Review – Gregory Crewdson

Brief:- Assignment three – A narrative photograph – A staged photograph. A staged photograph is like a snapshot from a movie. It’s a ‘scene’, an event which you have constructed and captured at the perfect moment as a still photograph. It can be a simple ‘moment’ like a glance between two strangers on the street (Jeff Wall’s Mimic, 1982) or an elaborate recreation of a dramatic event (Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind, (after Hokusai), 1993). It can start with a simple event, like the postman peeping through the letter box, an old lady jumping over a fence or someone tripping over a paving stone. But you should explore it conceptually and make it weightier in meaning by embellishing it; monumentalizing the event even though it is small. In this way you could turn the postman picture into an allegory about privacy or the old lady picture into an allegory that changes perceptions about old age. Start by researching the work of Gregory Crewdson.

Gregory Crewdson (1962)

Crewdson, G; ; Brief EncountersFig. 1. Untitled (Birth) (2007)

Initial thoughts – Because the assignment brief is in relation to a staged photograph then I know this is staged.

Taken at night, in winter, dark, dreary, steam on the inside of the window – however both subjects are not dressed for winter and this creates some dissonance. Even with heating on I would be better dressed in the winter. The edge of the car, the angle of the roof, attempt to make this look like a candid street photo. The snow is cleared from the path – trying to work out who actually clears snow so diligently from paths, I have no idea. Muted tones in bedroom, wallpaper from 70’s? Muted tones allow the green from the bed sheets to standout and this emphasises the subjects. The front door has a glass window pane and we can see through to the bathroom, and the toilet is visible. Has this been a home birth? Is this meant to be a photo taken immediately post-partum? Is that why the clothing looks in appropriate? There is a separation between mother and child, a physical distance that strongly suggests an emotional distance.

Primary props – green bedspread, neutral background, clothing, glass paned front door, bathroom and both lamps.

Secondary props – Car, snow, telephone, bedside drawers, painting – these give the setting, or stage.

crewdson-untitled-bus-fire-twilight-2002Fig. 2. Untitled (Bus Fire) (2002)

Initial thoughts – Suburbs, bus has tipped over and smoke is coming out of the back, side street – this photo is a lie, the low centre of gravity in a bus, and more so because this is a single-decker, would mean the amount of force required to tip this bus over would be impossible to happen on such a small street. A roll-over from cornering is not possible in this setting as the corner that we can see would tip the bus the other direction, and even then there could not be sufficient speed for this to happen as the driver would have had to slow down to turn into the road before reaching the corner. There are no other vehicles and no angry mob, and although there are many youths around the bus, and one standing upon it, these would not have enough strength to over come the forces of gravity required to turn this bus over (a double-decker bus would take 77 people to push over, a single decker bus would take far more. Although the single decker would weigh less, the height of a double-decker means that it has a longer pivot and therefore requires less force to go beyond the 32 degree angle to break the centre of gravity. The angle point of no return for a single-decker is larger because of the shortened pivot (Morris, 2015). This is so obviously staged. Why would Crewdson go to the lengths of creating such an elaborate scene that has no bearing in real life in the environment that it is made? This appears to be a complete oversight on his behalf, which is a really useful tip for me. If I am going to create staged photos, then ensure the setting is appropriate for the context of the subject. I have a reluctance to further review this photo because of this.There is a disconnection between the nice, manicured, suburban neighbourhood, which backs onto a semi-desert mountainous region, during an evening that is moving towards dusk, which has a slightly romantic feel. Things are not as they seem, things are out of place, but this does not leave me with any feelings of a realistic dystopia

 

Reflections

The first photo looks incredibly simple. I feel dismay, sorrow, sadness and loneliness when I look at it because it’s a scene that I can relate to. The emotion and disconnection that I felt in my childhood, I didn’t belong, I didn’t fit in, I was a stranger placed in a home and world that made no sense to me. A very cleverly envisioned, planned, staged and produced photo, and one that I believe many people can relate to on some level, from some period of their own life. The second photo makes no sense to me at all. I’m not saying it’s a bad photo, but I read it in a more literal sense because I cannot find the allegory. This is perhaps my shortfall rather than Crewdsons.

Illustrations

Figure 1 Crewdson, G; 2007; Untitled (Birth) [digital chromogenic print]; AT: http://www.americansuburbx.com/galleries/gregory-crewdson-beneath-the-roses (accessed on 16/06/2018)

Figure 2 Crewdson, G; 2002; Untitled (Bus Fire) [digital chromogenic print]; AT: https://imageobjecttext.com/2012/06/29/suburban-stories-tales-of-the-unexplained/ (accessed on 16/06/2018)

Feature Image Zeitgeist films; 2013; Gregory Crewdson at work (standing on ladder) on the set of “Untitled (Ophelia)”; AT: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/904087/qa-ben-shapiro-on-gregory-crewdson-brief-encounters (accessed on 16/06/20118)

Reference

Morris, R; 2015; How many people would it take to push over a double-decker bus if it was full of badgers?; Online AT: https://www.quora.com/How-many-people-would-it-take-to-push-over-a-double-decker-bus-if-it-was-full-of-badgers (accessed on 16/06/2018)

 

Preparing For Assignment Three – A Narrative Photograph

Brief:- For this assignment you have two choices – To make a staged photograph, or to make a narrative sequence. The key to narrative photography is observation. Watch people, the way they interact, the way things happen, events unfold, and you’ll see that there are telling moments like a ‘stand off’ between a wilful child and it’s parents, or an awkward defiance when a ticket conductor on a train finds someone without a ticket. These may not seem like Hollywood situations, but the point is to find situations that are near to you. It may just be  frozen pause during a meal with friends or the cyclist sitting by the road after coming off his bike. What you’re trying to recreate is a telling expressiveness, the quality that shows you’ve noticed how people behave and how their character is revealed in their actions, postures, facial expressions.

  • A staged photograph – A staged photograph is like a snapshot from a movie. It’s a ‘scene’, an event which you have constructed at the perfect moment as a still photograph. It can be a simple ‘moment’ like a glance between two strangers on the street (Jeff Wall’s Mimic, 1982) or an elaborate recreation of a dramatic event (Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind, (after Hokusai), 1993). It can start with a simple event, like the postman peeping through the letter box, an old lady jumping over a fence or someone tripping over a paving stone. But you should explore it conceptually and make it weightier in meaning by embellishing it, monumentalizing the event even though it is small. In this way you could turn the postman picture into an allegory about privacy, or the old lady picture an allegory that challenges perceptions about old age. Start by researching the work of Gregory Crewdson and Hannah Starkey.
  • A narrative sequence – a narrative sequence can be like a story board or comic strip that tells a story in a series of images. The story may be mysterious or humorous like Duane Michals Things are Queer (1973). It can be a fleeting moment or a monumental event. But there’s always the sense of time passing and an event unfolding. Research the sequences of Duane Michals online. Use your own life and work experiences as a source for ideas. Or use your dreams. Here are some key elements to think about: Event – Your aim here is to express a situation or event. Perhaps it’s something you’ve noticed, like someone sneezing in the high street or two people arguing. You don’t need to encapsulate war and peace. People – It will almost certainly involve people who will need to be rehearsed and directed like actors. But they can be themselves, they don’t need to pretend to be other people and they don’t need to be actors. Try to just let them be themselves and see what kind of images you get. If that doesn’t work, ask them to think about a memory which reflects the one you’re trying to portray. Setting – Every event has a setting. it happens somewhere. So think about places that would be accessible and telling. If you can, use environments that you have access to, like your workplace, your home or back garden. Props – Objects you use are important for setting the scene and expressing meaningful and narrative points about the situation.

I have very mixed feelings about this assignment. We are only required to complete one of the tasks, and I know that I can create a staged photograph. The idea has been with me, fermenting for sometime, and I know that I can give it a very good shot. It will involve a bankruptcy notice, a newspaper horse betting form guide, a mobile gambling app and a pint. On an outdoor pub bench and shot from the point of view of the person with the gambling problem. With a title of When the Fun Stops, Stop? I am going to complete this.

However, I am going to have to think of a way to also complete the narrative sequence. If I don’t then I know that I will be taking the easier softer option. It involves working with people, which right now is incredibly challenging for me, and is worse than usual. The brief is really clear that the idea doesn’t have to be fancy, it’s clearly more about staging and directing. The idea will come, ideas aren’t a problem for me – but the people are. I have already created a narrative sequence using birds, and also of me going out deliberately to get sun burned, I will post the birds sequence later in the week. It’s a strong sequence about spring and new life, but it didn’t involve staging. Me getting sunburned is wishy washy, yeah I will add it to my digital sketchbook, but that’s not a sequnce which I’m going any further.

I feel a bit down on myself right now because of my difficulties interacting with people. Although I haven’t been able to get in touch with my tutor, I know what she would say. She is aware of my poor mental health and would encourage me not to put myself at risk and that the staged photo is enough. However it isn’t enough for me.

 

My Life In Props

Brief:Take a look around the place you live. In what ways does the place and the objects in it say something about you? You may not have built it, but you probably chose most of its contents, painted walls, carpeted floors, etc. You placed every item in that space. This is personal miseen-scène. In staged photography you’re telling a story, a fiction that may have a connection to something real or true, however staged it is. All movies, plays and fictions, however far they depart from everyday reality, have a kernel of truth in them.

This series of photos is an exploration of personal property and ‘props’ that signify part of my life and personality. Although the brief here is directing me to consider the importance of props in staged photography, this is equally as important when making formal portraits. Items that are around my house must have some relevance to me because they would not be here if they had little value to me. When I am in a position to make a formal portrait of somebody, I can see that there is a need to speak with them, get to know their personality, ask them what items would enhance a photograph made of them, and maybe even explore their home. A good example of this is ‘Interiors’ by Jayne Taylor.

Taylor, J; 2009 ; Dawn, Tufnell Park, London;Fig. 1. Dawn, Tufnell Park, london (2009)

Taylor photographed her subjects within their home environment using a 3D stereoscopic camera. Taylors portraits use a lot of props and appear staged managed. Her subjects are relaxed in their natural environment and surrounded by the objects that express their personality.

My Props

I have included my six photos for the mosaic from the photographs I took this morning, but all twenty four are in the slide show. These were made using my Huawei P10 smart phone. Only three were developed in Lightroom using auto tone and the rest I have left as shot.

What is immediately obvious to me is that I value colour, crystals and books. Of course I am naturally aware of these things, but to see it so clearly in the photographs of my ‘props’ property drives this home. There are many times when I doubt my creativity, but I have to say that this exercise has shown me how important creativity is to  me, and how creative I am.

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References

Taylor, J; 2009; Dawn, Tufnell Park, London [steroscopic light box]; AT: http://www.jayne-taylor.co.uk/interiors/ (accessed on 04/06/2018)

Review – Cindy Sherman

Brief:- In preparation for Assignment Three, we need to say a few words about staged photography. In advertising and cinema you find a highly artificial, constructed form of photography. Often multiple elements are layered in a final composite. Great care is taken with the arrangement of elements to guide the interpretation of the photograph. The term mise-en-scène, simply means ‘putting in the scene’ and refers to the placement of objects in space. Imagine a totally blank, empty studio. You want to create a scene in the studio depicting a small ancient dwelling inhabited by a hermit in the Sinai desert. You’ll need a lot of light to represent the sun. You’ll need a sky backdrop and plenty of sand and sandstone to create the dwellings. You’ll also need to research and find ancient artefacts that would have been used by an ascetic person. You’ll also need a hermit (actor). This is the way a movie is made, but it’s common to advertising and art photography too and is called ‘staged’ or ‘constructed’ photography. Key practitioners are Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman. Jeff Wall goes to great lengths to create what sometimes appear to be ‘documentary’ street scenes that reflect a telling human situation. Cindy Sherman consciously played with the identity representations of women in movies by photographing herself in different female roles. Her later work makes use of prosthetic make-up, costume, props and sets to emphasise the ways women were represented in historic paintings. Take a look around the place you live. In what ways does the place and the objects in it say something about you? You may not have built it, but you probably chose most of its contents, painted walls, carpeted floors, etc. You placed every item in that space. This is personal miseen-scène. In staged photography you’re telling a story, a fiction that may have a connection to something real or true, however staged it is. All movies, plays and fictions, however far they depart from everyday reality, have a kernel of truth in them.

Cindy Sherman (b 1954)

Untitled #98 1982 by Cindy Sherman born 1954Fig. 1. Untitled #98 (1982)

Description of visual elements

Female with short blonde wispy hair. Neck, right shoulder and upper half of right arm bare. Red corduroy shawl draped around the rest of her, her left calf is visible under the shawl. She is sitting in a manner that suggests that she is on the floor. Staring at the camera, looks sullen, unhappy with being viewed, piercing gre/blue eyes. The lighting comes through a window that is immediately in front of her. The shadow of the window frame is a prop, it covers her mouth. The background is dark but there are some visual elements over her right shoulder. I am unable to make out what they are and they include some reflective metal and a flat piece of wood.

My interpretation:- The props are the shawl, the background, which could represent a stage or movie set, and the shadow that appears across her mouth. This is symbolic and represents that women do not have a voice, they are to be shown off for the appeal of the male gaze. It doesn’t matter how talented the female actor is, she is not allowed to be there for herself, but for the male viewer. Red shawl, and the way it is drapped reflects both vulnerability and sexuality. The sex appeal is more important than the represented woman as the shawl is in front of her, and she is vulnerable to how men view her. Her eyes say that she is tired of being watched. She will continue to be there and continue to feel vulnerable. A submissive pose in which the woman has no power. The lighting is very interesting. She i sitting on the floor and yet the shadow of the window frame is apparent nearly at the foot of the photo. This suggests that the lighting is coming through a prop window frame in a studio and the angle suggests that this is in between the camera and subject.

 

Sherman, C; 2016; Untitled #571 [chromogenic colour print]; ATFig. 2. Untitled #571 (2016)

Description of visual elements

Background of a lake with trees in front and quite close to the woman on the chair. The chair is covered with a white throw with a soft, downy fabric. She is sitting in a laid back manner which also appears elegant. Wearing a full length dress which has red and cream stripes that are vertical in nature. The red striped are satin or crushed silk, the cream are jacquard. She wears a silver silk hair band with a diamante bow. there is a wisp of hair peeking out from under the head band on the left, close to where her ear would be, and also her right forehead.

She has a pearl bracelet on her right arm, which is drapped over the chair, and has four bracelets of various designs upon her left arm. In her left hand she holds the necklace that she is wearing. Her own eyes brows have been shaved off and covered with concealer and she has drawn on eye brows, drawn with a brown kohl. Her eye shadow is pink/lilac and her eye lashes are long, she wears black mascara or false lashes. She wears concealer on her forehead but the wrinkles still come through, and liquid foundation upon her face that’s covered with a light powder. This makes her skin have a smooth appearance. There is a discrepancy in colour and texture between the concealer on her forehead and the foundation upon her face. Her lipstick is a deep plum gloss, and she has a beauty spot on her right cheek, it appears to be natural.

She is very well lit and no part of her is in shadow. The lighting is soft and a diffuser has been used on both sets of lights, unseen in the image, but diagonally in front left and right. The background is slightly out of focus and has soft lighting.

My interpretation:- The African Queen, 1920’s, elegant, style, wealth, opulence, formal portrait?, film set? No – it is a formal portrait. If it were to represent a film set then she would either not be seated on the chair in that environment, or be seated on the chair in a more appropriate environment. Her clothing, confident relaxed posture and jewelry all signify her class and wealth. I can imagine Humphrey Bogart lifting her into a dirty boat and sailing down the river. A constant tension and play of power dynamics that shift between the male and female characters. Both having power in different settings, both being confident and vulnerable at times. A good relay for me between the photo and the film and a reminder that women did have a voice in the movie industry at times, the power isn’t always patriarchal and misogynistic. I particular like this photo because of the style and class, along with the nostalgic relay back to The African Queen.

Illustrations

Figure 1 Sherman, C; 1982; Untitled #98 [chromogenic colour print]; AT: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sherman-untitled-98-p77729 (accessed on 04/06/2018)

Figure 2 Sherman, C; 2016; Untitled #571 [chromogenic colour print]; AT: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jul/03/cindy-sherman-interview-retrospective-motivation (accessed on 04/06/2018)

Review – Jeff Wall

Brief:- In preparation for Assignment Three, we need to say a few words about staged photography. In advertising and cinema you find a highly artificial, constructed form of photography. Often multiple elements are layered in a final composite. Great care is taken with the arrangement of elements to guide the interpretation of the photograph. The term mise-en-scène, simply means ‘putting in the scene’ and refers to the placement of objects in space. Imagine a totally blank, empty studio. You want to create a scene in the studio depicting a small ancient dwelling inhabited by a hermit in the Sinai desert. You’ll need a lot of light to represent the sun. You’ll need a sky backdrop and plenty of sand and sandstone to create the dwellings. You’ll also need to research and find ancient artefacts that would have been used by an ascetic person. You’ll also need a hermit (actor). This is the way a movie is made, but it’s common to advertising and art photography too and is called ‘staged’ or ‘constructed’ photography. Key practitioners are Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman. Jeff Wall goes to great lengths to create what sometimes appear to be ‘documentary’ street scenes that reflect a telling human situation. Cindy Sherman consciously played with the identity representations of women in movies by photographing herself in different female roles. Her later work makes use of prosthetic make-up, costume, props and sets to emphasise the ways women were represented in historic paintings. Take a look around the place you live. In what ways does the place and the objects in it say something about you? You may not have built it, but you probably chose most of its contents, painted walls, carpeted floors, etc. You placed every item in that space. This is personal miseen-scène. In staged photography you’re telling a story, a fiction that may have a connection to something real or true, however staged it is. All movies, plays and fictions, however far they depart from everyday reality, have a kernel of truth in them.

Jeff Wall (b 1946)

Wall,-J;-1984;-Milk;-ATFig. 1. Milk (1984)

Description of visual elements

Window with stairwell inside, bricks which make a wall, green bush. pavement sloping to the left, light from upper left of the screen, shadow cast where brickwork juts out from the main wall, the photo frame is slightly smaller than the man if he were to be standing, man sitting on floor, no socks, shoe has no laces, looks dejected, sitting slightly hunched with one knee bent under, body leaning into second knee which is upright, forearm rest on knee milk is moving out from a carton to the mans left, spilt milk flying through the air, leather jacket, hair looks greasy but tidy, shadow cast over most of his face so that his expression is not easily seen, clothes look in good condition as do the shoes, one sleeve is rolled up and hand on that arm is in a fist.

My interpretation:- There are two visual discrepancies that highlight that this is a staged photo – the tidiness of the crop and the condition of the clothes and the shoes. These are just too crisp.

The staging suggests that the man is homeless and is sitting in a good, relatively affluent area. The partial view of the building on the left of the image, with the bush outside hints at the area being an office based area rather than commercial or retail. The building becomes a prop, as does the very clean wall behind the man on the floor. The lighting has been used to hide his face so that his expression is hard to read, and the mans greasy hair is also a prop, it’s used to create a narrative. It’s meant to do so in conjunction with the mans clothing (which doesn’t work for me), and the uncovered arm, with the hand clenched into the fist is building upon the narrative to show that he is angry. The flying milk may suggest that the guy is angry at having his photo taken and has shaken his arm in protest. Maybe he will get up and attack the photographer, or it could be that the fist and the sudden jerk of the hand, which has led to the milk being spilled, are a warning of aggression which is relaying “stay the fuck away from me”.

 

Wall, J; 2015; Listener; ATFig. 2. Listener (2015)

Description of visual elements

Six men surround a man who is kneeling on the floor, one is in full frame and is leaning over the man, dominating him with his height, very close crop with little background, other than the top left of the corner, where there is a quarter circle shaped blue wall. There are six men around the edge of the frame, only partially visible. Despite being on the edge of the frame they are in very close proximity with the guy on the floor. They are wearing  jeans, t-shirt, trackies and one is wearing chinos, the guy on the floor is wearing brown trousers and no top. The ground is barren, dry, dusty, and the guy on the floor has bits of straw on his trousers. He is wearing sandals and the others are wearing plimsoles, trainers and workman’s boots. The man on the lower left of the photo is looking towards the camera, his arms are folded over his chest. The other guys have their arms and hands in quite open and relaxed manner. The sun is almost directly overhead and the shadows are short.

My interpretation:- There is an air of menace and aggression in this scene. The guy on the floor is being towered over, dominated by the man next to him, oppressed by the overhead heat, and surrounded by the other men in a very close space. The straw on his trousers says that he has been on the floor in other positions and he may have tried to crawl away from his assailants at some point. He is being shouted at or spoken to very aggressively, although the man to his right doesn’t have closed fists. The open relaxed posture of the other men is a relay which says that they are relaxed and comfortable with violence. This relay keeps the oppressive aggression within the frame. The context of a dry barren wasteland is the stage that says the guy has been taken to this place so that the confrontation cannot be stopped by others, there is a purpose and intent to the confrontation. Is the guy going to be assaulted? is he going to be left there? Is he going to be killed? I don’t think he is going to be killed. The close proximity of the camera, which is being allowed to photograph, tells me that this assault is a warning to others not to cross this gang. That they know the guy on the floor will not be reporting the assualt. The man on the floor looks uncomfortable but I also think that he looks very relaxed, he doesn’t look afraid, and this is a visual discrepancy to me. The clothing of the men looks clean and relatively new. They are involved in some form of organised crime which gives them a good income, but they remain dressed in the manner of their peers, in their neighbourhood. They operate in the area that they live and probably grew up. Small time organised crime.

 

I find myself left with the impression that it is very difficult to show emotion in staged photography, and even with people as skilled as Wall there are visual discrepencies which can be noticed.

Illustrations

Figure 1 Wall, J; 1984; Milk [Silver dye bleach transparency; aluminum light box]; AT: http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/picture-galleries/2010/march/30/the-world-of-jeff-wall/ (accessed on 03/06/2018)

Figure 2 Wall, J; 2015; Listener [inkjet print]; AT https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show (accessed on 03/06/2018)