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.