Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 part III

I remember last year’s DB exhibition and how the arrangement of finalists had affected me, specifically how the impact of one exhibit as it rested by another artist’s work. Probably most affecting was ‘The Afronauts’ by Cristina De Middel next to Bloomberg and Chanarin’s work ‘War Primer 2’.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I am equally sure that whilst the emotional response was less for me this year, it must surely have an effect on the viewer to have such disparate work on show in such close proximity when the only contextual touchstone is that they have all been proposed to win a prestigious prize in the photographic calendar. Lorna Simpson’s work reminded me of the discussion that took place at the Thames Valley Group’s previous meeting a couple of day’s earlier. Simpson’s view, in my opinion was very ‘female’ a gendered perspective and singular amongst the other practitioners on view at TPG’s annual show. The earlier discussion raised, amongst other subjects to do with feminism and the arts, whether a view could be determined, or determinedly, feminine. Last year’s solo female’s work (one hopes this isn’t a case of tokenism – perhaps I’ll check previous year’s statistics?) ‘The Afronauts’ wasn’t, I think, a particularly gendered set, but I concede my view may be masked by how I felt about the work as a whole.

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This work didn’t deal with war, as it’s co-companion on the fifth floor Richard Mosse’s work did, the expressed and hidden violence of a land desecrated by men for men; no Lorna’s work was intimate and personal, a look at a life projected through time. Small and needing to viewed at close distance, it had no notion of power, it was a look at how people were with each other, even if the other was, seemingly, the other side of the camera. The subject and the image maker seemed intimately bonded.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This quiet conversation with the viewer (quieter still perhaps after the Congo perils of Mosse’s work) in tender monochrome tones allowed the viewer to consider the relationships that existed for women of colour a half century earlier in the West Coast of America and have those thoughts mediated through a lens today. No less deep because of the apparent leif-motif of the production compared to Mosse’s carcinogenic perspective of riotous colour, but no better because of the proximity to it.

And so to Jochen Lempert:

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Harking back to the recent Thames Valley meeting at which I had decided to air my first attempt at an “Open Work”. This piece had been with me since I created it a month or so earlier – I have written about it here, here and here. I presented these images as I had coded them from a large set of images and I wanted to see if any of the other people present could muster a narrative from them. I have to say that if what I hoped to achieve was even a connection to the image set then I failed; but no matter. The general comment that maybe it was ‘too open’ that I provided no sense of an emotional hook to attach the viewer to, maybe the ‘my narrative’ that I refused to explain was too obscure, or ‘too loose’ to be made liminal for others and that if I had provided, even a sense of a narrative/contextual axis to pivot from it may have worked. I’m not sure, but the experiment taught me some lessons and I am very grateful to the group for indulging me.

And so back to Jochen Lempert’s work. Well the first thing that struck me was the text; there was some and more than I had expected. Whether this was a strategy on behalf of the artist or the gallery I have no idea, but situating text there was. In fact I think the material to accompany this exhibit was considerably greater than any of the other artists, with a handout to title/explain most, if not all the images.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

And whilst the images on the wall had no title or caption, the viewer was allowed the privilege to consider the printed document and edit their way through the imagery. As a strategy for ‘Open Work’ I found that interesting, the images were numbered – which usually predetermines an order – but there was no other indication as to which way, or indeed order, one should contemplate the works on view. On one hand most of these images had, as a common visual theme, the natural world, they were all monochrome and analogue based. As regards my reaction to them as a whole, as a work with an underlying narrative I couldn’t discern one, even with the text. I do think however that I was maybe looking to deeply, or not deep enough and that I need to do some more research into this to be able to connect in a form that is attractive to me.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

Assignment 3 closure

In the end I have decided to call a halt to this project, at least for assessment purposes. The assignment that I sent to my tutor still exists on the blog and the print that we agreed would supersede it is enclosed in the assessment box ready for delivery.

I can sense a much longer journey for the work that I did in the assignment but I need to close down and concentrate on completing some other work to ensure that the assessment is completed on time. So thanks Mum from the file called Mother narrative. It’s been a piece of work…..

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 part II

I have written about Richard Mosse’s work previously at The Photographers Gallery where they are mounting the Deutsche Börse work. Of the other three artists I didn’t expect to be drawn to Alberto Garcia-Alix’s work and I left it ‘till last, as it was closet to the exit from the fourth floor and knowing that coffee would be closer; but drawn to it I was. Russell Squires wrote about it here for the WeAreOCA site

I didn’t really feel any sense of the work from the images on the wall, certainly they were graphic, wonderfully printed and presented, but over the last few decades I have seen lots of very good prints, expertly made and created to draw the viewer to engage. These images weren’t any worse, nor perhaps any better at developing that discourse – but I felt it was (yet) another set of visually graphic images of an artist in torment, or perhaps an artist’s recording of his torment. What I hadn’t bargained for was the video.

The single images portrayed the said artist’s torment but I wasn’t ready to be engaged with it, I had purposefully walked right on by these mounted photographs to view the Lempert piece, that I had been looking forward to – the subject of another post – and had expected to walk right back after a cursory glance on my way to the coffee. There was though something about the audio (the soundtrack to the video) that perhaps triggered a purpose to linger longer than I had planned.

The deadpan, monotonic commentary that accompanied the video with, in the main, still images the sub-titled translation that worked extremely well. I wonder now whether there was a purpose in the English sub-titles given the need to focus on the image, then script, then image and maybe script again that forced a connection that a voice-over in English might not have achieved?

The language of this artist was very poetic and the complete experience of image/audio and text held me there on the viewing bench for the duration. I was transfixed.

“And time keeps moving backwards” the narrator is translated as saying, of course all photographs are memories – how could they be anything else? But the statement, in the context of the artist’s life, was all the more poignant for the story he narrated. Addiction is perhaps the single greatest act of selfishness that humans have devised for themselves and we saw those selfishnesses, heard them through the narration, how he continued to sacrifice, in the same way many addicts do, all those around him. And how those that travelled with him on that journey fell by the wayside. “My intentions are never honest” he says at one point, an addict slips and slides around the notion of veracity together with its implications. It is a prioritized life, that of an addict, and this video presented scenes of a life that slipped from lucidity to apparent lunacy.

What I took from this though was the power of the edit, over and above the visceral reaction to an artists depiction of himself in all his guises. As image crashed with text and it’s audio accompaniment presenting this viewer with a reaction that chimed with another of his sets of words, blandly expressed “they [the images] leave an echo in their wake”.

The problem with assessment

The problem with assessment seemingly is in it’s preparation, the work seems to want to carry on. I had decided to make the mono print as a reference, it being the distillation of the work that I did in this assignment. I had had some conversations with Sharon on this about how it might be developed – see here – and whilst photographing the framed image on the wall I was struck both by the ambiguity of its presence but also but the strength of the photographic image. Barthes, in Camera Lucida famously waxed lyrically about his mother’s depiction in a photograph (opening sections of ‘Part Two”) and whilst I may still make another image as a discard I decided to make another image and purposefully distress it. I decided on a matte paper and printed it with a gloss profile – I know the image will fade – I then tore the image in two separating the two subjects, my mother and me, and then arranged them in a number of settings to see which ‘spoke loudest’.

Tear sheet1 Monoc2

 

I have registered with the college for the July assessment so I need to finalise things. I want to register soon for level three. Sharon suggested that I try and find a way to leave the personal from this archive images. The problem with that is that these aren’t archive images, they are constructs with, clearly, my own narrative assembling, and disassembling, them. Either way leaving level two will provide a Rubicon to cross and allow fiction to become the essence of what I want to achieve with narrative. The first and third images have an element of movement about them, either one may be moving away from the other or moving closer; the second image is in a state of finality – they are distinct from each other. The images that have missing persons show no disconnect at all, after all where are they? Unless by condition we know there was someone there and in which case it might be an altogether different image.

Assigment Three re-working

 

Looking back, final edit

Looking back, final edit

I had a meeting with my course tutor Sharon to review my coursework and to discuss the assessment submission. Assignment three had a series of images of my mother that in the main had her looking back in a reflective stance. After talking it around a little while it was thought that maybe instead of a series of images one might suffice, this highly edited image above. The image says a lot about what I’ve thought about through the course, firstly it is a construct, two images of two different times creating a narrative that is fairly directive. My mother regards me, her son, at a point in my life – the point was my first date with Elaine (she saw the sweater and decided she didn’t want to be seen with me so sartorially challenged and avoided me (but that’s another story). The front wall of the house, the door and myself date from an earlier time, my mother and the rest are contemporary. It is therefore a series of truths and not a truth, to tell a story albeit in single image form.

The square format reflected the original image format – it was one of a very few that my father made of me – and I thought the crop to those dimensions fitted the with the sense of narrative that I wanted to project. I like her stance, outside of the property borders to a house that she dwelt in for most of her life, bore five children in (she brought three children with her when she moved in). She regards me, I look slightly away. There is life in this image (for this viewer).

Wall hanging - with light

Wall hanging – with light

Sharon suggested I put the image on the wall and re-photograph it. I must say that I wasn’t immediately enthralled by that prospect as it would suggest that I am honouring the moment, exalting it – ‘framing it’. And because I know the core of the emotion I found difficulty in that concept, I thought about it some more and decided to try it, though purposely askance. I was really pleased with the light as it echoes some of my other work with transient light in assignment five. I was’t sure then and I’m still unsure now. I want to recognise something here, again suggested by Sharon, which is about ‘letting go’. Images have strength, for those that have a connection to the image it is understandably difficult to render that emotional connection void, something that I’ve been encouraged to do when working with archives. Honouring the emotional connection of an image is a noble thing of course, but to make images that develop another narrative, then leaving that connection behind is perhaps  a requirement. It might though be difficult to recognise when this has taken place when the original connection is personal and when it hasn’t when working with personal imagery, or imagery that has a proximity. These constructed images do not, and indeed cannot, contain the original intent and I am very pleased to ‘let-go’ of whatever I imagine might be going on in the photograph, though I fully recognise that a viewer knowing the cast of characters might question that…..

With a patina of dust

With a patina of dust

 

I also had another look at the image from an another angle and tried to pick out the ‘fingered dust’ on the glass. I have a strong feeling what this might denote/connote and would wonder if anyone else would gather similar information from the image.

I had another thought which was to shatter the frame with the photograph in it and then re-take the image, I may still do that, but I realise it is a once only exercise and considering assessment – sending the framed image intact would be good deal easier (and safer) than trying to gather the shattered and splintered remains of a broken frame, but then that may provide evidence that I haven’t left everything behind……..

 

Assignment Five – Personal project

What gesture could I make

What gesture could I make

Looking back, reflecting, on this course I see that all the work has been very personal both in terms of my response to the notion of the document and to the genre of ‘documentary’ and so it perhaps fitting that this final assignment should also be personal.

I have reflected many times about the nature of my own work, how what I have made has felt insubstantial, and maybe how I wanted to create images that were pretty and to some extent the fact that many have found their way to walls persuaded me to that conclusion – but I had no idea what or how I would transfer to making work that I felt had some depth. Actually I am quite happy with the work that I’ve produced for this course, the work with the Gross’, the reflection with my mother in that they still have a resonance with me. My thoughts on the ‘industry’ of photo-journalism hasn’t been mitigated through study, perhaps the reverse. I suspect the pivotal point was to look at Jaar’s work in Arles and his use, by non-use, of imagery chimed very loudly with how I felt about the contract between commerce and pain, between capitalism and suffering. Bloomberg and Chanarin, perhaps Norfolk to some extent and others, are the sort of artists that have broadened and informed my initial naïve view of that world.

I started this course with a sense of excitement and that excitement has continued with me. I have explored things that I hadn’t expected to appear on my horizon, it has made me question many things about my attitudes toward a range of issues that had either lain dormant in me or were entirely new conversations. But it is to the expressly personal that I have found myself inexorably drawn, as I veer towards completion of this module I have taken some advice from my tutor to start making images that I enjoy! Well I have always enjoyed making images, but recently I have found that the images I have been making have a greater sense of me and less of a sense of replication in them. The images in assignment five are about me, by me, for me, and whilst I know that (a few) other people will regard them and reinterpret them, coloured by their own life experience, I am content with what they depict.

Deep in the securest of place

Deep in the securest of place

Listening to Jason Evans’ lecture in Westminster about ‘Nice’ pictures was another turning point, it was when I realized that I could place myself into the frame and not be overly concerned about how ‘deep’ the narrative might be. With assignment five I have tried to deliver imagery that provides a visual engagement, much as Tom Hunter said in his talk about how he uses ‘beauty’ to engage in order to provide the means by which the narrative might be delivered into a conversation with the viewer. I have used the text to try and ‘steer’ the viewer to consider what the combination of text and imagery might mean, and I hope/expect that the viewer might reinterpret using their own life experiences – ‘death of an author’ maybe – but intentionally so. I am also aware that I have contrived fictions from these images, much as Fontcuberta has used a much more radical fictive set of constructions in his Flora and Fauna to position them as factual, I wonder whether these images, anchored with text, will provide ‘new’ fictions and ask questions regarding the viewers history.

 

Documentary and Beauty and Documentary

One fifty light

One fifty light

Just before two pm one family, four generations, sat for lunch. Sharing this meal I wondered whether I would have the opportunity to break bread with a great grandchild? Happy and privileged to do so at this time with those whose histories are nearing completion and others barely beginning. This light radiated into a new space in a new room newly completed in time for this occasion. A new light, an old practice, this illumination that is now captured and framed for as long as those that want to allow it to provide a memoir.

Thoughts on documentary.

Repetition is a word that keeps coming up as I reflect on my thoughts, the more I research, the more I find repeated messages,

not only the: Grieving mothers,

charred human remains,

sunsets,

women giving birth,

cock fights,

bull fights,

Havana street scenes,

reflections in windows,

football posts in unlikely locations,

swaddled babies,

portraits taken through mosquito nets,

needles in junkies’ arms,

… and on, and on – Broomberg and Chanarin ‘Unconcerned But Not Indifferent’, 2008

but also the need to question the validity and the purpose of the medium of photography as a ‘Documenting’ schema. What is the purpose? As Ingrid Sischy wrote in The New Yorker on 9th September 1991 (about Salgado’s Uncertain Death at the ICP in New York, a show guest curated by Fred Ritchin who also wrote the main text): “To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anesthetize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.” The direction of travel for the ‘Documenter’ is away from the presentation of image to accompany, or to illuminate news – tragic or otherwise – that role is being granted to the ‘citizen journalist’ with Iphone and other mobile devices. It is implicit, that in the act of triumphanting the democratization of the means of image capture that the industry, that commercial practice of news ‘packaging’, has freed itself of any responsibility to the bounds of comprehension of the ‘why?’ to just the ‘what!’ “Were you there?” asks the BBC website. “Can you send us your pictures?” says the New York Times (and the Chicago Sun Times who now have no photographers on staff, how long before they all go the same way?).

Is there inherency in a photographer’s DNA to transcend the ugly beautiful, or to at least reify it to another more acceptable plane? But as Alfredo Jaar comments in an interview with Strauss et al 2009, “there is no way to represent anything without aestheticization. In other words, there is no representation without aestheticization.” And the squeeze to the gallery wall allows for both the release of the image maker and for the market to collude – how much now for the rights on Carter’s vulture picture? We know it as the ‘vulture’ picture and not of the infant being regarded by a vulture, we know it perhaps because we are complicit in it’s worth as cultural icon, but also as an emblem of the ‘Documentarist’s work; how many of us would love to have taken that vulture shot, the one that Carter waited for twenty minutes in front of, what we can only suspect was a dying infant, to get the composition, to win the prize that perhaps cost him his own life as well.

Geoff Dyer, in his documentary of documentarists ‘The Ongoing Moment” suggests I think that the spectator to these documents is convening with the photographer as much as the event on the screen or page. Responding to Sontag’s comments on “Here is New York” where she writes about the ‘Democracy of Photographs’ suggesting there was “..work by amateurs as good as all the work of seasoned professionals. Unattributed and uncaptioned, all of the pictures in the show, whether by ‘a James Nachtwey or …. a retired school teacher’…. If Nachtway is a destination or place as much as a photographer, then that place can be New York as well as Grozny.”

Of course ‘Documentary’ isn’t only about the re-presentation of a mise en scene unnatural to the spectator’s eye for the purpose of excitement – eroticizing as Barthes might have it – and drawing the viewer in to that time honoured contract between advertiser and conduit. The purpose maybe much more prosaic; to communicate the response to a subject that the lens holder may be wanting to comprehend for themselves. And so to that oft worn trope of beauty; was there ever a subject so much discussed and so little understood, apart from maybe love? The recurrence of this one questioning theme, above all others on this voyage, has kept me at arm’s length. No painted work of pre-modernist art displays a lack of beautiful intent; moreover the rendition of beauty still lies at the heart of most artists’ work that I’ve witnessed. The painter and drawer seem both unwilling or unable to depict without challenging their capacity to deliver beauty, and when that isn’t achievable the notion of prettiness lies still on the canvass. The photograph has at its core the purposeful decision of what to exclude from the frame, the mechanical artist what to include which seems to me to be a much easier deliberation to contend with. However the ‘sunset’ still draws the photographic artist and its detractor to the conversation; it’s capture and safekeeping being both a hindrance and a burden to the artist who feels the need to express and expound their feelings on any subject in a medium, that which is still defying popular belief as a legitimate means of artistic expression.

The indexical nature of photography depicts everything as a ‘document’ of course, and so in that sense all photographers are “Documentarists”. And the question that I am most interested in is what is it that I want to document and why? Is the purposeful exclusion of elements from a frame evidence of censorship in the sub-conscious a portrait of the self and if so is it therefore a recognition that what I ‘frame’ is evidence of some epistemological development? Do I want to meet me in the frame?

Along with Broomberg and Chanarin, I care “…not to judge whether a photograph of a child suffocating to death in a mudslide is sufficiently beautiful to win a prize…” ‘Unconcerned But Not Indifferent’, 2008:  because that (unknown to me) photographer’s self depiction is not one I would want to mirror. My quest is myself.

And so to where should I look to find that sense of self; released from a need to express an other, either sublimated or prettified, I should perhaps look, as I remember my tutor extolling me to do very early in this course, to the reasons I made what I deemed ‘pretty’ pictures for they were surely an expression of me, however much I wanted to distance myself from them. I will not be a photojournalist, nor yet a pale imitation of campaigning media correspondent. My direction is inward, to an exploration of the self and to try and understand or at least search for why and how I react to what I see and feel about what is in front of me.

10:31 light

10:31 light

10:45 light

10:45 light

As ideas ebb and flow, these running rivulets of rain provide an echo to the hosts of thoughts that are collecting. Light is coming at the end of the year.

“As a two dimensional object they [the photographs] seek to represent the third. Yet they live by the forth.” Barry Thornton, ‘Edge of Darkness’ 2000. I knew Barry, not well, but well enough to talk to him occasionally, ask his advice with which he was very free. It was Barry that encouraged me to convert from traditional film based photography to digital at about the time this book was published, though he made his living from the likes of Ilford who utilised his knowledge, expertise, contacts and audience. This quotation is from the last book he published before he died prematurely and alone from a heart attack in a Birmingham hotel room. Barry was recounting how the photograph can represent many things, but universally they hold time as a marker, and the revelations he found after his father had a heart attack and died and whose photographs provided keys to Barry’s own past. I will not be countenancing any discourse on my father, rather I think I want to think about how I can mark time and use its representation as a memento. Whilst I will not set out to make ‘happy’ pictures I will seek to engage the viewer with some notion of the motion of time, how things might happen in a place and mark them, however prosaic they may be, with a sense of that time when the light, or the ambiance,  drove me to record that instance in my life.

I am aware that most of my work so far has been autobiographical in nature, stemming from a desire to find/understand my place. I think that now, and assuming I pass through to Level Three, which I am hopeful for, it will be an acknowledged engagement rather than skirting around and dipping toes. I’m not sure I want to dodge issues that have dogged me, and maybe I feel better about myself after facing things from the past through this course. I never expected it, but I sleep easier now.