Category Archives: Research & Reflection

Paul Strand: A Retrospective

Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the C20th

This July I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum‘s major retrospective of Paul Strand (1820-1976). This important collection shows how the American photographer became one of the most influential figures in documentary and fine art photography today.
This exhibition brings together photographic images, notebooks, a film and Strand’s early large format cameras that he used while moving through, and understanding the different genres of pictorialism, cubism, abstraction and early street photography.
‘Paul Strand dedicated his life to exploring the social and artistic power of the photograph. A champion of fine printing and of photography as a modern art. Motivated by socialist politics Strand looked to film making to encourage social change and as a researcher used materials and techniques to dig into the truth and meaning of the world.’ – Victoria & Albert Museum, March 19th-July 3rd.
After mastering pictorialism, Strand moved away from this painterly style as for him it lacked the social elements that were important to him. In 1919, he began using a large view camera and by printing to the 10×8 format, was able to increase detail in the images leading to him by 1927, to produce photographs of nature, and a more ‘meditative’ approach to his work.
The photograph Wall St. NY 1915, shows a graphic style, using contrast and the shadows of early morning. The image depicts an early ‘rat race’ of sorts as people go on their way to work, their shadows dragging behind them to emphasize the daily grind with the imposing building behind.


In his candid portraits of people in the streets, Strand used a decoy lens mounted onto his camera whilst keeping a real camera under his arm so his subjects would think he was pointing the camera at something else. It would be interesting to know if this method was used for his picture of the blind woman as an act of respect or whether this was a first step towards being more comfortable with his subjects which later was the case when he began asking their permission.
In 1932, Paul Strand travelled to Mexico and developed the idea of a ‘collective portrait’, a series of photographs of people, architecture and religious artefacts to depict an overall impression of pride and dignity of the culture and area. Here, he fixed a prism to his lens enabling him to view street scenes as they unfolded or people unaware as in his street portraiture before. Later, he was able to change his approach and began asking for the co-operation of the sitter.
Strand produced a portfolio of 20 Photogravures of Mexico, a process using intaglio or etching onto a copper plate that has been coated in gelatin. This printmaking process was first introduced by Fox Talbot, later perfected by Czech artist Karl Klic (1841-1926) and allowed the wider public to view photography through books and journals. The photogravures of Mexico are thought to be the most impressive examples made. -The History of the Photogravure [online] At http://www.photogravure.com/history/keyfigures_strand. (Accessed on July 1st 2016).
Paul Strand visited many other places including the Hebrides, Romania, Egypt, Morocco, France choosing places where identity was becoming impacted by globalisation. Some of his most famous images were taken in the Spring of 1953 when after meeting screenwriter Cesare Zavattini who wrote the classic ‘Bicycle Theives’ suggested he should photograph the village of his birth Luzzara. Here, Strand was able to photograph a whole village, a desire of his since watching Winesburg, Ohio,Sherwood Anderson.
Luzzara is a small agricultural village in northern Italy specialising in cheese and straw hats. Here Strand spent time observing the villagers and photographing them with the help of a translator. Strand would stand in the square until people got used to his prescence, only then could he photograph them unobserved. –Martin Barnes V&A
One of the most iconic images of this trip was of the Lusetti family outside their home. The different personalities are shown in this ‘deconstructed’ group portrait and shows their place within the family. The father had been killed previous to this being taken.
As the exhibition continues you see a confidence in Strand unfold that begins with fake lenses and prisms to detract the sitter from his picture taking to communicating with the subject and then begin direct contact that becomes more intense as his travels continue.
This remarkable exhibition shows how a photographer working so long ago was a street photographer, most people equate this genre to be quite modern day, but also depicted scenes of the ‘rat race’ workers in Wall St, and was concerned about globalisation.
Refs: M.Barnes senior Curator, Victoria & Albert Museum.(Accessed July 1st 2016) [online] .vam.ac.uk/articles/paul-strand-un-paese
photogravure.com/history/keyfigures_strand . (Accessed on July 1st 2016).[online]
Philidelphia Museum of Art http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/805.html [Accessed July 2nd 2016] [online].

Photo London 2016 (part 3)

Photo London 2016 – Other Highlights

Don Mcullin was named as Photolondons 2016 ‘Master of Photography’.  An exhibition of Mcullins work, spanning six decades was shown in association with Hamiltons Gallery.

In a Photolondon 2015 conversation with artist Isaac Julien, Mcullin says “Photography is a way of communicating and passing on information. Photography has been hijacked by digital practice and the art world it’s ok to be (just) a Photographer”.  Mcullin is untrusting of digital imagery where portions of the image can be moved or erased from the picture. “ Colour is re-inventing the chocolate box” I think he is saying that colour is making things appear ‘better’ than they are or fake and too staged.

In the conversations that I attended at Photolondon and interviews I have watched since, it seems that all the photographers use digital to some extent if not all the time but also have frustration of the digital revolution and the saturation of images upon us.

Photolondon in collaboration with the Leica gallery showed work by Magnum photographer Alex Webb. ‘ Selections’ are a collection of favourite images by Webb.With so many blown-up images taken with larger format cameras on display it was interesting to see how these images looked in comparison.  Webb uses a Leica 9 rangefinder camera and spends a lot of time walking the streets for a shot.

“I like to think my photographs question the nature of the world.  Working the way I work — wandering the streets, allowing my camera and my experiences to lead me where they will — is a long and often frustrating journey.  This kind of photography is 99% about failure.  Only occasionally do the gods of photography smile down on me and I stumble upon a startling moment in the street.” Alex Webb-The Leica Camera Blog 2016

As the day wore on, I felt as if I’d had ‘image overload’ photographs started blurring into each other and I knew I’d had enough for one day. Whilst looking for the exit, I stumbled upon a collection of older black and white images. Some of these by photographer Sabine Weiss (b.1924) but the ones that really caught my eye were by Spanish photographer Ramon Masats (b.1931) There were  similarities in the images to Cartier-Bresson, the form, shapes and shadows. These are the types of images I noticed when I first picked up the camera. The types of image that really excited me and inspired me in the first place.

In an exhibition of this size with the best that photography has to offer it is easy to feel intimidated rather than inspired. I was beginning to feel like producing work to this standard and attaining ‘success’ was even further away than before. Ramon Masats has reminded me of what I love about photography and because of this, it was my favourite part of Photolondon 2016.

Photo London 2016 (1)

Photo London-Somerset House May 19th-22nd

On May 20th I traveled to London to visit Photo London. The photo fair, now in its’ second year brought together leading galleries from around the world, exhibitions and daily talks with influential photographers. I was lucky enough to listen in with Alec Soth, Massimo Vitali, and Richard Misrach.

As well as the talks, I was really excited to see some works by one of my favourite photographers Evgenia Arbugaevia. Her work was part of the Photographers Gallery and I was able to chat with Print Sales Specialist Anstice Oakeshott about Evgenias work and possible lighting techniques that she may have used in her series ‘Weatherman’. In the Polar skies there is very little light and Arbugaeva is able to use these fleeting windows to create a sense of space and dreamlike scenarios.

Evgenia Arbugaeva(b.1985) is a Russian photographer who studied at The International Centre of Photography. ‘Weatherman’ is a series of documentary style images that depict Vyacheslav Korotki a meteorologist living at an Arctic outpost, an hours helicopter ride away from the nearest town. Evgenia wanted to portray a lonely, hermit type of person that had run away from something in the world but realised that he wasn’t lonely at all. In an interview with the New Yorker she speaks of Korotki as ‘not having a sense of self like most people do, as if he were the wind or weather itself’ –The New Yorker Portfolio Dec 8th 2014.

‘I am photographing the ‘real’ but also trying to create a dreamlike, surreal atmosphere to emphasise feelings. I am not so interested in the reality of a place, but rather little pieces, moments that contribute to the fairy tale feeling I have when I am there’– The Photographers Gallery 2016.

For ‘Weatherman’ Evgenia recieved help from Photo De Mer, a French grant program that funds photo essays about the sea.

Refs: The Photographers Gallery

The New Yorker/Portfolio Dec 8th 2014.

American Photo MagazineL.Comstock, March 9th 2015.

Chloe Dewe Mathews

In a video talk with documentary photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews, Chloe explains her easy to understand approach of finding subject matter and how to engage with the subject for the outcome.

In other research and texts , I have read a lot about making an image from anything that is around you. Anything you see can be made into a good  photograph depending on what you want the final image to say. I can understand this but to make a series of images you need to have some interest in the subject or a feeling that makes you think ‘That could look interesting or I can give that an angle I haven’t seen before’ .

I find Chloe inspiring and can’t help a feeling of envy creeping in. What an amazing opportunity to hitch from China back to Britain and come across photo essays. How would the luxury of something like this happen to me now? How would the children get to school? How could I afford to take a month off when the money needs to go into the household? have I missed my photojournalist opportunities? Am I too old?

I like when Chloe talks about how when visiting somewhere like India she dosen’t even take the camera out, as she has seen all the photos before. It may be true that no-one can see the same image as you, but a lot of images are cliched and very well covered.

Sometimes you look at a body of work and think the photographer must be a genius to get so many great images forgetting that some projects span years and places are visited continuously. This is another aspect of learning to photograph in a different way to my working life now where I have twenty minutes to produce a selection of pictures for the press. Photography for me has been a passion. Then it became work. Can it be a passion again? This is something I’m struggling with but hopeful for.

The struggles that Chloe has had to even get her work looked at let alone published really puts into perspective what a competitive market with a small amount of outlets there are for exposure.

For the project ‘Shot At Dawn’, Chloe was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford as part of the WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

The project comprises landscape images of sites where British, Belgian ad French Soldiers were executed for desertion or cowardice between the years 1914 to 1918.
Chloe photographed the sites at the same times and dates that the executions took place. This is important information when viewing the landscapes giving the viewer a reason to think about the context.

“By photographing them,” Chloe says. “I am reinserting the individual into that space, stamping their presence back onto the land, so that their histories are not forgotten.”-Chloe Dewe Mathews-BJP  July 15th 2015

http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/video-resources/photographers-talk-chloe-dewe-matthews

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-first-world-war-video

BJP-Tom Seymour July 15th/2015.

 

 

‘The Golden Hour’

The ‘Golden Hour’ refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The sun is low  creating long shadows and diffused lighting making these hours of the day flattering for portraits and good for landscape work.

These golden hours will be different depending where you live, and on the seasons.

I took the above images as light from the ‘Golden Hour’ after sunrise and before sunset flooded into windows in the house.

‘Top Light’- Lighting the subject from above, signifies other worldly prescence or angelic innocence. (Key Concepts, D.Bate/photographic Theory p.23 )

Sally Mann (1951)

 

Born in Lexington, Virginia USA, Mann was Introduced to the medium of photography by her father, a physician.

Sally then took up photography whilst at the Putney school in Vermont and then  later, studying at Bennington College  with photographer Norman Sieff.  After a year spent in Europe, Sally graduated from Hollins University in 1974. A year later she earned a masters degree in writing.

Mann talks romantically about the mysterious light in the South in comparison to the North where everything is revealed. ‘In the Summer, the quality of air and the light are so layered, complex and mysterious’. – American SuburbX Jan 5th/2013.

Late afternoon is when Sally talks about capturing the light that makes her photographs so dreamy and atmospheric.

Having experimented with colour, Mann is always drawn back to her love of black and white, creating ‘vintage’ style images that she achieves with a 100yr old 8×10 large format bellows camera, using her own hand as a shutter mechanism and favouring defective lens that are scratched or marked to further authenticate the style of which she is known.  A technique that Mann has embraced is that of the‘collodion process’ used in the development of photographic practise in the 19th century.

In an interview with art21.org, Mann explains how the collodion and ether are applied to the glass plate followed by silver nitrate, then inserted into the camera back whilst still wet, leaving only around 3 minutes to expose the image before the chemicals evaporate. This is the process that creates the ‘swirling’ effect to her pictures, sharp in the centre and a soft vignette around the outside. Any added imperfections such as scratches, dust or light-leaks are welcomed, adding to the sense of history and time that Mann is fascinated by.

Mann is well known for her intimate documentary style shots of her family and has published books ‘At Twelve’ (1998) and ‘Immediate Family’ (1992) capturing everyday moments of her children playing and growing up. Beautiful, serene and evocative, Manns images are never obvious and leave viewers wondering about the narrative and inviting them to question (maybe not intentionally) the  image, sometimes leading to misinterpretation and controversy.

‘Time, memory, loss and love are my main artistic concerns’ –Sally Mann/Guardian Sean O’Hagan, June 20th 2010.

 

In the late 1990s Mann turned to Landscape photography, never  wanting or needing to leave the South for her art, Sally found an easy transition from photographing her family with the Southern landscape as the backdrop to documenting the landscape as the main focus.  Interested in the history of the Southern country, Mann created images with a strong sense of emotion and nostalgia in her series ‘Deep South’ (2005) a series of ethereal landscapes. Mann speaks of not being a spiritual person but feeling the lands presence whilst spending long periods of time alone creating the series.

 

Refs: Gagosiangallery.com

Britannica.com

Guardian/Sean O’Hagan interview June 20th,2010

Art21.org

Americansuburbx Jan 5th/2013

The Art of Photography- Ted Forbes