Friday, 22 June 2018

Exercise: Symbols

This exercise is in two parts. Firstly using our own research we are to find 5 images from Robert Frank's Americans and show where symbols are used and how they function.

The second part is to read the introduction written by Jack Kerouac to the Americas highlighting symbolic references.

I have always admred this work since I first discovered it on the OCA courses and have made several blog entries already. This exercise will hopefully help me to understand why I admire it so much.

1.  In this image the symbols are the American flags and hidden faces. This symbolising American people may not want to reveal their identity and remain anonymous. Is this an America they can associate with?
Robert Frank - The Americans
2. The Contrast of skin colour, symbolising class divides with a black nanny caring for a white child. Frank's was always looking for images that illustrated he social divide of post war America. This symbolises a new generation in which perhaps little will change.

Robert Frank - The Americans
3. Another Symbol of social divide here is the champagne and associated wealth

Robert Frank - The Americans
4. Taken at a Hollywood premier. Symbolic that the actress is the largest part of the image but not the focus. In focus are the women admirers and followers, the normal Americans that are perhaps kept in the shadows of America.

Robert Frank - The Americans
5. I really like this image. For me the symbols are the mundane look of the elevator girl. Stuck in this job with no movement, whilst people around move about. The use of both blurred moved and a sharper static people emphasises this.

Robert Frank - The Americans
Kerouac's introduction into this book really does wet the appetite and goes a long way to planting the seeds of symbols. He makes a clear association of his past with the image taken in a Backyard in Venice California. This image has symbols or defiance, being sheltered by America yet in a run down old yard where the old car is left to rot (another symbol).

I believe there is a hidden symbol in the quotation from Shakespeare, here referencing Frank's work to true art. Other symbols called out are the rattlesnake and the gopher, meant for evil and perhaps the general population in a level and low world, symbolising low morals with no change.

A photograph of kids staying in the car could be a symbol of conformance, of danger is the taking of the image a form of defiance?

Throughout the passage Kerouac also uses a play on words, for example "pitchers" which may mean pictures or the way in which the pictures are presented (pitched). His language also has echos of the slang that many black or underprivileged Americans would have used at this time symbolising their differences.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Exercise: Comparing Shields' image to the actual article

This is a very interesting exercise in that we are to read the newspaper article from which Shields' image of the previous exercise was taken. This article gives us the full context of the image and we are to compare our initial deconstruction of the image and how it changes our perception.

The article is quite boring and relates to a housing association taken over the housing estate in the image. The image shot in Glasgow could be anywhere but I did pick up on the only relevant denotation of the site being a housing site.

The article spoke of much discussion and now an agreement has been made to move forward. This could be taken by the two boys embracing each other as an agreement. This is further endorsed by the shirt teams being Rangers and Celtic, opposites at loggerheads [ I missed this but given the location of Glasgow it is now obvious ].

So yes the text does change my perception of the image. What is shown with the text shows agreement, a way forward over the progression of the housing estate in the background. Without the text though I would find it hard to believe that anyone would have read this.

Exercise: Connotations & Denotations

Analysing Martin Shields' photograph of two young footballers we are to write a descriptive pose of the connotations that the image infers to us and the denotations or what the image shows us.

This is a simple image that is full of context. We see two boys dressed in football clothing walking arm in arm on a housing estate. The image infers that the boys are friends as they have their arms around each other, or this could be a mutual appreciation for the football they have just played. As the boys are walking away from the camera in also infers that this is the end of the game, but perhaps not.

They are dressed in different kit which implies that they either support different teams or have been playing for different teams. They also each carry a football perhaps suggesting equality. These are all inferences or connotations.

In terms of denotations we can see the background of a housing estate with a large amount of grass, perhaps this is their playground or football pitch. The boys seem happy or contented, not rivals but friends.
(c) Martin Shields

Exercise: Marcus Bleasdale

The exercise is to read an article published in Eight Magazine on the photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale [b. 1968]. Although not strictly instructed to do so I have made short notes on his views below.

Marcus Bleasdale

Originally a banker with a keen hobby of photography. Resigned from his post at being disillusioned on how banks ignored the human aspect of war over currency fluctuations. Two days later he was in Kosovo.

Finance was an initial problem. Views that conflict and photojournalism do not go hand in hand quoting the work of Eugene Smith.

References Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness as inspiration in words of what the mind describes. Bleasdale's book One Hundred Years of Darkness follows in these footsteps through the Belgian Congo with each image taken referencing a part of the original novel.

Strong views on areas that the media ignores where genocide may have taken place, almost certainly over the mineral wealth of the country. Cites Dafur where Bleasdale visited off his own back, not able to get any commission. From this he created the work "Human Rights Watch" that earned him Best Photography Book in 2010 by POYi (pictures of the year international)

Took the work HRW and forced this onto audiences that were directly responsible for the conflict mining in the Congo, namely a Swiss Bank. Blames many organisations including the UN for failing the people of the Congo.

This has lead to success in organisations no longer trading gold with Uganda as it was also coming from the Congo. This leads to less money being available to finance war in the Congo.

Feels a strong responsibility to report the helplessness of Africa over war, famine, and disease.

Has published just three books but a raft of awards from 2004 to 2015 for his work.

Marcus Bleasdale - Human Rights Watch

Monday, 18 June 2018

Research Point: Socially Committed B&W Photographers

This the first research point is to look deeper into the following photographers making notes on whether social documentary was their prime focus.

  • Chris Killip
  • Nick Danziger
  • Bill Brandt
  • Jacob Riis
  • Lewis Hine

Chris Killip

Chris Killip is from what I has exclusively published work on social documentary in B&W. There have been areas that whilst document the social times or the day, these are not necessarily for social reform. Most of the images are around the working class of England but he has also been commissioned for book covers and to photograph the Pirelli UKfactory in Burton in 1988. Here though the main subject is not tyres but the workers and families of the factory detailing their lifes.

Killip spent much of his career as a Director and Curator for the Side Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne where he spent much of his life. He moved to USA becoming a visiting lecturer and professor at Harvard University 1994-98. Killip is now retired but continues to live in the USA, he is still publishing work of images taken many years ago with a book due for publication in 2018 containing his images of the Punk scene in Newcastle during the late 1970's.

Nick Danziger

Nick Danzziger on the other hand is more varied in his work. He still covers a large element of social reform but also has widened his photo journalism net to include an award winning series on Tony Blair during the Iraq war. As for B&W this is not exclusive has many of his images online are also in colour.

His roots though do seem to be in social reform and recently has worked on the effects on women in war torn areas of the world where poverty excels. His book "The British
" [ 2001 ] is B&W was award the "Best monochrome illustrated book"  by the British Book Design & Production awards in 2002. The images here cover a contrast of the poorer and the richest in our society, almost certainly calling out the social divide. Interestingly though the first image off his website for this work is a black barrister clothed in traditional robes leaving a taxi. Is this a play on the fact that social reform is not just about ethnic background?

Nick Danziger - The British 2001
Bill Brandt

Brandt [1904-1983] was one of the most celebrated British photojournalists of the 20th century. His online archive contains three sections:

  • Documentary
  • Nudes
  • Landscapes

His images are of exceptional quality and a only taken in B&W. Like Danziger the play on contrasting backgrounds is used to highlight social divide.

I found his work interesting on the nudes where nudes and landscapes are sometimes combined. These are not images supporting social reform but more so images of fine art.

Jacob Riis

Riis [1849 - 1914] was a Danish-American photographer documenting social reform, especially that of New York City. Many of the areas he wished to photograph were dark conditions and Riis soon became on of the early adopters of flash photography. For this and equipment available I am quite stunned by the images taken. The concept of bringing light to the darkness of a depraved NYC must have been awe inspiring, here an image taken in 1888 of the most crime ridden areas of New York. I will look more into his work.

Bandit Roost - Jacob Riis 1888

Lewis Hine

Lewis Hine [1874 - 1940] is described as an American sociologist and photographer, with his work on social reform being instrumental on changing child labour laws in the USA.

His photographic life started in 1907 taking images of the steel-making industry. In 1908 he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, leaving his job as a teacher at the Ethical Culture School NY. He continues taking images for 10 years. This was a dangerous time as it was illegal to take such images as they were thought to threaten industry, figures for child mortality were not published, and often the violence would be dispensed by the police.

During the war Hine followed the American Red Cross in Europe, and also was commissioned to take images of the construction of the Empire State building. Here he did though make a social statement in his work detailing the precarious positions workers found themselves in.

Children in Mills - Lewis Hine

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Exercise: Discussing Documentary

This exercise is to read the article ‘Discussing Documentary’ by Maartje van den Heuvel 2005 and write a short summary.

I found this an interesting and easy to read document that gave many examples of where documentary has been used and assigned to past and more recent photographers. The document also talks at length about documentary being used as an awareness mechanism for social reform. I have to question a lot of this as "social reform" seems to be a very common theme amongst many of the documents presented so far in this course. Yes it is an important fact but I am not convinced of the real intent. All artists want their work to be recognised and understood, the concept in Heuvel's document of "visual literacy" clearly enforces this. Do photographers therefore concentrate around subjects and visualisations in areas that will question the viewers morals and self-views to gain popularity? I for one admire such documentary as it humbles me and makes me feel lucky to be where I am. Although I would not categorise this as sensationalising I have to wonder why so much of the notorious documentary is associated with social reform.

Heuvel does though include other genres of documentary and addresses a very important change in how media is used and influences our lives connected using the Internet. I was interested in how the face of documentary has changed in various countries at various times to suit political gains and the development of social reform. e.g. Russia pre-Soviet Union, occupied Netherlands during WWII following Hilter's banishment of Vereinigung der Arbeiter-Fotographen etc. I also found that the references of reenactment of critical events in time were very interesting, examples such as the hijacking and murder of Israeli athletes in 1972 by Christopher Draeger. Is this really something new or is this always been a trend of documentary throughout time, even before the first photograph was ever taken, e.g. The Last Supper - Da Vinci 1495-1498.

Christopher Draeger - Black September

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Exercise: Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document’ by David Campany

This exercise is to read David Campany's article on Bill Brandt to leave comments and also comment on why Black & White has become so respected in documentary.

I was not aware of Bill Brandt before reading this article, I was though reassured that he was a distinguished photographer of documentary in his earlier life. Being German and coming to England would have amused him to see our strange social culture and how we stand within it. Being from a wealthy background gave him the opportunity to exploit this - Campany cites that many of the images would have had great forethought and staging.

Nonetheless Brandt's book "The English at Home" has some brilliant contrasting images that certainly do call out the social divide and the oddities of such a social system. A divide that Campany calls out "is not ready to be received". The book at the time of publishing was not a success, but like so many works ahead of its age it gets recognised in the future.

It is right that this work is finally attributed with the word Art and is recognised  as a piece of documentary calling out the social divide of the time. I sometimes wonder if this enigma ever leaves us. Are we not now still searching for information on those at the top of the social scale, the rich, the famous, the royals, the celebrities.... this divide never leaves us it just morphs from one for to another.

In his later life Brandt turned to more "artistic" images of the body and landscapes and carried on with B&W photography. Here he captures the body of the landscape alongside the landscape of the body; the two mixing well. Strong tones and contrast are used here to great effect to draw clearer lines of distinction which would not have worked in any other way. B&W is an intrinsic part of this art form.

It is no winder that many documentary photographers prefer B&W. Although less information is presented it also draws the viewer deeper into the image, examining in detail the artefacts that are sometimes overlooked.