Monday, September 30, 2013

Phillip-Lorca DiCorcia and his Rorschach-like pictures

The intent behind Phillip Lorca diCorica's work is explicitly left open to the imagination. This perhaps comes from his habit of constructing suggestive, and often familiar, scenes, while omitting certain key information, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks. ‘The more specific the information suggested by a picture,” he says, “the less happy I am with it”.

His cinematic style of work became poignant in his Hustler series, where he photographs the L.A's rent-boys, who are cast in the shadows of Hollywood’s bright lights.

As always, the pictures are meticulously constructed by diCorcia. However, he opts to title the photograph with: the name of the subject, his age, home town and the fee he was paid for the photo - a few words, suggesting a rich but un-elaborated narrative that is left to the audience to construct.

Similarly, in his recent collection ‘The Storybook life’ ,diCorcia assembled a broad swath of photos from across his career.  By arranging the work in a seemingly unrelated order he believes “ the content can constantly mutate according to both the external and internal condition of the viewer”

Reflection on Photography (work by Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander)

Robert Frank. New York City 1947

Lee Friedlander: Mannequin 

Lee Friedlander. New York City, 1966
One of the first Robert Frank’s photographs in the United States, captured the reflection on the street after a summer heavy rainfall near the Central Park. This photo is composed upside down to emphasize the building reflection on the puddle, while also showing a glimmer motion of activity on the street.

Using a hand-held 35mm camera, Lee Friedlander photographs of mannequin have a weirdly odd composition that manipulates the reflection on the storefront windows with mannequin as the main object. The photographs are intended to reflect the notion of sex, fashion, and consumerism in the big city lifestyle.

 The last photograph is another work by Friedlander using shadow reflection as an important of his composition. The picture was taken in New York City in 1966 when he captured his own shadow on a woman’s back. I like how he uses things that are less “valuable” objects into the main piece on his photography composition.

Joel Sternfeld. McLean, Virginia, December 1978

Joel Sternfeld. McLean, Virginia, December 1978

A photo by Joel Sternfeld at McLean, Virginia in 1978. The frame captured a ghoulish photo of a fireman shops for pumpkin and a burning house on the background. However, the burning house in the background is in fact a firefighter training house, Sternfeld successfully uses photography as a tool of manipulation to create his own narrative composition 

Nicholas Nixon: Friendly, West Virginia, 1982

This apparent family portrait appears in the 'depictive' section of Stephen Shore's book 'The Nature of Photographs'.

'... a photographer solves a picture, more than composes one.'

Shore inisists that Nixon's photo 'solves' the scene it captures. He seems to be suggesting that a photograph recreates the world as a more coherent version of itself; a photographer doesn't simply 'compose' its elements into a certain arrangement, but selects the ideal point of view. In the case of Friendly, West Virginia, Nixon's photo is clearly referencing Walker Evans' photos of the victims of the Great Depression. We duly make the comparison between depression-era sharecroppers and the poor of Nixon's own time. This perhaps makes the photo more of a complication of than a solution to the world it depicts.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

August Sander

Portraits from August Sander's Citizens of the Twentieth Century (1929-30)
In 1929, German photographer August Sander announced his plan to create a photographic manual that would become a social inventory of Germany in the form of portfolios. Although this project was incomplete, August Sanders succeeded in creating an awareness to what he called "exact photography". He presented his photographs as technical products instead of art pieces. His portrait subjects were usually aware of the camera and assumed representative poses.

The three portraits above show seemingly ordinary men. However, only after closer observation can we see Sander's genius touch on these photographs. The first two photographs are portraits of tramps, people who came from the lowest layer of society. The third photograph is a portrait of a head farmer, someone who is considerably in a much better social standing than the other three men. 

The third photograph has a similar composition to the first photograph creating the illusion that the two men came from the same social group. But Sanders wanted the viewer to focus on the person portrayed, not his surroundings. The head farmer assumed a stern pose showing leadership. His shiny shoes and tailored coat told us that his social status. In the other hand, the tramp seemed more at ease. He had one hand in his pocket and the other held a walking stick. He looked away from the camera and his face expressed a sense of longing. His worn shoes completed the image of a vagrant. Some of these could also be seen in the second photograph despite it having a different composition.

These subtle hints are what makes Sander's portrait so special. He stepped away from making portraits looked like paintings, something that was still considered the norm at his time. Instead he presented his subjects as people, real and breathing.

Phil Wira

Eugène Atget, 1857-1827

"These are simply documents I make"

Eugène Atget; flâneur, photographer of turn of the century Paris.

Abhorred by the modern movement and it's infringement on the historic quality of Paris Eugène Atget made it his life's work to document the sense of 'Old Paris'. Atget did this through photographing not only the laneways, slums, bridges,stairways which constituted pre revolution Paris but also the street vendors, prostitutes and beggars which contributed to the fabric of the Parisian street scene. He seems to have identified with the peripheries of everyday life, facing his camera away from the bustle and concentrating on the overlooked.

Atget's primary source of income was selling his images as study documents for artists and architects from his studio in Montparnasse and it was here where he gained notoriety among the surrealist movement. The wispy sense of light resulting from his very long exposure times created an eerie ghost like scene. This new take on his subject; the everyday and ordinary things of Parisian life and the way his images seemed to capture a sense of ambience with their wide angle views attracted the attention of Man Ray. By this stage Atget's technique and equipment were well antiquated his large bellows camera being 60 years old yet he refused the use of the newer equipment of his new acquaintance Man Ray . These encounters began 2 years before Atget's death and saw him being published for the first time in Man Ray's 'La Révolution Surréaliste'. It is only after his death in 1827 that he received renown for his work in part thanks to a young Berenice Abbott who published his work into the book 'The World of Atget'

Prostitute on her Shift, Rue Asselin, Paris
An figure typical  of Atget's documentation
of the peripheries of Paris
Gladiateur Mourant; Gardens of Versailles
Aget seems to wish to convey the fall into disrepair of old 

Barges on the Seine opposite La Consiergerie,
 1er Arondissement 1923
Here Atget's long exposure perfectly 
capture the
ambience of a Winter's morning on the seine.

Thomas Annan; Close No.61, Saltmarket

This photograph is taken from Thomas Annan's collection documenting the slums of Glasgow between 1868 and 1877.  It is a document of purpose commissioned by Glasgow city council in order to map out the inner city's poorer areas however the author's composition of the image is much more considered.
Annan frames this scene and focuses at the black void at the end of the alleyway. The rest of the image seems wispy and almost transient. The viewer's eye is drawn down this almost impossibly narrow space to the uncertainty of the dark void encapsulating the confining character of the area he is documenting.

Candida Hofer

Candida Hofer

Her sustained examination of the architectural and perceptual order of public interiors- the orderly arrangement of space swept clean, absent of its implied inhabitants. Hofer's primary interest lay not in landscape or architecture, but in space- not necessarily in the function of a public building or a particular interior, but in the space itself, which could have a physical/ social presence of its own.
She seems to prefer her spaces to be uncomplicated by the unpredictability of people moving through her strict composed frame. She does not feel that her spaces are empty but that they are highlighted and animated by light, form, pattern and references to the human presence. The individual and the collective _empty chairs, that are a sign of the absent, but yet these motifs create engagement with the pictures and make one want to find out more. From the clear, sharp compositions, Hofer's images can let ones eye wander easily around the picture.

 DHFK Leipzig IV, 1991, 38 x 57.

Museo Civico Vicenza II, 1988, 38 x 57.

Colour theory defines white as the absence of all colour. Hofer chooses to let white define a lot of her compositions, from the most subtle contrasts illuminating architectural detail or refining perception of the space, to the motifs highlighted by emphasizing repetitive forms.

The overwhelming effect is that of being tonally pale, suffused with light. Usually white dominates more or less than half of the composition, balanced by the darkness of the contrasting area, which is often lightened by reflection.

Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami, ca. 1975

A static chair in a hotel lobby_ a note of absence that caught my eye. Elliot Erwitt uses the intense surfaces to swamp the chair and uses an opening door to end a moment but leaves the viewer to wonder what is beyond, creating the viewer's mind to continue more into investigations of the image. The amount of detail also helps to let the viewer to wander around the image. The compositions, where Elliott chose to place the camera, with the image continuing out of the picture's frame illustrates an open road.  
This image also made me question how one can share a state of mind through their photography. 

Judith Joy Ross: Untitled – Easton Portraits 1988

This image really appealed to my senses due to its visceral and shimmering quality. The composition of the image is extremely powerful in its use of three figures in the foreground which are shown in sharp focus against the background. This image depicts three young girls in the midst of adolescence. The sharpness of their portrait in relation to the out of focus background speaks of the brevity of youth and gives us the sense that this is a snapshot in time; a moment that is immortalized on film. The image was captures using a large format 8 x 10 camera which would have rendered the scene back to front and upside down on the viewfinder. Knowledge of this only serves to strengthen the power of the composition and the classical use of thirds.

Sarah Carroll

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt
American photographer 1913-2009

Her black and white photographs from the early 1940's describes the streets of New York City. Her pictures features children playing, seniors gossiping and everyday errands. She didn't intend her street photography to be documentary but to capture the energy and interactions of people.
Helen Levitt's capacity to take pictures of people so close up without them noticing or posing for the picture is key to the quality and energy of her work . The protagonists don't notice her and don't change their behavior around her. She must have gained their approval or saw her as a local, not someone there to document or analyse their lifestyle but one of them.
The work I find the most powerful is her portraits of children playing with what they can find in their local streets of New York City. She captures the kids' innocence and happiness. Her work is powerful, objective and poetic. The composition of patterns, colour, people's bodies make her work recognisable from any other streetscape photographers.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

André Kertész
1894 - 1985

André Kertész, was a Hungarian-born photographer. His contributions to photo-journalism and with his sense of composition set him apart as a master.
He was never tried to give meaning to his subjects but rather capture them in a quiet yet overlooked incident. Even though these images were of ordinary scenes he juxtapositions them in a surreal manner.   He used, as 'Eiffel tower shadows', unusual and unexpected angles that seem like a personal view. Away in which he draws the viewer into the image, leaving an image of the real world in a very surreal way.

 Meudon, 1928
This image is quite possibly one of the most iconic and discussed photographs that exist. Kertész visited Meudon, a quiet french town, and took two photographs. On a return visit to the town he took this mesmerising photograph. By taking the picture at exactly this moment, Kertész provides us with more than just an instant of a street. The mysterious man in the foreground, his stare is right down the camera lens but what is he carrying? Then attention is drawn right to the top of the viaduct with a train passing. The subjects are framed by the building facades. I think here, shown by the buildings, his photograph is his relationship with surrealism. Many parallels have been made between this image and Giorgio De Chirico's 'The Soothsayer's Recompense'.
    The image echos Kertész's realism and showing us an image full of questions and visual puzzles. He shows us a decisive moment which, in his way, is not about that exact moment, its not about freezing time. It is about what wonder and emotion the foreground figure, the subjects in the street and the train create in their movements through the image.

Distortion, 1933
Kertész express this concept through an elaborate processes of distortion.  He does so with the female nude. His nudes are a commentary on the sublimate beauty and harmony of the female form. And also an ironic take on the persistent representation of women as sexual objects. In 1933
Kertész is offered a concept cover for the french magazine Vu. He creates the series “Distortions”. It includes 200 female nudes that are the result of optical experiments with reflections and mirrors. In this article Kertész becomes the master of photo-journalism and he literally wants to write with light.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nicholas Nixon, Friendly, West Virginia,1982

This photograph from Nicholas Nixon depicts an American family standing on their porch staring at
the camera. Nixon composes the portrait to include every family member by juxtaposition. The girl at the front walking into the frame and the boy sitting holding the Pepsi can gives a notion of movement, time and frame. The family's dusty appearance, stance and stare confronts the viewer.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Otto Steinert – “A Pedestrian's Foot”

From reading “The Photographer’s Eye”, John Szarkowski, I chose the photograph “A pedestrian walking” , 1951. Steinert was the founding member of Fotoform, it made photographic experiments and sought to draw attention to the creative possibilities of photography which had been extinguished by Nazi cultural policy. They had a strong emphasis on abstract form derived from patterns found in nature and from darkroom manipulation.

The framing and composition of this photograph turns the everyday objects, tree, footpath, road and a person, into abstract shapes. The very constructed view adds to this isolation of static forms on the left of the composition. The incomplete view of the tree and the road, the hard circle of the iron grate and the heavy concrete footpath emphasis the static nature of the left hand-side of the image. The introduction of a pedestrian walking into the frame. I feel the pedestrian is more disappearing into his environment than moving through it. The highly polished shoe is left stationary on the ground rooting the image to the right hand side. For this reason I feel the pedestrian is struggling to fit into this urban context.
William Spratt-Murphy

Space-Framed 2013/14 - Weeks 2+3

This week our discussion has evolved into two groups:
Portrait + Space and the Collective Portrait - Cities and Crowds.

Some of the photographers you will be looking at over the next week are August Sander, Alec Soth, Walker Evans, Candida Hofer, Thomas Ruff, Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Lisa Larsen, Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander and Mona Breede.

Here is the film by Helen Levitt that came up in discussion yesterday. (link )

In the Street (1948) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

Reading for week 3:
Geoff Dyer: The Ongoing Moment (on reserve in the library), first essay.
Susan Sontag: The Image World from On Photography
Peter Schjeldahl: Thomas Struth
Peter Schjeldahl: Reality Clicks from the New Yorker

Each student needs to upload their work to date on the blog as follows:
Week 1: 1 photograph and 50-100 words
Week 2: 3 Photographs and 150-200 words.
When posting, include labels (can be added in column on rhs of posts, and searchable in column on rhs of blog) , links, relevant reading etc so that the blog can be used as a collective resource during the semester

Monday, September 23, 2013

Here is one of the photographs from Walker Evans' documentary portraits. I find this particular photograph interesting because as first glance, this photograph looks prosaic. Only after looking at it for a while that I start to see the mystery of this photograph. Who are the two people in the photograph? What are their relationship? What is inside the house? Photographs are supposed to be the 'all-seeing eye'. But in Walker Evans' works, the things that a photograph cannot capture is highlighted instead.

Phil Wira

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Hartford, 1979

This photo suggests trouble in paradise - friction between a nefarious-looking suburb and a tired human. Trapped in a window high in a brick edifice, a visibly defeated man, surveys his severe domestic environment. The sharp lines and dark corporate colours of the suburban houses are reflected in his business-like dress –the uniform of the atomic father. There are hints of conflict; his rolled up sleeves, loose tie, a cup of coffee, and cigarette.  Above his head, the disorderly branches of a bare tree are reflected and superimposed over his po-faced house.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Space Framed 2013/14: Constructing the View

Thomas Struth - Ulica Truda, St. Petersburg 2005

Photography frames pieces of the world we live in, constructing limits that seem to confer order and significance on whatever comes within them. In this sense, it has a fundamental affinity with architecture, which is also concerned with framing human behaviour, and which must also proceed from the given conditions.

Since its mid-nineteenth-century beginnings, photography has been used to capture the relationship between people and their environment. From the family in its domestic setting to the action of the city streets to the magnificence of remote landscapes, in every case a photograph says something – as often unconsciously as deliberately - about how people and place relate.

The space of photography is, necessarily, the space of human occupancy. In order for a photograph to be made at all, the location depicted must have been visited by the photographer (although in the digital age, this truth has been questioned to interesting effect). But above and beyond this most basic level, photographs offer a rich and complex meditation on the ways in which we occupy space.

In this seminar, by looking at photographs and reading about their making and their possible meanings, we will try to understand what photography reveals about the spaces we design, construct and inhabit. Our specific focus will be on photographic series, projects and publications. Rather than limit our analysis to single images, we will look at how photographs are made, edited, sequenced, displayed and published to create a coherent narrative or a consistent atmosphere; to deal with complex issues or to convey subtle messages.

This semester the seminar will run in parallel with a symposium entitled ‘Constructing the View’, due to take place in IMMA on Saturday, Nov 2, 2013. The symposium will be a day of conversations between photographers, architects and theorists exploring the ways in which photography may be used not just in recording built space, but also in its conception, design, evaluation and investigation.

In the seminar, we will study the work of the photographers and artists due to participate and projects relevant to their work. Our studies will therefore include Thomas Struth, Michael Wolf, David Grandorge and Paul Seawright, and delve into the background of their work by looking at The Dusseldorf School of Photography and the New Topographics exhibition amongst others.

Weekly meetings will include discussions of readings and photo-essays as well as occasional lectures, and will require written and presentation preparations from each student which will be included in the Space-Framed blog each week.

Week One Assignment: 
Read and study the images in John Szarkowski, The Photographer’s Eye (779.SZA, reserve collection) and Stephen Shore, The Nature of Photographs (770.11/SHO reserve collection) Select a favourite photograph from the book and find out more about who took it, where, how and why. 

Watch the BBC series ‘The Genius of Photography’, available on dvd from the Richview Library. Please watch episode 1+2, and if possible the rest of the series. (There is an accompanying book by Gerry Badger also available in the library.)

Familiarise yourself with the Space-Framed blog and the references and research from previous years' seminars on the blog.

Meeting in Hugh Campbell’s office, 11am, Monday Sept 16th.

If you have any queries, please contact Hugh Campbell or Alice Clancy via email.