-kE (Accessed on 26 June 2019)

Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Levi Strauss, D. (2005) Between the Eyes. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Shawcross, W. and Hodgson, F. (1987) ‘Sebastião Salgado: Man in Distress’ In: Aperture 108 (Fall) 1987 pp.2–31.

A Seat at the Table

I quickly popped into the local art gallery for the first time this past week to have a look at the ‘A Seat at the Table’ exhibition currently on display. The gallery is quite small and unfortunately I was not allowed to take any photos of the exhibits.

The work on display was of mixed media and featured ten different artists. The exhibition was about food issues being at the ‘front of mind in this era of overpopulation, declining resources and industrial-style management of organic systems’ (Salmon Arm Observer, 2019).  2D artists Sara Wiens, David Wilson and Sarah Hope featured work about agriculture and biodiversity. Maria Thomas presented work about de-colonizing the diet. Anne Long and Ava Wutke presented work about forgotten knowledge about the role of food plants. Basket-makers Patricia Purdaby, Delores Purdaby and Gerry Thomas exhibited First Nations baskets made from birch bark that are traditionally used for berry-picking and other food harvesting. Kristall Burgess, a photographer had a display of photos depicting a harvest.

I found the display of birch baskets quite fascinating. It is quite remarkable to think that such an object can be fashioned from tree bark. From what I remember from the gallery notes, only the outer layer of the bark is removed, ensuring that the tree is not damaged.

Dene birch-bark basket: maker unknown. Photo courtesy UBC Museum of Anthropology.

There was a rather large display of cards or sheets of paper which had been drawn on in the centre of the gallery but no accompanying text. I only realised when trying to find a review on this exhibition, which I haven’t been able to find, that this was work done by some youths.

I was rather disappointed with this exhibition. Most of the artists, except those who made the baskets, and the photographer, only had one piece of work in the exhibition and it felt a little scattered to me. Granted the gallery space is extremely small, its previous life being that of a post office. Some of the work was too abstract for me to even connect it to food issues. I saw a connection between the basketry and the photography as they were both concerned with a harvest theme. Sadly I cannot find websites for any of the mentioned artists to further explore their work and methods.

 

Bibliography

Hope, S. (s.d.) Sarah Hope @sarahhope_art’s Instagram Post | PicoMico. At: https://www.picomico.com/p/2061613275569148828_55048078 (Accessed on 30 June 2019)

Museum of Anthropology at UBC (2013) Researching birch-bark basketry. At: https://moa.ubc.ca/2013/05/birch-bark-basketry/ (Accessed on 30 June 2019)

Salmon Arm Observer (2019) Exhibit digs into food security, sovereignty and sustainability – Salmon Arm Observer. At: https://www.saobserver.net/entertainment/exhibit-digs-into-food-security-sovereignty-and-sustainability/ (Accessed on 30 June 2019)