Review – Ray’s A Laugh

Brief:- Photography is often used as a tool to document the specificity of visual appearances. We’re all familiar with this use in passport photography, anthropological photography and crime photography. There’s no pretence at aesthetic quality: the photographer points the camera at the subject and tries to take a neutral ‘visual document’ which stands as visual evidence for what it represents. This mode of making pictures can be useful to all photographers as a means to research their subject. Whether this results in ‘finished’ pictures or not doesn’t really matter; it’s a means to gain visual knowledge. Take a look at Richard Billingham’s Ray’s A Laugh – a collection of family portraits originally taken as visual research for a painting project. It’s important to make a distinction here between what we can know through experience and verbal language and what is specifically visual. Thoughts aren’t visual and neither are emotions, although you can photograph the physical manifestations of these. Political ideologies aren’t visual but you can photograph people and events that illustrate them.

Billingham, R; 1984; Untitled (RAL 6) [Fuji long-life print on aluminium]; ATFig. 1. Untitled RAL 6 (1995)

1Fig. 2. Untitled R (c1995)

Initial thoughts:- Family life, snap shots, nothing significant, photo’s that anyone can take of their family. Documents of lower class, family life that is stricken by poverty and social exclusion. Taken by a family member with a resentment to the lifestyle that they have been brought up with? Desolation, unhappiness, drunkenness, degradation. Ray appears significantly underweight, possibly brought about by alcoholism/alcohol dependence. He struggles to eat properly, despite the full plate of food its unlikely that he will finish it, he’s drunkenly falling to sleep and his dinner will soon be spilled upon him. Liz, probably drinks but is not dependant, her addiction and way of coping with her emotions and the struggle of a life of exclusion and poverty is via food. Hopelessness, despair, life is hard. Irony – Ray most certainly does not appear to be a laugh.

Now this is where photography becomes interesting. Billingham took these photos as research for a project, and from the brief there is an assumption that these are a record of ‘what is’, apparently neutral, dispassionate and a visual record. My reading of the photos is entirely the opposite and is cognitive, emotional, symbolic and has a reading of the families circumstance and lifestyle that is based upon my perspective. This is of note because it suggests that if I am taking test photos, or making photography for my own visual research then the viewer may have a response that I was not even exploring, Maybe.

However, I argue that it is impossible to record a subject that you are emotionally involved with from a neutral perspective. If I had have walked into the family home and taken the exact same photos at the exact same moment, would my distance from Ray and Liz reduce the emotional impact upon the viewer? From my own photography I believe so. When I presented assignment one to my tutor, she picked up my discomfort and lack of emotion in two of the photos, both were photo’s that I didn’t feel a connection with the subject.

In my opinion Billingham was exploring his emotions through his visual research. If we are honest here the research was done for a painting, the painting was not going to be neutral, it was meant to be expressive and have an impact, and this is what was being photographed, the emotions that Billingham felt about his parents.


Figure 1 Billingham, R; 1995; Untitled (RAL 6) [Fuji long-life print on aluminium]; AT: (accessed on 03/06/2018)

Figure 2 Billingham, R; 1995; Untitled (R [Fuji long-life print on aluminium]; AT: (accessed on 03/06/2018)

Feature Image Billingham, R; c1995; Untitled (RAL) [Fuji long-life print on aluminium]; (accessed on 03/06/2018)

Review – Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980)

Beaton,-C;-1941;-Fashion-is-indestructable-[----];-London;-Thames-and-Hudson;-p342Fig. 1. Fashion Is indestructible (1941)

Initial thoughts:- How beautiful and elegant. The opulence of the hall with its strong verticals, the luxuriance of the photographed women, the soft pastels of their clothes, the surreal illumination of the lighting, and the movement created by the dresses that the woman are wearing, all combine to make this beautiful work of art. A photograph which looks like a painting.

The strengths are in the lines, flow/movement, lighting, composition creates interest around the whole photo, pastels work well with lighting, dresses compliment the hall.

I could be in the room and making this photo, I’m so drawn in, this is the first photo where I have felt that I belong in this scene, that I am in the hall as a viewer. Powerful.

Reflecting upon a previous review, The Conversation by Buhler-Rose (see below) Buhler-Rose’s photo has a strong disconnect, a lack of feeling, the photo is a staged lie, whilst Beaton’s is dynamic, alive, natural and appears captured ‘as is’. His subjects are comfortable and relaxed.

The-Conversation-Alahua-FL-2006Fig. 2. The Conversation (2006)

Beaton,-C-1930,-MarleneDietrich-[Gelatin-silver-print],-;-Cologne;-Taschen-GmbH; p 552Fig. 3. Marlene Dietrich (1930)

Please excuse the resolution of the scan, I didn’t change the scan settings to photo, silly boy.

Initial thoughts:- Avant Garde, art, reminds me of the theatre comedy and tragedy masks which in this case is symbolic of Dietrich’s role as an actor. Subtle. No distractions, simple composition. 3 props – hair piece, choker and mannequin. Lack of foreground and the background which is immediately behind the subject, means that Dietrich, with the opposing pose of the dummy are immediately seen by the viewer because there is nothing else to see. She’s elegant and beautiful, but what I sense most of all is that she is looking out, she is the viewer instead of the actress who is been viewed on the screen. A creative change of roles.

Beaton,-C;-1928;-Miss-Nancy-Beaton-as-a-Shooting-Star-[silver-print];-London;-Thames-and-Hudson;-p264Fig. 4. Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star (1928)

Initial Thoughts:- Avant Garde, experimental, photography as art, a character from a fantasy novel, radiant. The light source in the background sets the scene for a surreal illustration of a fairy godmother, which is added to by a light in the foreground which brings out the texture of Nancy Beaton’s dress. The staff in her right hand adds poise to this portrait. The prop worn on the right of her head doesn’t look right, it detracts from this photo, although I do understand why he’s used it to reflect the shooting star of the title, sometimes you just have to simplify an idea Cecil (says me as if I am an expert – but I say as I see). Despite that god damn awful head-gear. I do not see a photo, I see a dramatic characterisation of a person from a fantasy novel or early film.

A whole load of props here, but only one is unneccessary. Staff, head-gear, stars, cellophane? fabric, dress, curtain. In fact I think that everything in this photo is a prop, including Dietrich, and this creates a set of a theatre production. This goes way beyond a formal portrait and is a work of art, and it could be a master piece without the head gear (get over it Richard).


Figure 1 Beaton, C;-1941; Fashion is indestructible; IN: Photography: The Whole Story; p 342; London; Thames and Hudson

Figure 2 Buhler-Rose, M; 2006; The Conversation; At: (accessed on 23/11/2017)

Figure 3 Beaton, 1930, Marlene Dietrich [Gelatin-silver-print]; IN: A History of Photography; p552; Cologne; Taschen GmbH;

Figure 4 Beaton, C; 1928; Miss Nancy Beaton as a Shooting Star [silver-print]; IN: photography: The Whole Story; p264; London; Thames and Hudson

Review – Thomas Struth

Thomas Struth (b 1954)

For this review I have tried to find photos made by Struth that I haven’t seen reviewed by other Foundations in Photography students. This is so that I can keep my initial thoughts as my own. However I am going to start with one portrait that I have seen reviewed by others because it is highly relevent to exercise 3.10 A Formal Portrait.

The Late Giles Robertson (with Book), Edinburgh 1987 1987 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 1. The Late Giles Robertson (with book) Edinburgh (1987)

Initial thoughts:- I like, grace, calm, dignity, poise. It captures thoughtfulness, contemplation, a good example of how to capture a still portrait with a busy background. This is done by making use of the space in the foreground, the thoughtful expression, the side lighting from the window, shot in daylight so the background remains subdued, small aperture, distance between subject and background. The ‘props’ do not appear to be staged, they are what Robertson has gathered over his lifetime, things he values, and maybe some things that he has inherited. A man who values ‘things’ because of their emotional connection to events and people, memories. Dressed quite formally, smoking jacket? tie, very natural in them, this is his style of dress, smart, traditional. He has a heritage that is upper-middle class? Upper class? Old money. Culture and art are valued, and the landscape appears to be Constable or Gainsborough but I cannot be sure of this.

There is symbolism in relation to the depiction of age, the old way, and possibly a representation that the traditional life and values are ageing and will soon be lost. But I believe that is a minor consideration and Robertson’s values and character are more important to both the subject and photographer.


Hannah Erdrich-Hartmann and Jana-Maria Hartmann, Düsseldorf 1987 1987 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 2. Hannah Erdich-Hartman and Jana-Maria Hartman, Dusseldorf (1987)

Initial thoughts:- Mixed thoughts about this, soft focus and large aperture (maybe even a photographic background) create an image of love, tenderness and gentleness. The position of the girl’s arm around her mothers neck and Jana-Maria’s hair also add to that sense. Jana-Maria’s expression changes between warmth and a touch annoyed/questioning, and Hannah’s expression is almost a challenge to the photographer and viewer. Dianne Arbus often forced her subjects frustration by delaying pressing the shutter so that people would eventually let go of the mask the ywant to present so tha the real self was revealed. In this photo it appears that Struth has done the same. Although I don’t consider this to be a formal portrait, and there is a tension between flattering and challenging, I wanted to include this photo because it presents a challenge to me with regard to reading and understanding it. It’s also of a different style than the other images that I’m including in this review. I feel that I am walking away from this photo confused.

Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo 1991 1991 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 3. Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo (1991)

Initial thoughts:- There is something about this particular photo that I find appealing, although I cannot put my finger on it, especially considering that I do not find emotion within the photo. There is a gulf between husband and wife, and I get the inkling that this was shot in a place of work, probably outside of the home due to the size. I am viewing this photo from and Western European background, and there maybe cultural differences and formalities that are hard for me to fully comprehend, and I say this in response to my perceived lack of emotion and a formality that borders on rigidity. I find the light very interesting. There is more than one window in this room, and it/they are large. I don’t see obvious signs of flash and the light coming through the window is bright daylight. The only apparent prop is the chair, so that the woman can sit down. The chair doesn’t fit in with the desk/work bench. On second thoughts there is a space on this side of the bench that would give her space to work whilst having the direct light from the window. The combination of vertical/horizontal and diagonal lines may symbolise structure, a structured and organised lifestyle reflective of the wider community?


The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan 1986 1986 by Thomas Struth born 1954Fig. 4. The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan 1986

Initial thoughts:- Is this a formal or informal family portrait? Do I understand formal group portraits outside of a studio or wedding? Can a formal portrait include people in various degrees of relaxation and formality? Is this merely a reflection of the characters of people who are of different generations to each other?

I enjoy the composition of the family and the lines they are placed in take me backwards and forwards between the people. No one individual stands out and this means that the photo brings the family together as a group, a collective, despite the space between them. I’m quite impressed with that actually. My knowledge of group portraits is of the tradition British style of everyone being close together. This is a pleasing and comfortable photograph to look at, and I find the contrast between this grouping and the group photo’s that I am used to to be quite refreshing.

I also like the contrast between the grey rocks and green shrubs/bushes. A planned/formal/structured garden that represents prosperity. Although I say garden (and I mean the garden of the family’s home when I do), it could be a formal community garden/park/or visitor attraction. I am still more inclined to think that this is their garden and the live on the edge of the suburbs or a rural community (maybe I’m just and old romantic at heart).

The colours and tone of the clothing provide a contrast with the garden and this brings out the people as subject. The trees that form the background keep my eye within the photo and they act as a frame. No use of props, and none required.


Four completely different styles of portrait from one photographer. Struth clearly is a people person and he either spends the time tgetting to know the people who he shoots so that he can bring out their personality, or he already knows them. Despite the styles being different between the four photo’s, the similarity is the capture of character. There are very few signs of props, and this is worth remembering, subtlety is paramount. Getting to know people is important as is liking people, in a general way. You may not necessarily like or know someone enough to like in order to make formal photographs, but there must be a genuine value of other. If portrait photography is undertaken without this then its going to come through and will over ride the  individuals character.

Clothing is important for two reasons, it signifies personality and individuality, and if the clothing is not what the subject is comfortable with then it will be hard for them to relax. This made me think of the photographer Rankin and his work with charities.

He uses a team of lighting, make-up, fashion, studio and design staff with clients who use of charities for support. He meets his clients in his studio on the day that he shoots them (sometimes over a couple of days). He brings out the best in these people, and some of whom really struggle with self-image and self esteem. In my opinion he is a genius and I envy and admire his sense of humour and the ability to create a strong rapport with people very quickly, in what is a very strange and difficult environment to be photographed in. Having a large range of clothing and accessories gives his clients the opportunity to look good and to find an outfit that they feel comfortable in, but his personality is the glue that brings the very best out of people. Maybe working with a background team ensures that he can spend his time creating a relationship with the person he is going to photograph.


Figure 1 Struth, T; 1987; The Late Giles Robertson (with book) Edinburgh [colour on paper]; AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 2 Struth, T; 1987; Hannah Erdich-Hartman and Jana-Maria Hartman, Dusseldorf  [black and white on paper]; AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 3 Struth, T; 1991; Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo [colour on paper]; AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Figure 4 Struth, T; 1986; The Shimada Family, Yamaguchi, Japan [colour on paper]; AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Feature Image Rankin; 2016; Here as I am (pic 20); AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)


Rankin; Online AT: (accessed on 24/05/2018)

Review – Bernd And Hilla Becher

Brief:- You probably own many significant objects, from a wedding ring to old clothes, trophies of achievement to mementos that recall special events or times of your life, like toys or records. Choose one of these to photograph. This mustn’t be a general thing like ‘flowers’ but something entirely specific to you. Respect the fact that this object matters to you. Photograph it carefully, thinking about how this object ought to be viewed through the camera. Consider the framing, viewpoint, background, placement, light and composition. Does the photograph (the representation) have the same meaning as the object itself ? Is there a difference? Now develop this exercise into a series of three photographs of similar objects. For example, if you chose to photograph your wedding ring, ask friends if you can photograph their wedding rings. If you photographed your home, photograph other people’s homes. Use exactly the same viewpoint, framing, lighting (as far as possible), background, etc., for each. This will help the three final photos fit together as a conclusive series. Look online at the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Note how the composition, framing and lighting is almost identical in each photograph and how this ‘gels’ the series together. 

Becher, B and Becher, 1959 to 1973 H Framework HousesFig. 1. Framework Houses (1959-73)

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) Hilla Becher (1934 – 2015)

Initial thoughts

Not Tudor, not imitation Tudor. I haven’t seen frame houses that are neither Tudor nor imitation. Maybe from the USA or parts of Europe that I havent visited. Orderliness, structure, unusual perspective, is there actually a house there or are these just mock walls like a film set? Very little background/vegetation and no people, but would like to see on a gallery wall for a closer inspection. The structure of each house is highly visible because there are no distractions. Routine – each house fills roughly the same area of the frame, and with only minor fluctuations in exposure and tone. All black and white so there are no contrasting or colours to distract. Very few windows, what do the residents do for daylight? Vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines – this appeals to me. Although there are slight differences it is possible to suggest that they were built by only three different builders (see the framework/bricks between the slopes of the roof’s).

I find myself only able to agree with the course manual in relation to the composition, framing and lighting. The routine and conformity highlight the shapes and lines of the buildings and their frames, and its interesting how the small structural differences and patterns are noticable and quite intriguing. Obviously this could not be the case if a single photo was exhibited alone. I think that if the series was to be taken and displayed with the same houses but shot at different angles, the detail would be lost. The 3D structure of the houses would alter the perspective greatly, and the backgrounds would then be a distraction. This is a great technique for photographing similar subjects if you want to highlight differences in detail and have an orderly presentation.

Stacy McCarroll Cutshaw (2012) describes the Becher’s work as being an important change of direction in landscape photography, moving away from the old romanticism and into a systemic approach, which is also more scientific. “The idea of topographies as applied to the photographed landscape stems from the exhibition ‘New Topographies: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape’ held in 1975 at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York… The Photographs were not romanticized images of the vast outdoors of the American West but depictions of everyday suburban sprawl. They focused on manufactured, industrialized landscapes, paying particular attention to the environment altered by human kind… Works by the German collaborative photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, such as Framework Houses (1958-1973…) also featured in the show. Their oeuvre is pivotal to a generation of European and US photographers who cultivated a systematic approach to photography.” (Hacking; 2014; pp 400 + 401).

My significant object

This maybe a tricky exercise for me. The most important object to me is my Gohonzon. The Gohonzon is  a scroll that is used by practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism. It contains the Mystical Law of the Lotus Sutra written in Japanese text. It is the centre piece of my alter, sitting above the fireplace with several crystals and candles. I would not want to use anything else for this exercise.

My difficulty is that I do not meet other people regularly. In fact outside of appointments that I attend I have only met up three people, and a couple (all friends and family) this year. Currently I have no plans to meet up with anyone.

At the moment I see my options as being – find a church that’s open and photograph the alter, or make use of a photo that I took in Lindisfarne. It would be better to photograph my alter first and then go and shoot in a church. This would mean that I could control the composition, although the lighting will be significantly different (however I could make use of bracketed exposure, 5 stops each way and convert to HDR for the inside of the church). Then to find a different religious building, or a group, or individual and photograph their alter or significant spiritual object.

My second idea would be to make my photo first and then email it to several people and ask them if they can make a photo of their spiritually significant place, using the same composition and similar lighting if possible.

Difficulties are just solutions playing hide and seek.


Figure 1; Becher, B andBecher, H; 1959-73; Framework Houses; AT: (accessed on 19/05/2018)


Hacking, J; 2014; Photography: The Whole Story; London; Thames and Hudson

Review – Gillian Wearing

In preparation for exercise 3.5 Photographs from text we are asked to take a look at “Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you too say”.

Gillian Wearing (OBE) (1963)

'I have been certified as mildly insane!' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963Fig. 1. I have been certified as mildly insane… (1993-3)

'I signed on and they would not give me nothing' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963Fig. 2. I signed on and they would not give me nothing (1992-3)

Wearing, G; 1992-3; Work towards peace [Fig. 3. Work towards peace (1992-3)

For this series Gillian worked with members of the public, requesting the opportunity to photograph them, and asked if they would write something pertinent to them on a large piece of paper. It’s a very clever concept, but also very simple. Its a collaborative process that allowed her to produce an image with the people that she photographed, rather than taking photos of them. She photographed people from varying walks of life, gender, race, sexuality, and the result is a series of photos where all are equal. They are equal because they have all been allowed to speak for themselves.

It reinforces to me what I have just read in The Civil Contract of Photography, in which Azoulay states “Anyone who addresses others through photographs or takes the position of a photographers addressee, even if she is a stateless person who has lost her “right to have rights… is nevertheless a citizen – a member in the citizenry of photography” (Azoulay, A; 2008; pp85). She goes on to discuss that the viewer is also a citizen of photography and that we are all involved and participate in the photo and its understanding of it, especially so in documentary/reportage/disaster/conflict photography.

Wearing’s approach is a very interesting one and it makes me think about how often this occurs, especially in comparison with mainstream documentary or reportage photography. Generally a photographer, who is working for a media outlet or other interested party, will have a brief and a duty to take photos according to the taste/politics/demands of the editor or organisation. How often do photographed people have the opportunity to consent to having their photograph taken, let alone to be a co-author?

The approach makes me consider my own photography in relation to the genres of street and events. I have worked with direct consent where I have explained my studies to people and gained their permission to make their portrait, at events I have worked on assumed consent, in which people are fully aware that photographers are around, and if they try to hide their face then I do not photograph them, and I have also taken some street photography without consent. This is not to say that any style is better, or correct, they all have their value, but I do like Wearing’s style, which is an approach that I have made use of for a project with homeless people (although I asked them what they would like to say to accompany their photo, rather than providing them with the means to write their own words) (Keys, R; 2018).

This is not an approach that I will be using for exercise 3.5 but certainly one that I would like to build upon in the future, and my tutor and I have discussed this previously.



Figure 1; Wearing, G; 1992-3; I have been certified as mildly insane… [chromogenic print on paper]; AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Figure 2; Wearing, G; 1992-3; I signed on and they would not give me nothing [chromogenic print on paper];

Figure 3; Wearing, G; 1992-3; Work towards peace [chromogenic print on paper]; AT:


Azoulay, A; 2008; The Civil Contract of Photography; New York; Zone Books; pp85

Keys, R; 2018; Homelessness – People are only invisible if we choose to ignore them; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Review – Barbara Kruger

Barbera Kruger (1945)

Kruger, B; 1982; We Have Recieved Orders Not To Move [photograph and screen print]Fig. 1. We Have Received Orders Not To Move (1982)

Kruger, B; 2014; Untitled (Hello Goodbye)Fig. 2. Untitled (Hello/Goodbye) (2014)

My current research is in relation to exercise 3.5 Photographs from text and the coursework suggests looking at Kruger’s montages.

Initial Thoughts

Plain, unappealing, dull, text is prominent, text works well in first image which carries feminist political content. What is the female gaze? Second image appears like an advert in an underground station or maybe street art, questions identity and the gaze in general (we see the world how we want to see it, rather than how it is and because of this we lose track of who we are, and others view us through their looking-glass, hence we too become the unseen.

In relation to Photographs from text

Neither of these are photographs in their original format, but are relevant to one of my approaches. I intend to complete the exercise in two ways, one will be using a poem next to photos that I have taken, and the other will be a montage in the style of Gerhard Richter, using appropriated images from newspapers, including some of its accompanying text, and following the same poem, which may or may not be printed or written alongside it. Kruger uses appropriated images in many of her montage’s and employs the silk screen printing process to overlay the text. Her text in general is quite large, but with brief sentences.

My reason for choosing We have received orders not to move was purely because it reminded me of a thread based craft that my sister used to do. She would stick pins into a pre-marked board, and then follow a design to tie thread around the pins, which then created a pattern.

Kruger is a politically motivated artist, and her work is often based around the theme of the dominance of men, especially white men, and how the media promotes stereotypes. Although it has been written that she was influenced by Dianne Arbus I do not see that in these images at all, rather I can see her background working with an advertising agency coming through strongly. Often her art makes use of appropriated magazine advertising, which she then overlays with text of her choice. Generally the montages that she creates are simple and eye-catching, and they have been created this way to be impactful. They are also vernacular because they make use of the style of images and presentation that people are used to from reading magazines and newspapers. Using popular and current images to appeal to the populace was a successful technique that the Lever Brothers used to mass market pre-weighed soap. They would purchase modern works of art that appealed to the wider audience, and then place their logo into the paintings as seen in figure 3.

Relating to the first image Fabienne Dumont says “This work consists in enlarging advertising images taken from magazines, applying them to large banners, and adding a slogan explicitly directed at the public and questioning white male authority and the stereotypes spread by the media.” (Dumont, F; 2013).

Untitled (Hello/Goodbye) is a photo of a small section of an installation in which most of the wall space is covered with large vinyls that contain black and white text, with the occasion words in red ink. “Her texts often employ personal pronouns, which incorpo­rate the spectator into the discursive and graphic space: “I shop therefore I am.” “You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece.” References for these pronouns remain intentionally nonspecific, opening up a space of identification and disiden­tification.” (Erikson, R; 2017)

Sunlight Soap, Lever Brothers cFig. 3. Sunlight Soap (c1886)


Figure 1; Kruger, B; 1982; We Have received Orders Not To Move [photograph and screen print]; AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Figure 2; Kruger, B; 2014; Untitled (Hello Goodbye) [installation – Digital print on vinyl] at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Figure 3; Lever Borthers; (c1886); Sunlight Soap; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)


Dumont, F; 2013; Barbara Kruger; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Erikson, R; 2017; Barbara Kruger, Born 1945, Newark, New Jersey; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Wolf, J; 2018; Barbara Kruger, American Designer, Graphic Artist, and Photographer; Online AT: (accessed on 12/05/2018)

Review – Polly Apfelbaum

Oh my gosh, I am so happy right now. I have discovered an artist that I feel very excited about, more so that any of the photographers that I have discovered through Foundations in Photography.

Apfelbaum works with a variety of media, but I am particularly drawn to he hand dyed crushed velvet installations, where she makes an excellent use of colour and space. Walking through one of her exhibitions must be such a treat for the soul.

Apfelbaum,-P;-(2016);-Face-(Geometry)-(Naked)-Eyes-[mixed-media]Fig. 1. Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes; (2016)

The amount of space within the gallery strikes me as much as the colour, I believe that they compliment each other and I feel both peaceful, energetic and joyful. The composition of this photo makes me feel as if I am being hugged and safely contained. I can imagine standing where the camera is and not wanting to move.

During an interview by Sarah Miller Meigs, Apfelbaum says “My issues are color, surface and form – painterly issues, but the work unfolds in space… I like to react to the space of the gallery, and work with the large scale and site specificity, reacting to the architecture.” (Miller Meigs, S; 2014). The development of her installations has many processes, but the most important to her is that she spends time in a space, hours even, just observing the light, space and boundaries. She places small pieces of fabric on the floor in her studio and then she dies them. Her installations may include an addition of ceramics that hang from the ceiling or paintings on the wall, and fabric and paint that flows down the wall and across the floor. (Widewall; 2013 – 2018).

Erasing Tracing Racing Paint; Apfelbaum, P and Nelson, D; Michael Benevento, Los Angeles, CA, March 12 - May 17 2016Fig. 2. Erasing Tracing Racing Paint; (2016)

To attend an Apfelbaum exhibition at a gallery gives you the opportunity talk through her creations, and interact with the light and space that’s available, an immersion rather than a viewing. She says “It’s important to me that people have to move through the works so the spectator activates it and participates in the experience. As you move, the color and the nap of a fabric change and the work plays a lot with light.” (Marcoci, R; 2007).

Her work has been described in many ways, as art, pop, sculpture, feminism, installation, craft, photography, post minimalism, performance and abstract (Miller Meigs; 2016; Widewalls; 2013 – 2018; Ebony; 2017). One of her abstracts is of particular interest to me because I saw a photograph of it without a title, and I couldn’t get my head around it. Did it represent clothes laid out in an orderly fashion? A journey with other people who you meet along the way? Rigid thinking that constrains creativity? Although Apfelbaum had a very specific representation with this installation, she is glad that her work is open to interpretation, and each viewer can bring their own unique personality into the gallery.

Apfelbaum, P; (1992); The Dwarves Without Snow White, The Blot on my Bonnet, Amy Lipton Gallery, New York, NY [boxes and lids, stretched crushed velvet]Fig. 3. The Dwarves Without Snow White; (1992)

Speaking during an interview with Brooklyn Museum she discusses feminism and gender in relation to this piece and how she drew upon the work of other women that had created installations. With regard to the abstract nature pf this piece, there are eight boxes and only severn dwarves (re the title Without Snow White), because “If Snow White got her act together she could have a box. But at the time you had this very Disney world. The dwarves were absolutely much more emotional and more fun, having a great time.” (Polly Apfelbaum, 2008). This highlights for me gender roles in relation to relaxation time and leisure for the man that went out to work, and the subservient woman whose role around the house didn’t stop at 5pm, but continued once the man got home and after the children had gone to bed. This division of labour and leisure, privilege and unworthiness have become so ingrained that even with a demand for change, the progres is very slow.

I find these insights into feminism very revealing. I have been aware of the societal construct and reinforcement of gender roles for many years, but it’s always pertinent to have a new perspective.

I would like to finish with one last photo of Apfelbaums art, and I do so because it highlights the intensity, creativity, time and dedication that she flows from her intuitive spirit. This piece is made of 1040 individual pieces of fabric that are hand dyed so that the colours include all of the Sennelier 104-color dye chart. This is not made once and then sown together, rather, each time she has an exhibition, she goes along to the space and gets a feel for how she can best present, then uses her intuition to re-lay “Blossom” onto the floor. Each installation will have three or four variations of the same piece which has different colours that are more dominant from piece to piece, the patterns change through out because of this. She does not make use of assisstants and performs this herculean task alone. By observing the two images below we can see how the lighting, floor and colour of the walls all allow Blossom to be a dynamic, changing and living work of Art

Apfelbaum, P; (2000) ; Blossom [Synthetic velvet and fabric dye] Collections of Museum of Modern Art, New YorkFig. 4. Blossom (2000)

Apfelbaum, P; (2000) ; Blossom Powerpuff, D_Amelio Terras, New York, NY. 2000Fig. 5. Blossom (2000)



Figure 1;  Apfelbaum, P; (2016); Face (Geometry) (Naked) Eyes [mixed media]; AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Figure 2;  Apfelbaum, P and Nelson, D; 2016; Erasing Tracing Racing Paint at the  Michael Benevento, Los Angeles, CA, March 12 – May 17 2016; AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Figure 3; Apfelbaum, P; (1992); The Dwarves Without Snow White, The Blot on my Bonnet [boxes and lids, stretched crushed velvet] at the Amy Lipton Gallery, New York, NY; AT: (accessed on 11/05/2014)

Figure 4; Figure 5; Apfelbaum, B; 2000; Blossom [Synthetic velvet and dye] at MoMA, Manhatten; AT: (accessed on 1/05/2018)

Figure 5; Apfelbaum, B; 2000; Blossom [Synthetic velvet and dye] at the D’Amelio Terras, New York, NY; AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)



Ebony, D; 2017; Polly Apfelbaum, New York, at Alexander Gray Associates; Online AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Marcoci, R; 2007; [interview by author March 4-June 11, 2007]; “COMIC ABSTRACTION: Image-breaking, Image Making. “The Museum of Modern Art Interviews, March 4-June 11, 2007; London; Thames and Hudson: pp. 42-49; Online at: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Miller Meigs, S; 2014; [Interview by Author 2014]; “Q and A with Polly”; Online AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Polly Apfelbaum [interview online]; Brooklyn Museum (2008) 4.26 mins At: (accessed on 11/05/2018)

Widewall;  2013 – 2018); Polly Apfelbaum/ Polly Apfelbaum, United States 1955, Installation, Painting; Online AT: (accessed on 11/05/2018)


Review – Zelt By Roman Signer

zelt_2002Fig 1 (Zelt; 2002)

Brief:- Swiss artist Roman Signer uses photography, film and video to document performances, events or ‘akts’ he creates. Zelt comprises a sequence of images showing a man running from a tent, which then explodes. A passage of time and movement is depicted in each successive frame. The sequence relates a kind of ‘sculpture’ of changing forms that include the location of grass and trees, the tent, the man, the burst of flame and smoke. Characteristic of signers oeuvre, the event is both comic and mysterious. There is a sense of finality and transformation. Often there is nothing left but the photographic record, so its vital the record itself is as expressive of the event as possible. You could say that ‘earth artists’ like Andy Goldsworthy use photography in the same way, to document ephemera.

  • Would this work have been as effective if the cameras viewpoint has changed with each shot?
  • What encapsulates this sequence, makes it seem like a finished piece?
  • What do you think are the influences that led to this work?
  • Do you think the influences affect the way we interpret it?


initial Thoughts

These were my initial thoughts when I read through the manual at the start of my OCA Foundations in Photography journey last year.

Don’t like, a waste of my time to even look at it, a kid playing a prank, childish, pointless, at best the work of a teacher demonstrating the use of shutter speed as a technique to capture movement, or a photography student practicing and developing those skills.

Making time for consideration I have tried to see things from another perspective, and this has been really hard to do from my own frame of reference rather than that of other students. What I interpret is a reaction to all of the needless man-made wars and riots. A recreation of a flash point. We have had several wars recently in which the West goes into a country, blows the shit out of it, and then runs away leaving the said country to try to rebuild itself and without the support or infrastructure to do so.

What I have realised is that it is sometimes a challenge to drop my frame of reference and try to see things differently, from someone elses perspective, and this sequence is definitely one that I struggle with. The brief is really telling me what to see and how to view the image. I can see the necessity for that in order to prompt learning, but I have tried to review this series from my own perspective before considering possible alternatives.

Hand on heart I still see a guy, having fun with a motion camera and nothing more, and I believe that he does so without the intent of creating anything substantial or with a purpose. Yes I do get that sequence has a very clear start, middle and end, and can see how that is a very useful technique to use in photography and moving image. There is still space for individual interpretation and emotion in response to a series which does have a clear end point. I also believe that Zelt asks questions rather than telling me what to see (the brief told me what to see not the sequence). Signer has clearly provoked an emotional response wiithin me rather than a rational one. I will review Signer’s motivation shortly.


Would this work have been as effective if the cameras viewpoint has changed with each shot?

Yes from my point of view, but that’s because of my sociological framework. Changing of view point would have provided an alternative viewing of differing witness to an accident, and asked questions about the validity of using witness statements, when we all see things differently.

What encapsulates this sequence, makes it seem like a finished piece?

Having a start point that has a relay to the final photo works very well. Although you cannot see the tent in the final image there is a piece of debris to the right of the smoke. I’m left with the understanding that the tent has been destroyed, and that its inhabitant is safe.

What do you think are the influences that led to this work?

An obsession with fire and destruction, excitement, trepidation, war, riot, social commentary on the acts of Western Nations. Other than the brief telling me to see the “passage of time and movement” and ” kind of ‘sculpture’ of changing forms” I cannot conceive of an influence, and neither do I consider this to be a living sculpture. I believe the art world can be very pretentious in what it considers to be en vogue, and this sequence, without having viewed how Signer builds upon his previous work, the context of his production or his motivation, then I am left with the opinion that this is not art. There may be some craftsmanship, as there is in building a house, but not art such as the new Oslo Opera House, Norway. I use these as abstracts because I am beginning to consider the question ‘is photography art?’ This is a secondary question, with the primary one being ‘what is art?’ It was while viewing a Sky box set ‘Occupied’ (Occupied; 2015) that I considered that art can mean many things to people, and that craftsmanship of great skill may not be art.

If a person forges a wonderful piece of art, such as Madame Cézanne with Loosened Hair, has he created a work of art? If the answer is no, then there is the question of whether we considered it to be art before we discovered it was forged? If we did then how can it not be art now?

I have gone off point here but I am glad of the questions that I am beginning to explore. My understanding and ideas are being challenged and developed and I want that as both an artist and photographer.

Do you think the influences affect the way we interpret it?

No not in this case, because the influences are the ones that I have placed upon this sequence, and not the potential influences of Signer. The deficit is my own in relation to my lack of insight into this sequence, sorry Signer.

Roman Signer (b1938, Appenzell, Switzerland)

Signer began his career as an architecture intern, and became a technical draftsman following the advice of a careers counsellor Mr Koch, who also said that Signer would become an artist. He stuck with this career for around 10 years before attending the Lucerne School of Design, and then an exchange programme in Poland. Although he valued the development from researching and looking at the work of other artists, he doesnt feel he has been influenced by a particular style or artist. Infact he is very clear that his work is unique and original and comes from play and experimentation.  During an interview with Armin Senser (Senser, A; 2008), Signer describes art as being play and a game, and that he likes to make use of every day objects that have not been considered to be art previously. He makes use of tents, Kayaks, Bikes, fire, explosions, video, installation and land. He has even been pulled by a car, whilst in a Kayak, along a road with cows running to the side of him. The way that he challenges the concept of art has ensured that he has developed his games into visual and performance art which crosses the boundaries of genre, (riding a tricycle pretending to be a cosmonaut then being tipped up by his friends and disappearing in a cloud of smoke to create take off).

Although some of Signers work involves fire and explosion not all of it does, the exploration of movement appears to be the key theme of Signers. He is an explorer, and adventurer and an experimentalist, “Signer considers his artworks to be semi-controlled experiments in which he often cannot predict the outcome. Rather than perform in front of audiences, he records his “experiments” on film and in photographs.” (Litt; 2014).

Final Reflections

I am so glad that I have taken the time to do some research on Signer. What an amazing character with a great sense of humour in his approach, and I like that he doesn’t take himself or his art (eating humble pie right now) too seriously.

I believe that it is only right to be a viewer and write my initial reflections of how I have seen something before I undertake research. In this case what I have read has been thoroughly enjoyable and has radically altered my perspective on Signer. I don’t like Zelt, and I don’t consider it to be art, but in a wider sense I can see Signer as an artist.

This brings me back to the question of what is art? Maybe the viewer has as much of a say as anyone else in deciding what art is or isn’t.


Signer, R; 2002; Zelt; [Videostills: Aleksandra Signer]; AT: (accessed on 10/05/2018)


Litt, S; 2014; Swiss explosion artist Roman Signer will speak Saturday at the Cleveland Museum of Art – without detonations; Online AT; (accessed on 10/05/2018)

Occupied; 2015; Sky Atlantic; SkyBox Sets

Senser, A; 2008; Roman Signer by Armin Senser; Bomb Magazine; Online AT: (accessed on 10/05/2018)

Other references viewed

Phaidon; 2018; Roman Signer’s unconventional approach to art; Online AT: (accessed on 10/05/2018)

Gigon, A; 2014; The subtle and moving art of Roman Signer; Online AT: (accessed on 10/05/2018)



Review – The Better Picture Guide To Still Life And Close Up Photography

Buselle, M; 1999; The Better Picture Guide To Still Life And Close Up Photography; Crans-Pres-Celigny; RotoVision

Buselle is a film photographer and throughout the book he provides technical details about each presented photo – lens, filter, camera format and type of film. I can relate to lens, filter and camera format, however, the type of film I Kodachrome, Velvia is new to me, but fascinating none the less. My assumption is that the type of film (not its speed) combined with the filter works together in the way white balance does in digital photography. Film speed and ISO are the same.

The book covers different aspects of still life that includes the natural environment, food, flowers and plants, macro, and staged photos.

I found the sections that discuss lighting of huge benefit, especially as there are the occasional lighting plans that have been included as diagrams. It’s easy for me to lose some detail in photography because I have a personal preference for high contrast, but I can see how Busselle’s use of lighting and reflectors eases back the shadows and permits more detail to be seen.

Key learning points

  • Minimise colours where possible and appropriate to do so
  • Use a background which has a complimentary colour and texture
  • If you can’t find a suitable background then make one
  • If a multitude of colours are present i.e. a market stall then use a large aperture to reduce distractions and emphasise the colours
  • Take time to consider what it is you’re trying to present (he gives a pictorial example of the front of a wooden boat, it’s lettering and the reflection. Using the whole boat would be a chocolate box picture, whereas a tight crop emphasises the lettering on the wood and in the water)
  • Warm up filters (white balance set to shade) enable the photographer to make use of the sun and reduce the blues
  • Composition can make or break a still life, reduce subjects and props to a bare minimum, and introduce additional items with caution. Compliment the subject, don’t detract from it
  • Any subject can be turned into still life or macro. Move items around, change your position and the angle of the lens, experiment
  • Aperture, aperture, aperture. Match the aperture to the subject and the background, avoid distraction, enhance and compliment

Review – Ed Ruscha – Every Building On The Sunset Strip

Ed Ruscha (1937)

cofFig. 1. Every Building On The Sunset Strip (1966)

Every Building On The Sunset StripFig. 2. Every Building On The Sunset Strip (1966)

These images are important to show together. The first is a close up of part of the whole sequence, which appears to be made by taking photos incrementally that slightly overlap. They start at one end of sunset strip and are taken down the whole length of the road, and then back on the other side. Ruscha then had these printed into a strip book, with one side of the street the correct way up, and then the other side is upside down at the bottom of the page. I consider this sequence to be documentary photography, that becomes a historical artifact. The presentation is the most appealing aspect, and how I would love to own this, and slowly explore each page, look at the shops, buildings, people and transport. I have had a look online and certainly cannot afford the originals (£1,000 – £7,000). If any body is aware of later additions which are more affordable, then I would love to know where I can buy it.

At first glance the photos look to have been taken at different times of day and have a change of light conditions (I could not imagine a project of this nature being undertaken in one day). The montage that is the correct way up, the space in between and then the images that are inverse, add together to create a scene that is as if the viewer were looking down from above, but with a slightly altered perspective. I love it, and it has inspired me somewhat, although what is coming to mind for me is a different take upon the theme. When I start exercise 3.1 Searching, I will use my camera at eye level and take a shot every few seconds as I walk around either Durham or Leeds, so that I have a record of my journey. Once I have developed them I will turn them into a photo-video. This will be a sequence that records a journey, but also becomes a documentary style,  historical sequence.

Anyhow, back to Ruscha.

Although the photos were taken along the Strip and then stitched together, the interval that Ruscha took the photos means that there were physical gaps between where each photo was taken. This means that although the complete photo is a historical document, it is partial. There is a lot of symbology to the image that I had missed completely, the rise of the car and the increase of urbanisation and sprawl. Both of which were concerns at the time (Hacking, 2014; 408, 409)

MoMA records that Ruscha had built upon the work of Walker Evans ” but their deadpan, cool aesthetic is radically different. While each book chronicles an aspect of Los Angeles or the artist’s round-trip drives between LA and Oklahoma, their use of photography as a form of map-making or topographical study signals a conceptual, rather than documentary, thrust.” (MoMA Gallery Label; 2012-2013)

The above quote has been a little difficult to get my head around, map making and topography are conceptual rather than documentary? Rushca’s map making is dissimilar to maps created by Ordnance Survey which provide accurate and detailed coverage of the complete area of the map. Ruscha’s photo books are partial and incomplete representations of journeys that he chooses to take, and he chooses when to make the shot. They become a representation of something that he wants to explore and tell, rather than what is there. Exploring the themes that arise from Sunset Strip, cars, urbanisation, which are in my opinion both conceptual and documentary. I don’t believe that they have to be considered as an either or. The polarisation by analysis is a concept of the reviewer (including me)/academic, and their beliefs take the viewer further away from the photo, and even more distant from the subject. I have gotten myself a little carried away.

If anyone is able to shed further light or ideas on the documentary/conceptual themes I would be grateful to hear them.

What ever ideas have been explored I like Ruscha’s style of photography, and would love to get my hands on some of his work.


Figure 1; Ruscha, E; 1966; Every Building On The Sunset Strip [Offset lithograph on paper]; In: Hacking, J; 2014; Photography The Whole Story, Page 408; London; Thames and Hudson

Figure 2; Ruscha, E; 1966; Every Building On The Sunset Strip (1966) [Offset lithograph on paper]; AT:


Hacking, J; 2014; Photography the Whole Story; London; Thames and Hudson

MoMA Gallery Label; 2012-2013; The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013; Online AT: (accessed on 23/02/2018)

Ordnance Survey; Online AT:

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc; 2018; Edward Ruscha; Online AT: (accessed on 23/02/2018)