Review – Sleeping by the Mississippi, Alec Soth

Alec Soth (born 1969, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States) is an American photographer, based in Minneapolis, who makes “large-scale American projects” featuring the midwestern United States.[1] New York Times art critic Hilarie M. Sheets wrote that he has made a “photographic career out of finding chemistry with strangers” and photographs “loners and dreamers”.[2] His work tends to focus on the “off-beat, hauntingly banal images of modern America” according to The Guardian art critic Hannah Booth.[1] His work has been compared to that of Walker Evans and Stephen Shore.[1] He is a member of Magnum Photos. (Wikimedia Foundation; 2017)

I shall begin in my usual way of reviewing two specific photos of Soth, and specifically from his work entitled “Sleeping by the Mississippi” as suggested by my tutor Jayne Taylor. Then I will read a couple of reviews and watch a YouTube video, so that I can build upon my critique of the photos that I select.

Charles, Vasa, Minnesota 2002Fig. 1. Charles, Vasa, Minnesota (2002)

Initial Thoughts:- Narrow depth of field makes person stand out, colours(turquoise, red, green), person not crisp despite narrow depth of field, overalls and shoes paint-stained and tatty, aeroplanes look to be intact and are likely to be radio controlled, both have signs of engines, I suspect that these are both in working action, Charles is proud to present them, they are important to him, is he possibly a retired pilot (aircraft, green overalls, sheepskin head-gear). This is appears to be the second storey of the property (background drops away from the level they are on), and it is possible that Charles will fly the aeroplanes for Soth. There is a pride to these aircraft, they are being shown off to an outsider, and that makes them special and important. These two aeroplanes may be a hobby but they are important and significant to Charles.

I think that he looks after himself, his beard and clothing may make him look unkempt but there is no sign of illness or ill health from the appearance of his skin, and his house appears well maintained. The paint on his house is smooth and doesn’t appear to have flakes or damage. It looks cold, snow lays beneath his feet, but he is warm and is appropriately dressed for the weather. Its winter as there are no leaves on the tree, so it is hard to guess whether this is a secluded woodland home or a wasteland. I suspect that the home is surrounded by wasteland, although I only guess this to be the case, a gut feeling.

Imagine living alone, or with little family, in a found home and in the middle of a wasteland. It’s the middle of the winter. You’re suspicious of strangers, suspecting ridicule at best, violence or murder at worst. And yet you’re standing here, having your photo taken. That says something to me about Soth. He has built the trust of this man. He has been welcomed and accepted, so much so that the man is displaying what is his pride and joy, his two remote-controlled aircraft. Soth is clearly a communicator, he has not just turned up out of the blue with his camera. He has visited the area and planned this shoot. But there has to be more. He has to be an insider to build that level of trust. Why? As an outsider with the best communication skills you are not going to be repeatedly invited back until the trust is built, it’s not going to happen, and without that you will either get no photo or at best a cold portrait, standing on the porch, with gun close by.

This is not a warm photo, but neither is it cold and detached. This man has trusted Soth deeply. It’s highly unlikely that even an insider, but stranger nonetheless, would be invited back unless he had known the family personally. So Soth is an insider, he knows enough of the local area to be considered so, and this has been his footing into him being allowed to photograph. This has been a planned shoot, at the very least there has been planning about how to build rapport so quickly.

The similar tonal range of the paint work, overalls, and colours of aircraft keep the eye central and the focus upon the man. The building acts as an anchor for the eye, and this renders the tree behind Charles as irrelevant rather than a distraction.

 

Fort_Jefferson_Memorial_Cross, Wickliffe, Kentucky 2002Fig.2. Fort_Jefferson_Memorial_Cross, Wickliffe, Kentucky (2002)

Initial thoughts:- Christianity is an overwhelming, imposing and powerful part of this community. The community is less important than the religion. Hope lies in the cross. Why is hope so important in this community? The car looks beaten, the workers are either involved in menial manual work or they are convicts involved in the same work. If the people were had higher importance or social status, then the cross would have less prominence. This is a narrative photo in which Christianity and the Star Spangled Banner are intrinsic. The protestant work ethic underpinning The American Dream. These men are not a part of that American Dream, as it stands they do not matter, and must redeem themselves. Salvation is not their right. They must work for it. Is this to do with the exclusion that is prominent for those in the deep south? Does this relate back to the slave trade, where the whites got rich and exported that wealth to the North, leaving behind poverty and a hard life for those of the South? Or is this about crime and having to earn any right to redemption? Either way these men are “sinners” under the oppression of the cross. The cross is only powerful for some!!!

The cross, white, pure, heavenly – the orange uniforms stand out as being dirty, stained and sinful. These men are laying the road surface as indicated by their rakes and tar brush, but they will not get to walk that road to heaven; They are sinners.

I do not want to explore the technicalities of this photo. They are not important, but the story is. I may have read the narrative incorrectly, but it is all that matters. It reminds me of the symbolism of A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Walker Evans which I have previously reviewed. Another fine photo where the narrative was more important than the technicalities.

Reflections upon other sources

Alec Soth reports that he was driving around on one of his road trips around the Mississippi, and what attracted him was the glass room on the second storey of the house. He knocked on the door and it was answered by Charles’ wife, and he agreed that he would come back later when Charles was home. Charles had added different floors to the home and moved the internal structures around. The aircraft were a shared interest between Charles and his daughter, they would build them and fly them together. (Behind the Picture – Alec Soth, 2014)

Soth was an insider in many respects, he was born and lived not far from where the Mississippi begins, in rural Minnesota. So he has an inlet with the people that he photographs. He also has quite specific notes in relation to subjects that he wants to photograph, and has these taped to his dashboard when he is on a road trip. He is awkward and shy but finds this to be something that helps to develop the initial rapport with those he shoots. In the New York Times he reports “My own awkwardness comforts people, I think. It’s part of the exchange.” (Sheets, 2009)

The key point of learning for me from Soth’s account, is the necessity to make photos about subjects that interest you. If you are not attracted to your subject, then you have no connection to build upon. My tutor said the same to me on Friday during my Assignment One feedback session. When we show an interest in another person, whether that is about them as an individual, their beliefs, or about a person’s property, they relax, they give something of themselves back to you. This is also discussed in Creative Portraits (Davis, 2010:24-27), which I am currently reading. It is good for me to hear that Soth is shy and feels awkward around people, but this has helped him to create photography. As someone who is shy, this gives me hope. As it happens, I approached two couples today to ask if I could take their photos. I explained why, and also said that I need to practice my portrait photography because I find it so hard to be around people. It was the connection that let me in.

 

Illustrations

Figure 1. Soth, A (2002) Charles, Vasa, Minnesota At: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 (accessed on 02/10/2017)

Figure 2. Soth, A (2002) Fort Jefferson Memorial Cross, Wickliffe, Kentucky At: http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14 (accessed on 02/10/2017)

References

Behind the Picture – Alec Soth, (2014), YouTube Video, Magnum Photos, At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cks_13JE3iw&index=131&list=PLjRzIl_KZc4jIw26rwjgIc__29fcXmjay (accessed on 03/10/2017)

Davis, H; 2010; Creative Portraits, Digital Photography Tips & Techniques; Indianapolis; Wiley Publishing, Inc

Keys, R; 2017; Review of “A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania”, by Walker Evans; Online at https://photosociology.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/review-of-a-graveyard-and-steel-mill-in-bethlehem-pennsylvania-by-walker-evans/ (accessed on 02/10/2017)

Sheets, HM; 2009; ‘Trolling for Strangers to Befriend’; In: The New York Times [Online] At: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/arts/design/02shee.html (accessed on 03/10/2017)

Wikimedia Foundation Inc; 2017; Alec Soth; Online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alec_Soth (accessed on 02/10/2017)

Also Viewed

http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/09/alec-soth-on-sleeping-by-the-mississippi/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/aug/25/alec-soth-sleeping-by-the-mississippi-loners-preachers-sex-workers-sinners

http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/1180-Sleeping-by-the-Mississippi.html

Review of Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was a sculptor, who through his photographic studies of plants, was able to teach art, by steering his pupils back to nature and its creation of form and structure. He built his own cameras with high magnification so that he could photograph the minute details in plants.

Plate 46, struthiopteris germainca, 1928 soul cathcher studioFig 1

late 47 pinterestFig 2

Initial thoughts – Shape, pattern, texture, form, symmetry, sharpness, detail, pattern, repetition, macro, no distraction, plain/neutral background, (real size of “fiddle head” in Struthiopteris germanica around 3-5cm). Can see veins in fig 2,

What I particularly enjoy about Blossfeldt’s photography, is the sharpness and the detail. In Fig 1 it is possible to see the new frond growth that are curled up inside of the “fiddle head”, and in Fig 2, it is the leathery texture which highlights the surface structure that I am drawn to.

The neutral background means that the only thing that I see in Blossfeldt’s photogravure’s is the subject. There is an importance to ensuring that depth of field and accurate, sharp focus are spot on to make this type of photography, and worth keeping in mind for the exercises within this piece of coursework.

There are two images by Henry Troth (1863-1948) in A History of Photography (Johnson WS, Rice M and Williams C; 2016; p 274, 275) which I find to be more appealing. Lady Fern (Fig 1) shows the fern with its rhizome, cleverly arranged so that they rhizome is flat on the background and the fern is in the air.

Lady FernFig 3

Tulip Popular Blossom has a black background, and the lighting comes from the left. These combine to bring out some of the detail in the foliage, but more so in the flowers. The background has been removed from these images, but I do prefer the depth in them when compared with Blossfeldt’s images.

Henry Troth Tulip Poplar Blossom 1900Fig 4

 

References

Fig 1 – Blossfeldt, Karl; 1928; Plate 46 Struthiopteris germanica; [photogravure]; At http://www.soulcatcherstudio.com/exhibitions/blossfeldt/plate046.html (accessed on 13/09/2017)

Fig 2 – Blossfeldt, Karl; 1928; Plate # 47: Saxifraga Willkommniana; [photogravure]; At https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jjcoral99/karl-blossfeldt/ (accessed on 13/09/2017)

Fig 3 – Troth, H; 1900; Lady Fern; [gelatin silver print]; At https://www.pinterest.co.uk/lauredarre/vegetable/ (accessed on 14/09/2017)

Fig 4 – Troth, H; 1900, Tulip Poplar Blossom; [gelatin silver print]; At http://www.softpyramids.info/post/19153186317/henry-troth-tulip-poplar-blossoms-ca-1900 (accessed on 14/09/2017)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matteuccia (accessed on 13/09/2017)

https://www.moma.org/interactives/objectphoto/publications/774.html (accessed on 13/09/2017)

Johnson WS, Rice M and Williams C; 2016; A History of Photography From 1839 to the present; Koln; Taschen GmbH; p 274, 275

Review – Tom Hunter

Brief:-

Tom Hunter http://www.tomhunter.org/gallery/ – Look at the two series Life and Death in Hackney and Unheralded Stories. Do you notice the connection between the people and their surroundings? How does Hunter achieve this? What kinds of places are these photographs set in? Are they exotic, special or ordinary, everyday places? There’s something ‘mythical’ and yet also ‘everyday’ about Hunter’s pictures. Look carefully at one or two images and try to pick out the features that suggest these two different qualities.

Tom Hunter provides information about his art alongside the two galleries required for review by the brief, and I have been able to add to this with further reading online. Hunter uses local people in their own environment, a place that is familiar for he and them. The photos are staged with “sitters” (not models). They are local people who he either knows, or he discovers locally. Although the photos are meticulously staged so that they represent a painting from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the sitters are so familiar with the environment that only a few appear to be staged photos. Hand on heart – I have no idea about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and no art history, so I have had to do some research)

Hunter gave an interview to the Guardian Newspaper in which he says “The whole idea was to elevate the status of my sitters; to take the attributes of classical painting and put them on to my sitters. That was my political motivation. I’ve always been political, and it’s very important to me that people don’t see Hackney as a mythical place. It is a real place, and it’s somewhere everyone up and down the country can relate to. These things are going on in every town and county. You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to find a war zone. People are shooting each other every day in Hackney.” (Aitkenhead, D; 2005)

Do I understand the political intention behind staging people in their local setting to reenact news-stories, as a way of engaging the viewer with what is going on in front of their eyes? Yes. Do I understand the propaganda instigated by the capitalist minority so that they can further influence and control the behaviour of the proletariat, and corrupt their minds so that they scorn those who live an alternate lifestyle or who are socially excluded, and that this is social control? Yes I do.

Most of the external of the settings appear to be edgelands. The spaces between the city and the countryside, and they also appear to be less affluent. Hell that’s not true, they appear to be places of poverty and degradation. We are seeing marginalised people in marginilised communities. The kind of places that governments make quick promises to, and take slow actions about. These kind of areas can be found in cities and towns throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Interestingly the London Borough of Hackney is no edgeland. Its is in the heart of London and borders with the City of London (business district).

I do not see these places as being exotic (foreign, non-native, tropical) and only three of four of these pieces of art appear to have anything mythical about them. Maybe if I had a history with fine art I may have seen more mystery and myth within the series. Staging photos so that they mimic famous paintings does not necessarily create a magical feeling to those with no knowledge of those works. Although having read from Hunter site, his interview in the Guardian and a review by Robert Wilkes (Wilkes, R; 2014) I do have an understanding of the intent of adding an aesthetical feel to political issues as a way of engaging political dialogue.

Exploring the everyday and mythical

DMJ0104Z_09.tifFig 1

My thoughts –  A dilapidated house from the 1960’s. I would have guessed at an earlier period if it had not been for two miniature colour photos of children on the fireplace to the right of the scene. The woman is alive (colour of skin) and is wearing lipstick and eyeliner that is still very neat with no smudging,(so we are not viewing heroin chic of the late 90’s and no apparent drunkenness). Its 8.50 and I would guess PM as there is the reflection of a light in the painting of the female religious figure on the wall – top left. She is divorced and the wedding band is now on her right hand. Is she preparing to go out for the night to meet her friends? Despite this she is grieving and feels alone, dirty ashamed and unloveable (Symbolism – empty made bed, that’s stained and dirty, the floor has no carpet, the wall paper is terribly faded, there is no longer a mirror above the fireplace and there is now just white paint). She sees herself as a fallen woman, prostrating before Jesus and Mary (Mary statue, Jesus Painting, Cross on necklace on the Jesus painting, female religious painting). There is clearly the overlay of the myth of the fallen woman – a label that puts women on a pedestal as being saintly then humiliates them for being human, and the myth of Christ as portrayed (Catholicism – WHITE (WTF?), halo, saintly, GOD in the form of man).

The reality is that it could be any one of us in this situation and at different times throughout our life we all feel alone, ashamed, tired, grief and not good enough. When compared to Death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix and become aware that a man is laying on a bed staring out from his bed at an orgy, with a woman dead at his feet, we are then reminded that the woman on Hunters bed has suffered at the hands of man. That is so familiar that most of the 3.6b women on the planet can relate to. The myth that is alluded to is a familiar and frequent reality for many.

the-way-home-high-2009-emailFig 2

My thoughts – When I first viewed the series Life and Death in Hackney, this was the photo that I stopped at. The reason being that all of the others looked like candid or street photography. However this photo did not. It reminded me of a painting, and this was the one photo that looked staged. The canal has indeed become a stage so that Hunter could recreate the painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais. The blue trousers, the grassy bank and shrub with its flowers and bloom and its petals in the canal, provide a very surreal scene. However the bridge and industrial buildings in the background bring us back to the present day. The title suggests that there has been a misadventure on the way home, but the staging stops me from having emotion relating to it. I don’t believe the story because of the staging. I find that is a shame. Because the story is tragic, and it is tragic because it is real. Hunter read a newspaper article about a woman who had been found dead in a canal. This leaves me with the dilemma and tension between the beauty and art of the photo, and the tragedy of the narrative. I do not like that feeling, but its an incredibly clever piece of art that brings together myth, tradgedy and beauty – all of which are very real and very human.

References

Fig 1 – Hunter, T; 2010; Death of Coltelli; At http://www.tomhunter.org/unheralded-stories-series/

Fig 2 – Hunter, T; 1998; The Way Home; At http://www.tomhunter.org/life-and-death-in-hackney/

Aitkenhead, D; 2005; Life is Grand; In The Guardian [online] at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/dec/03/photography (accessed on 14/06/2017)

Wilkes, R; 2014; Reinterpreting the Pre-Raphaelites: Tom Hunter; At https://dantisamor.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/reinterpreting-the-pre-raphaelites-tom-hunter/

Review – Dan Holdsworth

Brief:-As research for this assignment, look at the work of two photographers and note down your responses. Dan Holdsworth http://www.danholdsworth.com. Why do you think he often works at night? Is it because there’s less people and traffic about to clutter the view? Is it because of the effect of light in a long exposure and the sense of artificiality or ‘strangeness’ that brings to the image? What happens to your interpretation when the views are distant, wide and the main emphasis is on the forms of the man-made landscape? Is there a sense that these images are both objective (because you are looking out at the world) and subjective (because they seem to deliberately conjure up a mood)?

Initial Thoughts

I am aware that when I make my initial notes and present them in my learning log, I need to expand upon these to turn them into a critique. My notes often form an impression of my thoughts but the lack of detail can leave people unsure of my meaning. However I am going still going to record my initial thoughts for each of Holdsworth’s series that I have looked over, in my own way,  and then answer the questions at the end, followed by a reflection.

Spacial Objects 2015

Spacial Objects no 17 C-type print

Physical installation, large dimensions, over two meters tall. Constructed shapes, bold colours, reds, greens and blues of various hues. Constructed linear shapes, angles, bright highlights, deep shadows, some blacks but not many. Geometrical.

I am aware that this series is not photography, however it has relevance to me for two reasons. I had no understanding of photographic series before beginning Foundations in Photography. I had been working on a series about homelessness, but wasn’t aware of how to link photographs together in any way other than typography. Spacial Objects is typographical, coloured geometric shapes that have the same physical dimensions. But more than this they are of similar tone and use of highlights and shadows. The geometry is of linear angles, but there are circular patterns as part of the texture.

The other relevance to me from this series is seeing how an artist develops their photography over time and builds upon existing pieces of work. His series California from 2003 explores man-made structures and geometry; Mirrors from 2014 is a representation of natural form and structure where angular geometry is introduced by the axis of symmetry and thereby bringing man into the natural world; Spacial objects – a physical installation – man made geometrical shapes, which are a reflectiin of the best of man made and natural structure.

Mirrors FTP 2014

Mirrors FTP 2014 cg05a C-type print

Landscape, geology, rock forms taken from a distance, possible from above (flying over?) 180 degree symmetry rotated around mid-point. Muted colours of natural landscape possibly from igneous rock. Good tonal range, few blacks. Ice and snow in some of the photos in the series. Excellent depth of field, crisp, sharp photos. What is not being shown? Why has the half of the image that is used to create the symmetry included and not the other half?

Upon the first viewing of this series I have to say that I was somewhat perplexed. I asked my self:- What do I think he is trying to convey? and I responded that I had no idea, they are pretty photos that demonstrate excellent photographic technique, and are a great example of how a series of photos work well together. Similar tonal range and image ratio. Similar in hue and saturation, a typology of igneous rock formations.

I had to take a break and re view the photos. This time I asked:- What is missing from this series of photographs? Now were getting somewhere. I do not see any signs of life. No animals, no trees, no people. And what I now see, after reflecting upon what is missing, is that Holdsworth is using symmetry to bring the man-made “marks” into the natural form of the earth. The mirrored formations have sharp edges and create unnatural patterns which add an artificial dymension and destruction into a part of the world that man has not damaged through encroachment. It’s a very clever way to highlight the relationship between nature and man, without showing anything of man.

Blackout 2010

Blackout 2010 11 C-type print

Metamorphic rock formations, snow-covered mountains/glaciers at night. Either artificially lit, or long exposures then when digitally developed the skies have been darkened to black. I suspect there is a form of artificial lighting. There is light drop off at the far side of the scene and highlights at the bottom left. If the photos were taken with bulb exposure there would be some light drop off, but the sky would be brighter and we would see stars or clouds. The scenes are not lit by the moon. To have that level of lighting the moon would need to be higher in the sky than is suggested by the lack of light in the distance, and there would not be light drop off.

Surreal, ghostly, as if looking at the surface of the moon whilst being in a “moon rover” The photographs in the series have a definite sense of space, depth and timelessness. We are shown the “unseen”. Very few people will have seen these landscapes at night, and the artificial lighting means that we are exposed to the light that resides within darkness. This series appears more metaphorical to me, with the psychological aspect of looking within our shadow to see our light. I remain unconvinced by the series and of my analysis of it.

California 2003

California 2003 02 C-type print

This is a small series of only three photographs. A road, a factory and a car park (possibly from a petrol station or shopping mall).

Taken at night. Artificially lit, but the lights are from street lighting or building lights rather than lighting that has been introduced to the scene. Man made, sterile, angular, solid, defined, harsh lighting, are words that I would use for this series. Whereas the terms flow, movement, texture, smooth, balanced tone, are words that I think of when considering Blackout and Mirrors.

Questions from the Brief

Why do you think he often works at night? Is it because there’s less people and traffic about to clutter the view? Is it because of the effect of light in a long exposure and the sense of artificiality or ‘strangeness’ that brings to the image? What happens to your interpretation when the views are distant, wide and the main emphasis is on the forms of the man-made landscape? Is there a sense that these images are both objective (because you are looking out at the world) and subjective (because they seem to deliberately conjure up a mood)?

I have looked at a mixture of Holdsworth series, some that have been shot at night and others during the day. My belief is that Holdsworth deliberately avoids shooting people, and in doing so he is trying to get the viewer to question the relationship between man and nature, and natural geology and geometry, in comparison to man-made structure and geometric marks.

There is a subtlety of texture, movement and tone in the landscape photos. The mountains in the Blackout series may have strong lines and angles but the interaction of a multitude of lines, textures and structure has a fluidity to it. This is a contrast to the series that I looked at with man-made structures (California) that have many straight, rigid lines. I believe that the series Mirrors exemplifies this. By introducing symmetry to the natural landscape Holdsworth is making a statement about the structures that man makes, and how “man made” interferes with the beauty and flow of the natural world.

This sense is added to by the lighting. In California the artificial lighting presents a sterile environment that eliminates nature. It highlights straight marks, straight lines and an inability of Man to add to the environment. The lighting in Blackout – whether it’s artificial or long exposure – brings out the surreal and creates flowing, ghostly ice sculptures. These have a multitude of texture and detail, and create a feeling of awe. The wonder of looking at the moon or the surface of Mars. We are seeing the unseen.

Holdworths work does not feel objective. I find its highly subjective and is leading the viewer to consider the impact of man upon the environment, the difference between the sublime and the sterile, and the confined and the free.

I have felt out of my depth with this review. Partly because as a student I am considering photography in a more serious manner, and partly because I have been reflecting upon themes, that Holdsworth presents, in a context that I have no familiarity with. I also have a thought that maybe I have over complicated this.

I am not used to the concept of a photographic series. Yes I have grouped my own photos together. My project on Homelessness is my first attempt at this, and I had only considered the importance of theme, or a basic typography. Holdsworth many series have their own individual theme, and fit into an overarching schema which explores:- marks, shape, form, structure and light. His most recent series Spacial Objects builds upon his previous works, by trying to represent the best of space, geometry, light and structure that runs through many of his series of work. Spacial Objects is an installment of man made physical structures, that have some of man’s rigid geometric shapes combined with nature’s flow, space and texture.

Each individual series is made of photos that are a similar aspect, tone, lighting, hue and saturation, and also have contours and lines that are common throughout. This has been a wonderful, if somewhat challenging, opportunity for me to gain some understanding into how to present a series of work and how an artist builds upon previous knowledge and experience as they develop and mature.

References

Fig 1 Holdsworth, D; 2015; Spacial Objects no 17; Online at http://www.danholdsworth.com/ (accessed on 08/08/2017)

Fig 2 Holdsworth, D; 2014; Mirrors FTP cg05a; Online at http://www.danholdsworth.com/ (accessed on 08/08/2017)

Fig 3 Holdsworth, D; 2010; Blackout 11; Online at http://www.danholdsworth.com/ (accessed on 08/08/2017)

Fig 4 Holdsworth, D; 2003; California 02; Online at http://www.danholdsworth.com/ (accessed on 08/08/2017)

Keys, R; 2017; Homelessness; Online at http://www.photosociology.info/homelessness (accessed on 08/08/2017)

Review of Lyndsey Jameson – PhotoRealist Artist

I am reviewing Lyndsey Jameson as part of the planning and research for my project on mental illness/mental wellness.

Lyndsey is a visual artist who predominantly paints with oils in the photorealistic style. She has been awarded the British Portrait Award with the National portrait Gallery (2015). She also received second place in the visitors choice of the British Portrait award in 2010.

I find her paintings to be hard-hitting expressions of emotions and inner conflict. She produces a narrative within each painting, but there is adequate space within that for the viewer to become the co-creator of story by questioning our emotions, inner thoughts and our concept of self and identity.

 

The Harpy – Oil on Linen 2013

The Harpy - Oil on Linen 2013

Fig 1

Initial Observations

Woman melting, Rook on Head, Rose and hair pin above ear, Eyes – white-no iris-no pupil, mouth wide, burnt orange-brown-red-yellow canvas, with some whiter/highlights as frame around head. Photorealistic, Emotion – anger-fear-loss

The woman could be materialising (left side of body has no lines of melting) so could be forming. She Could be melting (right hand side of body is like wax, melting down the page. A sense of not being seen as only shoulders and head visible.

The colours of canvas initially suggested anger, movement, energy, intensity, but I also see warmth, sunrise, mist.

Narrative:- The appearance of woman, self, arising through the mist of the morning sunrise, with a need to be heard and seen. There is a strength in the mouth and eyes and the form of the body, which is very defined other than the left arm. Were are not being shown, subtle, tender curves of the woman, we are being shown the dynamic strength of the feminine, the goddess. The Power.The Power is not a confrontation or hostility to the viewer, we are not being lead to be fearful. The perspective is side on, and although the woman is looking forward, she is not facing us. This is power without threat. Inner strength.

Research The Harpy and Celtic power animal (Crow, Rook, Raven)

Harpy – Roman Greek Mythology, half maiden half bird, hunger, faster than the winds, swift-footed, Swift Robbers, bringer of justice, protective of family – especially when harmed, considered ugly by MEN

“But even as early as the time of Aeschylus, they are described as ugly creatures with wings, and later writers carry their notions of the Harpies so far as to represent them as most disgusting monsters. The Pythian priestess of Apollo recounted the appearance of the Harpies in the following lines:

“Before this man an extraordinary band of women [i.e. Harpies] slept, seated on thrones. No! Not women, but rather Gorgons I call them; and yet I cannot compare them to forms of Gorgons either. Once before I saw some creatures in a painting, carrying off the feast of Phineus; but these are wingless in appearance, black, altogether disgusting; they snore with repulsive breaths, they drip from their eyes hateful drops; their attire is not fit to bring either before the statues of the gods or into the homes of men. I have never seen the tribe that produced this company, nor the land that boasts of rearing this brood with impunity and does not grieve for its labor afterwards.” also Vicious, cruel, tyrants that punished the wicked. (Wikipedia; 2017)

The Poem The Harpy by Robert William Service gives a different perspective on the Harpy, and suggests that the harpy is wise, wise to the shame of men, but punished by the gods to play the game of love, either for loves sake or payment. However, this is not a submissive role. These are women of power and are the hunters and not the hunted, even though the man may feel that he is the one with the power.

Celtic and Druid Mythology around ravens and crows concern, wisdom, the oracle, fortune-telling, seeing the future, death but he one that strikes me is that crows can be trained to speak.

I believe that Jameson is showing a woman, truly stepping into her own power, sense of self and will no longer be subservient, quite, shy. She knows who she is, she sees who you are, she sees the future and do not dare stand in her way, because you will pay the consequences if you do. This is also symbolised by the cawing crow. She is also mysterious and has hidden depths

 

 

Raven

“A lot of negative raven symbolism comes about from their appearance on battlefields. They are scavengers (and curious to a fault), and are often seen picking at mangled remains of fallen warriors on battle grounds.

For example, the raven’s intelligence is possibly its most winning feature. Indeed, these birds can be trained to speak. This speaking ability leads into the legend of ravens being the ultimate oracle.

In fact, the raven is often heard to cackle utterances that sound like “cras, cras.” The actual word cras is tomorrow in Latin. This lends more fuel to the legendary fires that distinguish the raven as a bird who can foretell the future, and reveal omens and signs.

Countless cultures point to the raven as a harbinger of powerful secrets. Moreover, the raven is a messenger too, so its business is in both keeping and communicating deep mysteries. The raven is symbolic of mind, thought and wisdom according to Norse legend, as their god Odin was accompanied by two ravens: Hugin who represented the power of thought and active search for information. The other raven, Mugin represented the mind, and its ability to intuit meaning rather than hunting for it. Odin would send these two ravens out each day to soar across the lands. At day’s end, they would return to Odin and speak to him of all they had spied upon and learned on their journeys.

 

Keywords Associated With Raven Symbolism

Vocal, Brassy, Knowing, Curious, Truthful, Creative, Authentic, Intuitive, Mysterious, Insightful, Intelligent, Unpredictable, Unconventional” (Veneficia; 2015-2017)

 

Druidism and Crow

“Another belief was that the birds were faeries who shape-shifted to cause troubles. Magickal qualities included bringing knowledge, shape-shifting, eloquence, prophecy, boldness, skill, knowledge, cunning, trickery and thievery. In the Middle Ages, people believed that sorcerers and witches used the symbol of Crows foot to cast death spells. In most of England, seeing a solitary crow meant anger, but in Northamptonshire, it meant ill fortune. Crow, cawing in a hoarse voice, meant bad weather. A death omen was a crow cawing thrice as it flew over a house. The Irish believed that Crow flocking in trees, but not nesting were souls from Purgatory. Finding a dead crow was a sign of good fortune. Russians believed that witches took the shape of Crow.” (Clara)

 

Torsion – Oil on Canvas 2006

Torsion Oil on canvas 2006

Fig 2

Initial Observations

Male Face, tortured, bruised, cyanosis, haematoma, locked in, unable to express, constricted emotions and thoughts, the eyes – restricted vision – no hope – no future – suicide, the wires wrap tightly around his face – he is mentally and verbally squashed, everything is kept in, his emotions and thoughts are tight and becoming tighter, he can’t get enough oxygen. He is dying with the weight of what he cannot think about or say. He has witnessed or committed tragedy, intense trauma. This is a form of inner suffocation and strangulation. The torture is not as a form of assault, the wires suggest this and say that something has happened to him. The trauma has happened to him and its eating him alive. He is in so much pain but there is no way that he is going to let it out. He is going to die. The pressure is too much. There is no sign that he is going to hit out, the wires tell of impotence, an inability to express.

Pain, sadness, grief, trauma, suffering, intensity, suffocation, powerlessness and death.

With the dictionary definitions of testicular torsion I believe the man may have suffered sexual abuse, and that this has cut of the life within him, as in the first dictionary definition. A hard hitting painting that made me pause deeply.

 

Torsion – dictionary

“Testicular torsion occurs when the spermatic cord (from which the testicle is suspended) twists, cutting off the testicle’s blood supply The most common symptom in children is rapid onset of severe testicular pain The testicle may also be higher than usual and vomiting may occur. In newborns pain is often absent and instead the scrotum may become discoloured or a testicle may disappear from its usual place” (Wikipedia; 2017a)

“def 1; late Middle English torcion wringing one’s bowels < Old French torsion < Late Latin torsiōn- (stem of torsiō) torment, equivalent to tors(us) twisted (see torse ) + -iōn- -ion” (Random House Dictionary; 2017)

“The Harpy – Poem by Robert William Service

There was a woman, and she was wise; woefully wise was she;
She was old, so old, yet her years all told were but a score and three;
And she knew by heart, from finish to start, the Book of Iniquity.

There is no hope for such as I on earth, nor yet in Heaven;
Unloved I live, unloved I die, unpitied, unforgiven;
A loathed jade, I ply my trade, unhallowed and unshriven.

I paint my cheeks, for they are white, and cheeks of chalk men hate;
Mine eyes with wine I make them shine, that man may seek and sate;
With overhead a lamp of red I sit me down and wait

Until they come, the nightly scum, with drunken eyes aflame;
Your sweethearts, sons, ye scornful ones — ’tis I who know their shame.
The gods, ye see, are brutes to me — and so I play my game.

For life is not the thing we thought, and not the thing we plan;
And Woman in a bitter world must do the best she can —
Must yield the stroke, and bear the yoke, and serve the will of man;

Must serve his need and ever feed the flame of his desire,
Though be she loved for love alone, or be she loved for hire;
For every man since life began is tainted with the mire.

And though you know he love you so and set you on love’s throne;
Yet let your eyes but mock his sighs, and let your heart be stone,
Lest you be left (as I was left) attainted and alone.

From love’s close kiss to hell’s abyss is one sheer flight, I trow,
And wedding ring and bridal bell are will-o’-wisps of woe,
And ’tis not wise to love too well, and this all women know.

Wherefore, the wolf-pack having gorged upon the lamb, their prey,
With siren smile and serpent guile I make the wolf-pack pay —
With velvet paws and flensing claws, a tigress roused to slay.

One who in youth sought truest truth and found a devil’s lies;
A symbol of the sin of man, a human sacrifice.
Yet shall I blame on man the shame? Could it be otherwise?

Was I not born to walk in scorn where others walk in pride?
The Maker marred, and, evil-starred, I drift upon His tide;
And He alone shall judge His own, so I His judgment bide.

Fate has written a tragedy; its name is “The Human Heart”.
The Theatre is the House of Life, Woman the mummer’s part;
The Devil enters the prompter’s box and the play is ready to start. “(Service; 1953)

 

References

Fig 1;  Jameson, L; 2013; The Harpy Oil on Linen; Online at http://www.lyndseyjameson.com/ (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Fig 2; Jameson, L; 2006; Torsion Oil on Canvas; Online at http://www.lyndseyjameson.com/ (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Clara; Crow Divination Part 2 of 3; Online at http://www.avesnoir.com/crow-divination-pt-2-of-3/ (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Random House Dictionary; 2017; Origin of Torsion; New York; Random House Inc; In Dictionary.com; Online at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/torsion (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Service, RW; 1953; The Harpy; Online at https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-harpy/ (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Wikipedia; 2017; The Harpy; Wikipedia Foundation;  Online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpy  (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Wikipedia; 2017a; Testicular torsion; Wikipedia Foundation; Online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testicular_torsion (accessed on 05/08/2017)

Veneficia, A; 2005-2017; Raven Symbolism and Symbolic Meaning of Ravens; Online at  http://www.whats-your-sign.com/raven-symbolism.html (accessed on 05/08/2017)

 

Review – John Wilfred Hinde

Reviewing Hinde was a suggestion by my tutor Jayne Taylor. Landscape isn’t a strength of mine and the reviews she has suggested have been really helpful.

First thoughts on Hinde. Yuck. Dull. Tourism. Not my thing. In fact I dislike his photography so much I decided not to review it.

However, here I am. Reviewing. Why? Because after looking at Hinde’s postcards I started thinking how I could create something similar and yet different for assignment one:- Square Mile.

bm13aFig 1

My initial thoughts:- Summer, enhanced sky and sea, muted buildings, sand and people. Fast shutter speed. No blur/movement from people. Perspective creates four layers. Sea, sand and people, promenade and buildings, sky.

Shadows are strong, although there is cloud the sun is out. People and buildings in direct sun are not washed out. Photo has been developed well or filters used.

The sand, buildings and people have had black added which gives the acidic look (i.e. if you make a colour wheel with paint you can pastelise the colours by adding white or make them acidic and muted by adding black).

bp15Fig 2

Perspective, colour, movement suggested by lights reflection on road, but definitely reflection from illuminations not traffic going past. Wet road but no signs of current rain. Colours acidic. Development suggests possible overpainting (lights from street lamps have very little gradient).

Notes from john hinde collection contact and essays (Beale and Abadie; 2009)

Developed interest in colour photography just prior to leaving school. Used three colour Carbro process (single colour on tissue for each three colours exposed onto gelatin – bit to complex to explain just now). Work for Adprint on Britain in Pictures series and further developed expertise in colour photography. 1955 set up John Hinde Ltd and developed his postcard works which coincided with increase in tourist industry.

Notes from Kate Burt – Independent

Burt quotes Edmund Nagele – a photographer for John Hinde Ltd who explains the extensive planning and production of each image to ensure the timing and lighting were correct and that obstructions were removed or obscured.

Negele explains how Hinde would make extensive notes for the Milan based photo developers he used, telling them what to remove, what colours to change and how to complete the developing.

“After John had masked the transparencies, black and white negatives and the prints for the colour-notes would be made. More umming and arring behind closed doors: John himself would prepare these instructions for the colour separations, which were produced in Milan (Italy). No PhotoShop in those days, only skilled Milanese Signores who would change colours, follow the scribble “make new sky” to the letter and insert the perfect holiday wish. They would eagerly remove objects of lesser desire; telephone posts and TV-aerials scored especially high. More desirable items included people and cars, thus the scribbles became frantic: “make jumper red” and “change colour of car to yellow”” (Nagele)

Having made a brief review of Hinde it’s clear that he was a very skillful photographer and perhaps more importantly a developer. He broke the mould with his vision on producing idyllic landscape, tourist photography, believing that high quality and aesthetically pleasing colour photography rather than the custom black and white. He was a master developer who made use of his experience in the printing industry to ensure he produced colour rich (high saturation) photos. Knowing that there was a lack of technical ability in the UK to produce the colours that he wished, he had his photos developed in Italy. I can see the skill, planning and vision that Hinde had, but I neither like his subject matter or photos. I do wonder if this is a commonly held view (Parr excluded), as there is no mention of Hinde in the bibliography  of Hacking (2014) nor in Johnson, Rice and Williams (2016).

 

References

Fig 1 – John Hinde Studios; BM13A The sands and promenade, West cliff, Bournemouth; Online at www.johnhindecollection.com (accessed on 30/07/2017)

Fig 2 – John Hinde Studios; BM13A Blackpool illuminations, The pleasure beach; Online at www.johnhindecollection.com (accessed on 30/07/2017) (I have not signified John Hinde as the photographer as it’s possible that his employed photographers made the photos).

Abadie, M and Beale, S; 2001-2009; Nothing to Write Home About; in johnhindecollection contact and essays; Online at http://www.johnhindecollection.com/contact_nationalmedia.html (accessed on 30/07/2017)

Burt, K; 2011; King of technicolour tourism: A new exhibition celebrates John Hinde’s postcards; Online at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/king-of-technicolour-tourism-a-new-exhibition-celebrates-john-hindes-postcards-2307780.html (accessed on 30/07/2017)

Nagele, E; Wish you were here: The early days of my photography; Online at http://nagelestock.com/uk/Stockphotochat/postcard.htm (accessed on 30/07/2017 (link is inconsistent – sometimes works/sometimes doesnt)

Hacking, J; 2014; Photography the whole story; London; Thames and Hudson

Johnson, WS, Rice, M, Williams, C; 2016; A history of photography; Cologne; Taschen GmbH

 

Review of “Shot at Dawn” Chloe Dewe-Matthews

Chloe_WW1_R4936F17-10x81/34 (Dewe-Matthews; 2014)

Thoughts upon viewing:- leading lines of wall, telephone wire, tree line. They all take the eye to the centre of the image. This makes no sense, there is no obvious meaning there, was this deliberate or an accident? It divides the photo in two.

Lots of space with the grass in the foreground and the sky.  Graveyard with flowers and a wheelie bin. Church is obviously regularly used. Gravestones, death, flowers, love and remembrance.

Scattering of houses with space and green areas around them. Small community. The scene suggests a small but active community. I’m intrigued as to why the eye is initially drawn to nothing and the significance of the divide between the houses and church, especially as the church is clearly part of the community.

I am beginning to enjoy analysing specific photos, especially when I don’t read about them first.

The purpose of the series “Shot at Dawn” (Dewe-Matthews;2014) is explained in the introduction at http://www.chloedewemathews.com/shot-at-dawn/. Due to the limitations of my mobile phone I can only read part of the introduction.

However it explains that Dewe-Matthews re-visited the sites where deserters from the Belgian, French and British armed forces were executed, during World War One. She took the photos at the time of day and seasons that the executions would have taken place.

As a series there are grasslands, fields, trees, forests, bunkers and the occasional building. Lots of space and emptiness.

Without the introduction, the photographs would not appeal to me. Most are not aesthetically appealing, the composition varies, and there is little narrative or continuity (I emphasise, without the introduction). I am starting to understand how a photography series works, and how different photographers make use of captions, or as in this case, an introduction.

Chloe_WW1_R02F18-10x815/34 (Dewe-Matthews; 2014)

Now I have read the introduction my observations  and thoughts become secondary to my questions.

  • What horrors did the executed soldiers witness on the front lines?
  • How did those experiences affect them mentally and emotionally?
  • Now we have an understanding of post traumatic stress disorder do we treat our service personnel differently? (I am a pacifist who believes that in the UK we treat our service men and women abysmally. Leaving it to charities to provide the mental health support without providing them with the resources to do so for all that need it)
  • Did this traumatised military staff receive a fair court-martial? (No! Without the understanding of how trauma affects people a court-martial could never be fair)
  • How would it feel to walk up to a wall to face a firing squad on top of the trauma from the front line?
  • Would it feel like an injustice?
  • Would there be shame and guilt?
  • Would there be an internal voice saying “I’ve let the side down – I deserve this”?
  • I don’t believe that anyone can knowingly walk in front of a firing squad without being terrified.
  • How would it feel to be in the firing squad knowing that you are about to/or have killed a person who is on “the same side”?

References

Dewe-Matthews, C; 2014; Shot at Dawn; Online at http://www.chloedewemathews.com/shot-at-dawn/ (Accessed on 26/07/2017)

Dewe-Matthews, C; 2014; Shot at Dawn; Oxford; Ruskin School of Art; Online at http://shotatdawn.photography/ (accessed on 26/07/14)

Review of “A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania” by Walker Evans

My tutor Jayne Taylor suggested that I review “A graveyard and steel mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as a follow on to exercise 1.9 soft light landscape.

I decided that I would analyse the photo before researching Walker Evans, and I’m very pleased with my analyses, having now researched Walker Evans. My analyses helps me to see how much I have developed by completing two sections of the coursework for Workflow.

W1siZiIsIjIxMTY2MiJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDY0MHg2NDBcdTAwM2UiXV0Fig 1

My notes:- Four layers, Foreground – cross, then mid-ground split into two layers (front) graveyard (back) church and buildings, background – steel mill.

Very few blacks, mid-tone are quite dark, few whites, low contrast.

Initially I thought the shadows were confusing as one Shadow (headstone and cross – middle of mid-ground) appeared it was falling to north north east, whilst the rest are falling to the east. I’m using my mobile phone to look at the image and finally managed to see that the headstone shadow is also falling to the east, but the shape of the headstone made it appear different.

Sun – left, quite low, suggesting mid to late afternoon. Taken in bright daylight, but the grey sky suggests otherwise. Why? Photo silver nitrate on gelatine and developed in dark room, overall picture under developed, but with correct development of mid and foreground (having never used a darkroom this analysis is based upon my limited knowledge of digital developing).

Photo taken in 1935, the great depression. This makes me believe this photo is a metaphor.  Why? The picture doesn’t give me a realist impression of death, the graveyard has better light and more lights and whites than the rest of the photo, I find it quite cheery. The photo is a metaphor for the death of a community, Bethlehem,  and the impact of the steel industry on unemployment, loss of income, property and decline of a community.

Research:- Starting point Wikipedia. Great Depression, Drought, Dustbowl. Unemployment soared to 25%, GDP fell by 15% worldwide (comparison – 2008 recession – worldwide GDP only fell by 1% and that had a major impact worldwide). (wikipedia; 2017)

Bethlehem Steel Corporation – well developed, well managed and profitable company that made a loss of $30m from 1931 – Dec 1933 and had to lay of staff and close mills and factories. Although at the time Walker Evans took the photo the company was turning over a profit as it had retooled and developed production lines to produce rolled tin for the newly developing tin can (beer can) industry. Despite this growth Bethlehem and surrounding community had been devastated by the Great Depression. (encyclopedia.org; 2017)

During 1935 Walker Evans photographed for the Resettlement Administration . Words associated with Walker Evans are information specialist, formalism, modernism, realism and documentary. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2004)

Despite the consistent biographies of Walker Evans I don’t find this particular photograph of his to be of the documentary, information or realist styles of photography. I feel that this photo presents an allegorical narrative of the impact of the Great Depression upon a town and community.

References