‘Two Sides …’ Rework and an adventure in bookbinding

This part of the assignment is not so much ‘rework’ as work itself. The assignment was originally submitted to Garry in electronic form only. I have now produced prints for assessment.

The main change is to re-process the driver’s-view images as monochrome, eliminating the colour-popping which was a gimmick too far in the original submission.

There are two decisions in presentation. The first, as hinted earlier, is to print double-sided, with the corresponding driver’s- and passenger’s-view images on opposite sides of the same piece of Permajet Double-sided Oyster paper. My intention is to have the two views intimately linked but making it impossible for the viewer to see both at the same time.

The second decision is influenced by Garry’s comment on my second assignment submission, where he was enthusiastic about the prints being presented in a box. In that case, the box was the shallow A4 box that the printing paper was supplied in. That would be inappropriate for assessment, and it would be tricky to produce a presentation box from scratch. I have therefore decided to present the three sets of prints (assignments 1 to 3) in purpose-made folders based on a design by Alisa Golden (2010, 224).

The first attempt was a disaster, due to poor choices of materials. I used wide satin ribbon as a spine cloth and Permajet Oyster paper for the printed outer linings of the covers. Unfortunately, neither material takes diluted PVA adhesive particularly well, and the Oyster resin-coated paper is too stiff to fold around the cover board.

IMG_2596

As seen above, plain copier paper is not the answer either. It folds well and takes PVA. However, it gives very low-contrast images when put through an inkjet printer.

For the final version I located some self-adhesive book-repair cloth tape for the spine and a special photo-quality inkjet paper (an Epson product) for the outer cover lining. It is still not perfect (there are a few wrinkles and glue spots that I will have to try to avoid in the equivalent folders for assignments 2 and 3) but it does the job intended – a protective cover for a set of prints.

IMG_2594

Reference

Golden, A. (2010) Making Handmade Books. New York: Lark.

Advertisements

Unconsidered circles – censorship, archives, dots and black suns

Belfast Exposed was formed in 1983 as a response to perceived censorship of images arising from what were euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. It is an archive of photographs from press, commercial and domestic sources and includes some 14,000 contact sheets. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were invited to make works based on the archive, which culminated in a book and exhibition in 2011 (Mack s.d.), repeated in 2015 (Belfast Exposed 2015). The book is out of print in its original form but is now available as an ebook.

The work is in two parts. In ‘contacts’ (Broomberg & Chanarin 2011-1) we see contact sheets and individual images marked-up (or just marked) as a result of use and public access over the years. Archivists have marked images as they were used, ordered or recatalogued. Some members of the public have scrawled over their own faces to obliterate them, fearing reprisals for their involvement, which is a form of censorship in its own right. There is an interesting question to be asked, whether censorship is any better or worse for being performed by the ‘participants’ rather than some faceless authority figure.

One of the ‘marks’ that appeared on many contacts was a sticky dot, in various colours. This was semi-random and simply indicated that an image had been selected or approved for some purpose (reverse censorship perhaps) but formed the basis for the second part of the project, ‘dots’. Broomberg and Chanarin peeled back these dots and published, in circular format, what had been hidden behind them. According to the artists,

Each of these fragments – composed by the random gesture of the archivist – offers up a self-contained universe all of its own; a small moment of desire or frustration or thwarted communication that is re-animated here after many years in darkness. (Broomberg & Chanarin)

Another archive marked by small circles is the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documentary project of the 1930s and ’40s. The head of the FSA Historical Section, Roy Stryker would, notoriously ‘kill’ photographs that did not fit the FSA message by removing part of the negative with a hole punch (Bennett 2017) in a overt act of censorship.

This damage, sometimes referred to as a ‘black sun’ (for reasons obvious in the smaller image above) rendered the negative unprintable at the time. Recent advances in software, particularly Photoshop’s content-aware fill facility, mean that some of these images can be rescued if important complex detail has not been lost (Bennett 2017).

strykerpunchfeat

The alternative approach is to collect the censored images into a book, as Bill McDowell has done in ‘Ground’ (Meier 2016). McDowell tells us that the book is “the result of three separate acts of picture making: the original photographer’s deliberate compositional and contextual choices, Roy Stryker’s hole punch, and my recontextualization.” (quoted by Meier).

At one level, the images draw attention to the act of censorship and make us wonder what was off-message and had to be suppressed. At another level, the black circles unify the images and create a new archive with, possibly, a new meaning.

The two sets of ‘circle’ images are opposite treatments; ‘dots’ concentrates on the circles, while ‘Ground’ shows us everything else in the image. However, both archives have similarities in that they show us how people have dealt with troubled times.

References

Belfast Exposed Photography (2015) PAST BELFAST EXCHANGE GALLERY EXHIBITION: PEOPLE IN TROUBLE LAUGHING PUSHED TO THE GROUND [online] Available at <http://www.belfastexposed.org/exhibition/People_in_Trouble_Laughing_Pushed_to_the_Ground&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Bennett, MJ (2017) Countering Stryker’s Punch: Filling the Black Hole with Photoshop and GIMP [online] Available at <https://petapixel.com/2017/07/31/countering-strykers-punch-filling-black-hole-photoshop-gimp/&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Broomberg & Chanarin (2011) PEOPLE IN TROUBLE LAUGHING PUSHED TO THE GROUND (contacts) [online] Available at <http://www.broombergchanarin.com/hometest/#/contacts/&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Broomberg & Chanarin (2011) PEOPLE IN TROUBLE LAUGHING PUSHED TO THE GROUND (dots) [online] Available at <http://www.broombergchanarin.com/hometest/#/kodak-1-1-25-1-1/&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

MACK (undated) Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin:  People In Trouble Laughing Pushed To The Ground [online] Available at <http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/4-People-In-Trouble-Laughing-Pushed-To-The-Ground.html&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Meier, A (2016) Scarred Rejects from the Farm Security Administration’s Great Depression Photos [online] Available at <https://hyperallergic.com/287638/scarred-rejects-from-the-farm-security-administrations-great-depression-photos/&gt; [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Research points – Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson is an American artist working in the medium of photography. I use that form of words because ‘photographer’ is not an adequate description given the kind of large-production operation that he has put on from ‘Twilight‘ (1998-2001) onwards. Indeed he says that he hardly touches the camera, and the credits list for ‘Twilight‘ (Crewdson and Moody 2002) list three ‘camera operators’ and a ‘director of photography’. It is probably best to think of him as similar to a film producer, applying the same type of organisation to a single image as to a movie. It is no surprise that his influences include Hitchcock and Spielberg (and the painter Edward Hopper) (Wikipedia)

In Crewdson’s tableaux series, ‘Twilight‘, ‘Beneath the Roses‘, ‘Sanctuary‘ and ‘Cathedral of the Pines‘,  no part of the mise-en-scène is left to chance. Some tableaux are shot on location (scouted) and some, indoors, on a movie sound stage. Many of the buildings are constructed sets. Props are bought in and listed in the ‘credits’; in Twilight, there is even a credit for a ‘bug wrangler’, presumably dealing with the butterflies and other insects that have been imported (and supplier credited). Scenes are lit with movie lighting and shot on an 8×10 camera.

Crewdson’s images have a unique look, slightly menacing in a Spielberg way, with great detail and a muted colour palette. They all have a sense of concealed narrative; as spectators, we can be sure that there is a story but we are intrigued about how the situation arose.

We are asked to view a YouTube video, then respond to following questions.

Unfortunately, the referenced video is flagged by YouTube as ‘no longer available’. I watched the following instead, but the set questions seem a little non sequitur as a result.

Gregory Crewdson (Photography DOCUMENTARY Film)

Photographers in Focus: Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson – Close Up – Ovation

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

I am not sure that Crewdson’s work has beauty in the traditional ‘skin-deep’ sense. When I first saw the Cathedral of the Pines images, I was vaguely irritated at the amount of effort that had been expended to produce something rather banal (technically perfect but banal nonetheless). It was over a period of several weeks that I realised that my subconscious was still working on them and I wanted to see more. I bought ‘Twilight‘ and have made a point of looking out Crewdson references on YouTube and elsewhere on the web.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

I assume this is a reference to a comment in the missing video.

Several commentators (eg Searle 2005 and Moody (in Crewdson and Moody 2002)) note that Crewdson’s father was a psychologist with consulting rooms in the basement of the family house. It is variously told that the young Crewdson would press his ear to the floor to listen, or that he would imagine doing so. This is sometimes given as an explanation for an interest in the psychology of the characters in his photographs.

Many of these characters appear pensive or thoughtful; where there are multiple figures in an image, I feel that they are close to each other but do not communicate. Each has his or her own thoughts that would only be expressed on the psychologist’s couch -and maybe not even there.

I regard the images as surreal, in the sense of stimulating the subconscious using the tropes of dreams. The nudity or the underclothes worn by some characters are a classic dream trope, as is the sense of being in a situation without a clear idea of how one got there. The detachment of characters from each other may indicate that each one is part of the other’s dream, rather than being fully ‘real’. The analysis of dreams is, of course, a classic technique in psychiatry.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not? 

Broadly, I make pictures because I like to make pictures (circular, I know but as good a reason as any) and I prefer to make the sort of pictures that I want to look at. That may be a roundabout way of saying that I am looking for beauty or amusement in my surroundings and trying to express it.

Some of my images are entered in camera club competitions, although none are made specifically for that purpose. (I like them; if the judge agrees, that is a bonus)

I see nothing wrong with making beauty a goal in my photography, despite some elitist comments that I have seen on OCA social media about images without deeper meaning or significance. All images have their place, whether it be the gallery wall, the front page of the newspaper, or the living room wall. There are photographs that I can appreciate in  a gallery but I would not want in my home.

The beautiful photographs, the ones we hang above the fireplace or on the bedroom wall, have a special quality of their own. These are the images that we are prepared to invite into our homes, love and live with for years at a time, rather than for ten minutes as part of a gallery exhibition. That makes them significant in their own way, a way that we would be wrong to ignore.

References

Crewdson, G., and Moody, R. (2002) Twilight . New York: Abrams.

Guggenheim Foundation (undated) Collection Online: Gregory Crewdson [online] Available at <https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/gregory-crewdson&gt; [Accessed 5 March 2018].

Photographers’ Gallery (2017) Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines [online] Available at <http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/content/gregory-crewdson-cathedral-pines&gt; [Accessed 4 March 2018].

Searle, A. (2005) Too much information [online] Available at <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/apr/19/photography&gt; [Accessed 6 March 2018].

Wikipedia (2017) Gregory Crewdson [online] Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Crewdson&gt; [Accessed 4 March 2018].

Mise-en-scène

Mise-en-scène has been called film criticism’s “grand undefined term” (Wikipedia). However,dictionaries are fairly consistent with a definition, thus: (Collins version quoted)

mise en scène
/miz ɑ̃ sɛn/
noun
1a. the arrangement of properties, scenery, etc, in a play
1b. the objects so arranged; stage setting
2. the environment of an event

Wikipedia goes into more detail and tells us (in a cinematic context)

mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting

In the context of Project 1, this reminds us that the photographer should have every element under his/her control, with nothing left to chance. Whether this is done by the photographer single-handed or with the aid of a large production crew (in the manner of Gregory Crewdson) is a matter for individual preference.

The photographer traditionally has a different job from a painter or stage designer. Rather than starting with a blank canvas (or an empty space) and populating it at will, the photographer has to start with what the scene gives him and exclude what he doesn’t want. On location, this can be done by careful framing and cropping but may also involve dismantling existing scene elements or constructing new; ambient lighting must be accepted or moderated. In the studio (rather closer in concept to a stage set) there will be more work involved, but also more complete control.

The point is made by Cotton (2014, 51) while discussing the works of Jeff Wall, but it would apply equally to Crewdson, that this sort of work redefines the photographer as the orchestrator of a cast and crew, the key rather than the sole producer.

References

Collins English Dictionary (2018) ‘mise en scene’ Online at:  http://www.dictionary.com/browse/mise-en-scene (accessed 19 Feb 2018)

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Third edn. London: Thames and Hudson.

Wikipedia (2018) ‘Mise-en-scène’ Online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mise-en-scène (accessed 19 Feb 2018)

Remember the Killing Fields

This is a self-directed small project, used in a camera club ‘panel of prints’ competition, presented here because it fits with parts one and two of the C&N course.

The images were taken at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, just outside Phnom Penh. Visiting at least one ‘Killing Fields’ memorial is an essential part of visiting Cambodia – remember to take tissues. The place has a beautiful setting with an ‘untended park’ vibe, dotted with features and reminders such as the sites of mass graves and a central stupa, four storeys tall and filled with skulls and some other bones. This was my take in six  images.

Hanging plan killingfields

The prints were displayed in black window mounts, 50x40cm, tight butted together to show a black background. The two central images and the skulls are from the main stupa (the top row centre image is taken from just inside that door in the lower centre image). The top left image is a detail of personal memorials on the fencing around one of the mass graves. The flowers at the bottom right were outside the stupa. I spent some time in Lightroom balancing colour and contrast between images. The colour ‘look’ comes from boosting vibrance while reducing saturation.

Overall, I hope I did justice to the place. The set was well-received by club colleagues and the judge.

Assignment 4 – Mind map

I have occasionally attempted mind-mapping for essay planning, although always hand-drawn so far. I have used this exercise as an opportunity to test-drive  a piece of commercial mind-map software. This diagram is my mind-map for a critical essay on Don McCullin’s 1958 ‘Guv’nors’ image.

McCullin Guv'nors mindmap

The software is fairly easy to use – this was my first attempt and there were not many false starts – but not as flexible as I would like. It forces a hierarchical tree, with no obvious way of exploring links between ‘twigs’ attached to different ‘branches’ (my terminology). Where the software scores over paper thought-collection is that it is possible to build-up the diagram over a period of days, slotting-in semi-random thoughts as they occur and modifying the diagram to make everything fit.

Now that the free trial period is over, I will be purchasing the full version and hope to make better use of it over the remainder of my OCA studies.

Assignment 4 – a bit of structure

Having selected an image (McCullin’s street gang) that should easily sustain a 1000-word essay, it is time to think about the essay structure. Available guidance is not actually contradictory – there is common ground and a broad consensus – but every prospective mentor has a different approach and (apparently) a different set of priorities.

Barrett (2006) gives the most complete overview, with his note that all criticism does one or more of the following:

  • Description: This includes statements about the photograph’s subject matter and formal construction, and also its external context and ‘causal environment’ (although I would suggest that this latter category shades into interpretation). In the absence of the image itself, accurate description is an essential basis for any kind of meaningful criticism.
  • Interpretation: To interpret something is to give it meaning, or (taking my more cynical view) to explain and advocate the reviewer’s understanding of its meaning. There are numerous approaches to interpretation: Barrett himself (1986 and 2006, 65-105) suggests categorising the photograph as a starting point. Salkeld (2014) and the OCA course notes promote a semiotic approach. Others consider the historical context in which the photograph was made, or the photographer’s intent (although Barrett warns against what he calls ‘the intentionalist fallacy’)
  • Evaluation: To evaluate a photograph is to make statements about its worth or value. In order to do so, one needs first to establish the criteria for evaluation and, second, to offer objective reasons why (in the reviewer’s opinion) the image succeeds or fails against those criteria.
  • Theorising: Theorising looks beyond the image notionally under discussion and uses it as a starting point to consider what Barrett calls the ‘big questions’

There is a useful guide to understanding photographs, produced by my tutor, Garry Clarkson (unreferenced), which divides into four categories, mainly covered by Barrett’s functions of description and interpretation.

  • Visual: deals with the formal elements and composition
  • Technical: the techniques used by the photographer, camera format, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, lighting etc. whether stated by the photographer (e.g. in a caption  in a photobook) or assessed/guesstimated by the reviewer.
  • Contextual: historical context, biographical background, psychological effect
  • Conceptual: relationship with other images, connections with reviewer’s own knowledge, ideas communicated.

Salkeld (2014, 45-67) and others introduce the study of semiotics as a guide to interpretation. (I choose Salkeld as my example because he manages to explain the concepts in accessible language, unlike the originators, Derrida and Barthes).

A photographic image contains a set of ‘signs’ which can be ‘decoded’ or interpreted. A ‘sign’ is a link between a ‘signifier’ (what we see in the image) and the ‘signified’ (what we interpret it to mean). Semiotic signs can be arbitrary (e.g. the colour red in road-signs indicates danger or prohibition; text is a set of symbols with meaning in a given language), iconic (the signifier is similar in appearance to the signified) and/or indexical (the signifier is caused by the signified, e.g. smoke caused by fire).

Meaning may be denoted (a literal view of what the signified is) or connoted (ideas suggested by the image but not explicitly denoted. My simplistic interpretation is that ‘denotation tells us what it is, connotation tells us what it means’)

My view at this stage, before mind-mapping in preparation for the essay, is that it will major on description and interpretation. Evaluation would be presumptuous, but might be attempted. I doubt that I will attempt any theorising.

References

Barrett, T. (1986) ‘A Theoretical Construct for Interpreting Photographs’. Studies in Art Education 27, no.2 (Winter 1986), pp.52-60.

Barrett, T.M. (2006) Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images. 4th edn. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Salkeld, R. (2014) Reading photographs: An introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.