Picture Analysis Sophie Calle

Sophie-Calle-4Fig. 1. Untitled (1980)

This exercise appears in the 2014 version of the Foundations in Photography manual, and does not appear in the 2017 version (Enoch, R; 2014)

Brief:- Sophie Calle’s work exists on the borders of photography and conceptual art. Her work is rarely aesthetic in the pictorial sense, but stems from her curiosity at realising an idea or action. Calle had been following strangers in the streets of Paris and one day met one of these strangers in a gallery and overheard that he was going to Venice the next day. She disguised herself and followed him to Venice. The premise and narrative of Suite Vénitienne is her seeking, finding and persuing this man. In literary terms, you could say it’s an ‘odyssey’ where the main protagonist is the narrator (the photographer) and she doesn’t know how things will turn out. Calle documented her adventure with photographs, as if she was a ‘private eye’ hired to tail someone. She used a mirror attachment on her camera so she could shoot at 90 degree angles (around corners!). The work is related to a series of conceptual photographs by Vito Acconci, which show him following people in the streets of New York. One main consideration here is that the follower is being guided along by the subject. There is a sense of relinquishing the usual ‘control’ of the artist. At the core of Calle’s work is a child-like curiosity with life and people. It’s not so much about making art as allowing herself to be taken on an adventure by an idea.

  • Her work sometimes raises ethical issues related to privacy, and in return she is very open about her own life.
  • What are your moral feelings about following a stranger to make photographs of him?
  • Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different subjective position than you are accustomed to when making photographs?
  • Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to?

Ok, so, I have to disagree with Enoch on a few points. I find his notions are a romanticised version of the events. She was neither following as if she was a private eye, nor was she being guided along, and neither did she relinquish control and she was not taken on an adventure. This has no relation to casual street photography in which a photographer may take a few photos of an individual, and then a different person and so on. This is planned and pre-meditated stalking.

Fig. 2. Untitled (1980)

There was no guidance by Henri B, she chose to follow him, she called numerous hotels and pensione’s in Venice to track him down, she enlisted the help of friends, hotel workers, strangers that she spoke to on the street, and friends of friends in order to track down where he was staying, and then follow his movements. Once he had spoken to a person, she would then go and speak with them and gain more information about him. This was no adventure or child-like curiosity, and although I appreciate that Enoch has a different perspective than me, I find his statements to dress up how intrusive, intense and relentless Calle was.

“A young man and a dog notices me and speaks to me. His name is Pino… I tell him I’ve lost track of a friend…Pino agrees to call certain hotels for me to see if Henri B by chance is registered at one” (1).

2 p.m. “I Settle down in front of the telephone at Anna Lisa G.’s place. The Venice hotel list, not including the Lido, comprises 181 names… I will call them all in their respective order.”. (2).

11.50 a.m. “To disguise my intentions, I wait in front of 2788 Calle Del Traghetto, as if the door were going to open for me.”. (3).

4.00 p.m. “Back at Locanda Montin it appears to me that Martin G., the owner, is staring at me curiously; Would he have recognised me this morning? I decide to talk to him; I need allies. I address him like this ‘I’m looking for a man. I don’t want him to know I’m in the city. His name is Henri B. and he’s staying at the Casa de Stefani. Could you help me?'”. (4)

10.05 a.m. “At last its him,… I find him changed. His hair is longer. A woman is holding onto his arm, her head covered by a print shawl.”, and “I follow them from a short distance.” (5).

They take this route which is approximately 1KSophie-Calle-6

Fig. 3. Untitled (1980)

8.10 p.m “The man who had stared at me for a long time leaves La Columba. He stops and speaks to me… I tell him I’m in love with a man – only love seems admissible – and this man has been in Luigi’s antique shop since 6.15 in the company of a woman. I ask him to join them, alone, and to tell me what he has seen when he comes back.”. (6).

5.00 p.m. “I ring at Dr. Z’s house…He must be sixty years old. I like him. I tell him the whole story… Dr. Z agrees to lend me a window on the second floor.”. (7).

9.00 a.m. “With my Leica equipped with the Squintar, I approach the window. I am just a few meters from the entrance to Casa de  Stefani. I wait for him, bent over… If I see him going out, I will not follow him. I only want to watch him one more time in hiding, photograph him.”. (8).

Clearly these are not the words of a follower who has relinquished artistic control!

Fig. 4. Untitled (1980)

  • What are your moral feelings about following a stranger to make photographs of him?

Hmmm, did I not express that clearly enough? I have very strong feelings that this is harassment/stalking. Just because we, as photographers, can legally take photographs of people in the public, does not mean that we can invade the privacy of a person so as to cause them fear, alarm or distress. Henri B did approach Calle, and took her following of him in good spirit. However if this was to happen in the UK today, and it caused distress to a person then a photographer could find themselves in a difficult legal position, and would run the risk of prosecution.

A description of stalking taken from the website of the UK Crown Prosecution Service.

“Stalking – Whilst there is no strict legal definition of ‘stalking’, section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 sets out examples of acts or omissions which, in particular circumstances, are ones associated with stalking. For example, following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media.

The effect of such behaviour is to curtail a victim’s freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful. In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent ( if it were to be taken in isolation), but when carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.” (CPS a; 2017). It goes on to give further examples, “a) following a person,
(b) contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means, (c) publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to a person, or purporting to originate from a person, (d) monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, (e) loitering in any place (whether public or private), (f) interfering with any property in the possession of a person, (g) watching or spying on a person.” (CPS b ; 2017)

  • Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different subjective position than you are accustomed to when making photographs?

At some point, and hopefully soon, I intend to visit London, and, if possible, catch up with some peers from Foundations in Photography. I could plan a walk around part of London and mark some points on a map where I would stop and make some street photography. It would also be possible to pick a theme such as shoe shops or tourist attractions and ask a member of staff if I could make their portrait, this could be even more fun if I had one prop and asked them to hold it whilst I was taking the photo. Maybe I could visit a place that I am familiar with but aim to get photos that would help me explore the place from a different perspective. I do not go out at night, so going on a shoot at night would be a completely new experience for me.

  • Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to?

Taking a job would not be appropriate for me right now. But I could still explore this. I have quite strong left-wing leanings, and like to take photos of people who are marginalised. It would be good for my development as a photographer, and personally, if I were to explore a different side. Maybe photographing people as they come out of Harvey Nichols or Harrods and ask for a brief interview about their life as well as making their portrait.

Reflections

This has been an interesting review for me. It brings up my feelings of vulnerability, which is linked with the paranoia that can manifest as a part of my mental health. I have expressed my opinions strongly, but I also recognise that an artist/photographer, has the right to create their work in the manner that they are comfortable with. We are also responsible for our actions and the consequences that come with them. Although I have strong opinions I respect everyones right to make the kind of photography that matters to them.

Illustrations

Figure 1; Calle, S; 2015; Untitled; Los Angeles; Siglio Press

Figure 2; Calle, S; 2015; Untitled; Los Angeles; Siglio Press

Figure 3; Calle, S; 2015; Untitled; Los Angeles; Siglio Press

Figure 4; Calle, S; 2015; Untitled; Los Angeles; Siglio Press

References

1  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 6

2  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 13

3  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 19

4  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 23

5  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 27

6  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 43

7  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 73

8  Calle, S; 2015; Suite Venitienne; Los Angelese; Siglio Press; pp 77

CPS a; 2017; Stalking and Harassment – Legal Guidance, Domestic abuse , Cyber / online crime; AT: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/stalking-and-harassment#a02a (accessed on 18/06/2018)

CPS b; 2017; Stalking and Harassment – Legal Guidance, Domestic abuse , Cyber / online crime; AT: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/stalking-and-harassment#a03da (accessed on 18/06/2018)

Enoch, R; 2014; Foundations in Photography; Barnsley; OCA

6 Replies to “Picture Analysis Sophie Calle”

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one to think so. There is such a vast difference between street photography, even photographing the same person everyday (discreetly) if your routines converge, and doing what she did.

      Like

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