I find it hard to believe that my last blog was more than 2 years ago. I was forced to stop my my education by many factors including due to the Covid pandemic and due to income from photography dwindling to nothing.
It is ironic that my last project was about research. There was no need for me to stop my research. But I did:-Effectively I shut my door to further research and guess what? I stopped growing.
Today I decided to pick up the pieces again, restart my business and resume my research. I don’t know the future nor do I have a fixed plan yet. But it is the research and interaction with my fellow students that I missed the most. I am not going to let this define my next steps, nor lead me into regrets. It is what it is.
I intend to continue my research and update this blog in spite of not being able to continue my studies at this time. Please feel free to read further. Just a note: this information, while it may still be open to anyone willing to read, no longer, or for now… form part of my accredited studies at Falmouth University.
I would like this moment to congratulate my fellow students that successfully concluded their studies and wish them all the best for the future. And for those that still follow me, please continue to do so: while my voice is still around and I want to be heard.
I chose the photograph above deliberately as it is Henri’s work that I relate to the most. Recording the world around me and using form and gesture to tell the story as I see it. I would like to expand my visual vocabulary, find my own place and live! Its time to go out and follow the images reflected in the windows. The time of looking from the inside out is over! No need to push. just open the door!
The Role of Research in Contemporary Photographic Practice
Wittgenstein said ‘A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.’
(Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi)
Wittgenstein’s metaphor makes two profound statements- if it is applied to knowledge and growth.
We are all free to gather knowledge or grow.
If we draw open the door or pull knowledge to us, we will be set free and grow. If we push knowledge, we will always be captured within our own reality.
It is immediately Peter Kennards follows with the view:
“Research is the pull that allows me to get out of the room and into the street, into what’s actually happening in the world (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi).”
“There are as many ways to research as there are artists (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. vi) .”
Research methods in the creative world are as unique as the person doing it. We can learn from other researchers, but in essence, the creative practitioner need to develop and refine our own from past experience, books they read, experiences we had and the context of the research task before them. Refer to Eliasson’s work in my reflection https://ancrj.blog/2019/10/10/shirley-read-finding-and-knowing/. Research is either an unconscious or cognitive process, we all do it.
In the introduction the authors indicated with the limited sample that at least between them “it became clear early on that the ways we understood the term research within the context of photography often overlapped and resonated with recurring themes, shared understandings, experiences and opinions” (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. ix).” Thus, challenging the diversity observed by Peter Kennard. This Directed Reed and Simmon’s research intent “to see to what degree individual practices differ and what parallels could be drawn across those practices.”
Reed and Simons then continue to describe their intended objectives, approach, and the outcomes were shared in this book.
Their findings, strangely presented in the introduction, were:
“What became clear quite quickly, though not unexpectedly, was that although there were some similarities and common approaches to research, each of our interviewees had, over time, shaped and adapted their experiences and methods to suit their particular needs or circumstances, which they applied across most of their projects (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. x) .”
The italics I added to highlight the fact that, according to them, each researcher develop their own standard and method; confirming Kennard’s observation. But it adds the premise that there is a common starting point or foundation that all share, backing in a way their own comment.
It may also be observed that their initial research lead them to focus on aspects not initially intended.
“We then recognised that our survey exists to describe possible research routes, to ask questions and open up ideas about research but that it could not in itself come up with a definitive analysis or roadmap which anyone can follow. This is because the options and variables within the research process for photographers are broad and because practice is so particular and dependent on the habits, needs and preferences of the individual as well as the purpose and audience for the work. (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xi)”
If research makes things relevant, then it is as if they want to make the statement that the paradox in the research itself relates closely to the nature of photography. While we like to describe the research process, the intent to express by individuals doing the research seeks not to be limited by a formal method. This is precisely the paradox in modernity between Empiricism (Natural Laws), Rationalism (Classification, characterisation, ordering i.e an Ontological order for Research) and Romanticism/existentialism (experience and the wish to express that), the modernist trinity from which photography was born, which in my view lies at the heart of modernist photography. Postmodern photography may only seek expression.
“What makes photography relevant lies in its paradoxical nature and the ability to both describe and express (Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xii).” And capturing it using the natural laws of physics.
They then conclude the introduction with an interesting note:
“We see this book as a research project in itself, bringing together examples of photographic practice for you to consider and absorb into your own ideas, processes and projects Read & Simmons, 2017, p. xii).”
One of the primary purposes of the MA course in Photography is to develop my research methodology to elevate my practice which will culminate in a final research project. What I found liberating was that in terms of the research for an artistic/expressive practice such as photography, a considerable amount of myself needs to be embedded into the method. But it also requires a strong foundation in research to leverage from.
That being said puts the responsibility of this education on my shoulders. Firstly I need to see if my foundation is not flawed and secondly, I need to be able to rationalise my individualistic research approach and methods in a way that it is understood by those that will be reviewing and marking my project and endeavouring to develop me. However, the success of my research can only be measured by me, in how it helped me to express my photographic vision and expression.
It will be well worth my while to read the cases contained in the book and mindfully consider absorbing some of the relevant learnings in my own research method.
What I won’t do is to look for the orthodox or best practice way that some of my research in theology (rationalist research) and engineering (empirical research) requires. Merely include methods that make sense within the context of the Photographic Practice.
Reed, S. & Simmons, M., 2017. Photographers and Research: The Role of Research in Contemporary Photography Practice. 1st ed. New York & Oxon: Routledge.
This is the first of two parts reflecting on Susan Sontag’s essay “America Seen Through Photographs, Darkly (Sontag, 2019, pp. 27-33).
Originally this essay was called “Freak Show” which gives away Sontag’s primary purpose (Tagg, 2003). To discuss the work of Dianne Arbus following the Retrospective exhibition and presented and discussed in “Diane Arbus” a monograph by Aperture where Diane discusses her own work. Sontag knew her personally and was on occasion photographed by her. Sontag uses her own literary knowledge of Walt Whitman, and two other exhibitions and related documentation: Walker Evan’s photographs and the associated introduction John Szarkowski produced by MOMA; and Eduard Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition, to introduce what she believes set the scene for Diana Arbus’s work. She applies a method of critical analysis using her philosophical and literary expertise to inform her understanding of the work.
Sontag introduces Walt Whitman (1819-1892) an American Poet as the initiator of the idea that “We need to see beyond the difference between beauty and ugliness, importance and triviality.” At least from an American perspective. But before we can talk about his influence, we need to evaluate what influenced him. “I contain multitudes,” announces the speaker in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (section 51), and any attempt to provide even a basic catalogue of the principal influences upon the poet only confirms his famous boast (Worley, 2019). But his main influences was Philosophy and Religion. All philosophies and religions as known to him in his time. It alludes to his embracing of everything.
Sontag linked the Walker Evans to Walt Whitman to what she called “The epigraph for a book of Walker Evan’s photographs published by the museum of arts as a passage from Whitman that sounds the theme of American Photographies main quest:
‘I do not doubt but the majesty & beauty of the world are latent in any iota of the world…I do not doubt there is far more in trivialities, insects, vulgar persons, slaves, dwarfs, weeds, rejected refuse, than I have supposed….’ (Sontag, 2019, p. 29)”
Whitman called for Americans to become lyrical about everything. “Nobody would fret about beauty and ugliness, who was accepting a sufficiently large embrace of the real, of the inclusiveness and vitality of the of the actual American experience (Sontag, 2019, p. 27)”. Evans reflected this about his photography in a lecture at Yale University in 1964: “What I believe is really good in the so-called documentary approach to photography is the addition of lyricism….[this quality] is usually produced unconsciously and even unintentionally and accidentally by the cameraman (Hackett, 2009).” Thus confirming Sontag’s link between the two artists.
Getting back to Whitman. Whitman was an American Romantic and realist and humanist, even if it was a contradiction. “Whitman’s attempt to represent the fullness of life, the totality of experience, not only benefited from but actually required the incorporation of many disparate voices into his work (Worley, 2019).” Heavily influenced himself by Hegel. “The chief intellectual contribution made by Hegel’s philosophy was the deferred, almost religious expectation of an eventual reconciliation of diverse aspects of the experience. This deferral allowed Whitman to reconcile his conception of national unity underlying the multiple and increasingly conflicting elements of national life as the century progressed. Through the Hegelian model of development, Whitman could retain the hopeful democratic vision of his prewar writings simply by placing his confident celebratory perspective into a utopian future (Worley, 2019). In the mid-nineteen century, significant debates around the writing of history and how cultures need to be documented. A struggle between Rationalism, Empiricism and Romanticism. Whitman rejected no viewpoint in the same way that western culture adopted them with their contradictions. And the camera, along with writing, became a tool to record that new demand. The core of the practice of documentary work. Whitman’s predicted or may have attempted a self-induced American cultural revolution that did not happen. He may have had an idea of creating a new Hegelian antithesis in the hope to initiate a modern romantic, humanist America. Apart from a great effort by photographers, reality did not overtake the discernment of art. It was the eve of worldwide imperialism, world war’s, and propaganda. Since then, not even the postmodern internet succeeded in overcoming this erosion of truth as proven by the war in Iraq and the current presidential debate. And with the advent of the malleable digital print, the gap is widening. But there is a moment in history that at least one art form aspired to do the de-mystifying of the arts.
Attempting to record the Americans of their time within an American Romanticism/Realism context and becoming lyrical about the important and unimportant, the beautiful and ugly, allows Sontag to reference work of Walker Evans, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Eduard Steichen even though their adoption of Whitman’s vision varied between them.
While infer Walt Whitman’s influence on the Steichens Family of man Exibition and the inclusion photographs from the Amerivan Photographers above it indicates to me that this movement was a worldwide phenomenon and the egalitarion ideal at the centre of this exhibition. Not unlike my current project into Ubunthu and its influence in South Africa. Coming from a Apatheid background I share Whitmans dream and the concept of Steichens “family of man”. Not just for South Africa, but for an international view. It may be as unattainable as for America but should be presented as a constant Antitheses to Nationalist cultures. I reminded of John Lenon’s Imagine.
South Africa shares a bit with the American experience in being a colony and a young nation founded by reformers, liberalism ideals and an attempt at a western egalitarian society. We have seen many attempts at to creating a visionary culture, at first from a European cultural liberal perspective, then from a Modernist and Romantic perspective and currently from an African Perspective – Ubuntu. Doing a similar analysis of the South African photographers and their work may be a worthwhile endeavour. The South African War was as well photographically documented as the American Civil war. And the Slavery question issue hit us at approximately the same time. David Goldblatt, whether knowingly or unknowingly associated well with Whitman and the photography of Evans specifically “People on the Plots”, “The Afrikaners” and “On the mines”. His view is expressed as follows: “Somethings, in reality, takes me. It arouses, irritates, beguiles. I want to approach, explore, see it with all the intensity and clarity that I can. Not to purchase, colonise or appropriate, but to experience its isness and distil this in a photograph (Goldblatt, 2018, p. Last).
And then came Dianne Arbus… The Darkly part of the heading! I intend to reflect on her work in the next post. Our version was/is Roger Ballen A Canadian photographer and land surveyor whose early work in South Africa was influenced by Walker Evans and his later work by Dianne Arbus.
My Personal Reflection
It is interesting to see an article on an America, seen through photographs, without a single image. Mainly because it is about socio-political documentary work. Sontag assumes that the reader has seen and assimilated them.
For the earlier part of my photography career, which numbers a few decades, I worked as a semi-professional photographer. In my personal work, I tended to look for beautiful and idealised things to photograph. Sontag’s statement “This is still the aim of many amateur photographers (Sontag, 2019, p. 28)” holds true for me. It only in the past decade, that I felt a discontent growing in me. I started to be irritated by my wedding photography clients comments about how they wanted to be seen in their photographs. They were becoming less concerned about reality and more on how they wish to present themselves, becoming generic and accumulated in a culture of sameness.
As a photographer, I felt that what they wanted from me, contradicted two parts of the inner me. Firstly, to be a competent documentary photographer, I felt the need to be able to document everything worthy of such an effort, and secondly, as a romantic artist. I found a growing need to look at the isness of things, without judgement, seeking to record the experience, to explore real understanding through observation, and to reflect this back at my audience. Not only nature and man at its most beautiful, but even if the subject is ugly and unimportant. Not quite what the client expected. However, I still felt an aversion to photographing the brash, the violence, the ugly, the injustice, embarrassing moments, or conflict or challenging looks between family members. In short… things that did not resonate with my idealistic world. I also considered too many things as unimportant in the immediate context, especially photographs of my own family, which became the “Essential Photographs not taken”. Missed documentary opportunities! I take control and point my camera at subjects that resonate with me. And therein lies my weakness. This article calls me to look at the world differently. As a fashion photographer, Diane Arbus must have experienced the same discontent. She went for the throat of her subjects… Saul Leiter, not mentioned in this article as he was still unknown, in turn, pursued a more idealistic view seeking to show the world that ordinarily is more beautiful than how his subjects view themselves. And in a way, I am now stuck in these two places.
This essay helps me to understand this strain between what resonates with me and that which causes disharmony. While both Arbus and Leiter fled the fashion world to find a resolution in their personal work, documentary photographers such as Susan Meseilas and Dawid Goldblatt uncovered and pursued their own dissonance with their subjects to create some of their best documentary work.
Goldblatt, D., 2018. Structures of Dominion and Democracy. 1st ed. Gottingen: Steidl.
While watching Ruben Brandt, collector a film by Milorad Krstic (Ruben Brandt, Collector, 2018) I came to realise how much this semester has impacted on me. For a creative soul, it is a film well worth watching and, it will be impossible for me to summarise such a comprehensive piece of brilliance. So, if you want to and haven’t seen it, then I suggest you stop reading this blog and watch it first.
In a way, the movie is a metaphorical reflection or psychoanalysis of my experience. The lectures, reading material and videos invaded my mind and started to haunt me. I woke up early in the morning, thoughts and ideas churning in my mind. It became an obsession that I could not put it aside, even throughout the day. However, I won’t go as far as saying it was nightmarish! It was as exciting as a good crime novel.
In the movie, the words, collector and thief, was assimilated into one and seem to jump at me directly from Susan Sontag essay “In Plato’s Cave” in her book “On Photography”. As much as I want to disassociate myself from this unethical position, I will accept that in this semester, I was both driven by a similar desire and compassion. I wanted to own these art pieces. Like Krstic, I “stole” ideas from artists like Brassai, David Goldblatt, Maria Meseilas. And the list continues… I was filled with the desire to collect their work and cannot pass a bookstore or website without going in to “steal” or collect these works.
It all started with David Goldblatt’s “Structure of Dominion and Democracy”, which is a compilation of the best photographs from five of his publications.
On the Mines
Some Afrikaners Photographed
The Transported of Kwandebele
Structures of Dominion
I followed it up with “Brassai Paris” which is a compilation of his best photographs from six of his publications:
Paris at Night
Artists of my life
Graffiti and transmutations
The insatiable desire continued:
Paul Weinberg’s- “Traveling Light” and “Traces and Tracks”
Cloete Breytenbachs “The spirit of District Six”
Roger Ballen”s “Boarding house”
“Voices from the land” by Jurgen Schadenberg
“Johannesburg the Cosmopolitan City” by Lauren Huges
“Beyond Bagamoyo” by Obie Oberholzer.
I pursued a scarce book “The Cordoned Heart” Edited by Omar Badsha. After a deliberate search, I managed to get a secondhand copy from the United States as this book is not in print anymore. This book was created by many people associated with the Carnegie Commission’s Second Inquiry into Poverty and Development in South Africa in 1980, but ultimately it resulted in an astounding collective of many contributing photographers involved in socio-documentary photography:
“Lesotho: Road to the mines”,”Kew Town” and “Newspaper Vendors” by Paul Alberts
“Venda” by Chris Ledechowsky
“Cross Roads” by Paul Alberts and Chris Ledechowsky
“Baphutatswana: The Casino State” by Joseph Alphers
“Segregated Weekend” by Joseph Alphers and Michael Davies
“The haven Night Shelter” by Michael Barry
“Pensioners”, “Asinamali” and “Imjondolo” by Omar Badsha
“The People Organise” by Omar Badsha and Rashid Lombard
“George” by Bee Berman
“The Night Riders of KwaNdebele ” by David Goldblatt
“Compounds” by Paul Konings and Ben Maclennan
“Soweto” and “service Workers” by Lesley Lawson
“Sheep Shearers of the Karoo” by Jimi Mathews
“From Kammieskraal to Peddie by Ben Maclennan
Houtbay by Gideon Mendel
“Border industries” by Cedric Nunn
“Women from Umbumbulu by Myron Peters
” Beauford West by Berney Perez
“Market Gardeners” by Jeeva Rajgopaul
“Alex” and “Removals” by Wendy Schwegmann
“Farm Labourers” and “Mpukonyoni” by Paul Weinberg
Another Gold nugget I recovered is a book by Darren Newbury “Defiant Images- Photography and Apartheid South Africa” which covers the Afripix photographers and their photography campaign against apartheid.
And the madness continues: I must get more!
The myriad of images in the movie made me research Milorad Krstic and his need to make this film. It is his first film, which he started to make at the age of sixty… my age. It took him six years to produce. He has been drawing and painting for most of his life.
When asked to describe the difference between drawing/painting, and animation? He made an astounding statement to which I can relate.
“My drawings and my paintings are my universes. The style, theme, and approach is all mine. (Of course, after learning from my teachers: Dürer, Goya, Picasso, and others.) I draw what I want and I draw it the way I want. There is no mercy, no rules, no self-censorship, no consulting with anybody else. I am God with the pencil and I don’t need any help. When I finish a good drawing, I am already awarded.” (Vollenbroek, 2018)
“A film is something else; it is made for the audience. In making [Ruben Brandt, Collector], I need the help of talented collaborators. I need feedback from the very beginning. I must take care of the advices. I don’t have to accept it, but I must think of it. I’m the captain of the ship, but the journey over the sea is the united work of all the crew.” (Vollenbroek, 2018)
For me, this resonated with the main learning of this module. let me elaborate: When it comes to personal photography work I feel the same as he does: The style, theme and approach is all mine. And, of course, I have been influenced by Brassaii, Goldblatt, Kertesz and many more… But I eventually take the photograph the way I want to. I am God with my Camera and I don’t need any help. When I am done taking the photograph I am already rewarded. In a way, my documentary projects are still fully in my control. My current wedding photography is a collaborative commercial project between my staff for an audience, however, creatively I am fully in control.
However, if I want to grow as a commercial photographer, I need to learn how to work on corporate or collaborative personal assignments. I will need the help of skilled collaborators. I will need their feedback throughout, I must consider their advice. But like Krstic I will need to take on assignments that allow me to lead the vision, do something I believe in, and which I feel I can grow in. Become the captain of the ship and remember that the journey is the work of all the crew.
When asked “Making an animated feature film takes a lot of time compared to a painting. Ruben Brandt, Collector took six-and-a-half years, from development to completion. What made you want to dedicate years of your life to tell this story (Vollenbroek, 2018)?” He responded with a pearl of wisdom yet not taught in the course.: “I didn’t think about years. I want my day to be fulfilled with at least a good sketch or drawing (Vollenbroek, 2018) .”
For me, this is the challenge. To be fulfilled with at least one photograph per day. It will lead to a story… my story! Not merely a becoming a collector or thief! But a creative in my own right. Furthermore, it will lead to a creative vision, personal or corporate assignment idea to which I would like to dedicate my time. Even if, like him, I need to motivate and pitch for myself and get someone to give me a grant.
Thanks for the therapy, Ruben Brandt!
Ruben Brandt, Collector. (2018). [film] Directed by M. Krstic. Hungary: Ruben Brandt.
As part of our training we have live presentations by various practitioners and for various reasons I rarely ask any questions. My decision to reflect on this particular interview is based on two factors. Firstly, Francis Hodgeson managed to keep me engaged throughout, and secondly, this is interview is a great piece of work to analyse critically.
“Miles Aldridge, the distinguished fashion photographer and artist, is interviewed by Francis Hodgson, Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton, the photography critic of the Financial Times and the former Head of the photographs department at Sotheby’s. Francis Hodgson is also the Chairman of the Photo London 2016 Curatorial Committee. Miles Aldridge is highly respected for his brilliant fashion work, and in particular for a unique and bold colour sense (Hodgson and Aldridge, 2016) . ”
From the start Francis Hodgson introduces himself and why he is doing the interview. Thus establishing his legitimacy and putting the photographer, Aldridge at rest. He makes a great point around the way photographers from various practices snub each other at Art Fair. After he describes himself and his role as a generalist he merely introduces Aldridge as a specialist making him the key speaker.
Hodgson used Aldridges photograph’s as the basis of the photographs, knowing that Aldridge will be the person that knows the subject the best and feel comfortable and that the selected photographs have been selected as pieces of art. However he had a different strategy. He took the lead. he selected the images he wanted to discuss. This could be interpreted as him being a know it all, but it had a great effect. He could control the discussion, and he made Aldridge seem less of a rock star and celebrity. It directed the audience to view Aldridge’s work. Unfortunately the images displayed was too small.
Hodgson listened to what Aldridge said and he found an important area to discuss, directed his questions to expose that subject. In that way he got Aldridge to explain how he got started, whether he does personal projects, how he manages to get assignments and manage to keep creative control or influence, how he started, his creative process, how he collaborate with the design and support teams, how he interact with other fashion photography pears and his long term relationship with his key customer. In my view it was brilliantly done and led to an informative and educational experience.
Aldridge revealed a number of interesting points. Firstly, that even though he ocasionally does personal projects, he sees all assignments as fulfilling his creative aspirations. “I (Aldridge) really feel is that the commissioned work is the personal work. In as much as that all one’s feelings about the world and oneself, the sort of autobiography of oneself should appear in in the commissioned work. That’s why, in a way, the New York or Vogue Italia asking me to do a picture is they want my sense of the world and the culture at that point,in the picture (Hodgson and Aldridge , 2016) . ” He conceded, he entered the market as the the “grunge” look was in vogue when he and his peers were working on, was in demand at that time. He admits he came into the practice as a “bluffer”. This highlights how in step your work needs to be to initial get assignments and his chosen aesthetic and visual direction aligned with his customers need. It also confirms the process of how Creative directors select their new photographers. “But I quickly realised that if I carried that on I would be completely forgotten about and would just be a kind of a suburb a footnote in the book of grunge photography” which means if you don’t mimic a style you will never achieve greatness.
After that his initial stage his background in illustration frustrated him but enabled him to define his direction over time, and gave him the insight to get him creative influence on every assignment that followed. “I started to draw these pictures and bring them to the photo shoot – almost as a kind of a map of what we were going to do and by having this plan or plots or design about the the image it actually gave me an immense amount of power over everyone else in the studio (Hodgson and Aldridge , 2016) .” see Fig 2. He goes to the design sessions with at least ten ideas on paper, giving his customer and creative staff a starting point and get them to add their ideas. “I was now a photographer who was thinking more like a filmmaker about images and how a set of images could work together rather like a series of images in a movie to tell stories or at least kind of bring you into the idea of story telling. It was this part that intrigued me. It aligned with my investigation into story telling in my practice. I could see how for him this story telling developed from a storyboard until it is realised in the final photograph. Figure 2 also indicate how he uses Polaroid photographs in hi creative process.
Aldridge quickly realised that he needed to build a long term relationship with both his creative and support team. It made all of them comfortable to collaborate through understanding and respect. This respect also extended to his customer and his products which was clearly evident from how he spoke about him. It brings me to the point that the edification and acknowledgement of your peers is extremely important in a competitive market. something all photographers need to adopt at this stage of the photographic game.
When asked how much the current market and his peers influence his work, he denied it saying that he followed his own direction and rarely looked or discussed his the work with others. But he follows with the statement as his peers he was keeping his darkroom secrets to himself. So he does not reveal everything to us.
All of this discussion was done while viewing some of his best work and I must say, I perceived his creativity with awe. He is truly an artist. But if you read further you will see that I have some serious concerns about his work.
Critical reflection on his work ala Susan Sontag.
“Photography is not practised by most people as an art. It is mainly a social rite, a defence of anxiety, and a tool of power. (Sontag ,1977 p 17)”.
Aldridge in his discussion used the words power and control relating to how he works. but is their more to that? His use of bold saturated colours reminiscent of Andy Warhol, and his illustrations may obscure his primary motives dressed up as art. He want to control everything. The creative aspect, the lights, the background, the model he uses and even the way they pose. To what purpose may well be asked?
“Still there is something predatory about the act of taking a pictures. (Sontag,1977 p14)“. He denies that the customer have control, he admits that it is his vision, then why does some of his photographs use woman as sex objects, being abused, an object of amusement or at the worse end, present them as being raped/abused to advertise a watch for a man? See Fig 3 and 4. the man remains anonymous. All this with a sense of detachment. Is he representing the photographer? He describe the photographers and models of his period as sexy.
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves…(Sontag 1977 P14-15)” And he does this with premeditation. Is this the culture he wishes to promote? “Photographs can abet desire in the most direct way.. (Sontag 1977 p 17).” and as this is an open forum I will not continue this sentence. Some may call it art. Susan Sontag clearly doesn’t.
Some of my peers on the course may well agree with her. I still like his creative approach and work as it is intended for the fashion industry, which still uses sex to sell, and promote carnal hedonism and materialistic possessiveness. I can see why Aldridge is successful in his practice.
My participation in the OXFAM pitch was severely impacted by a major IT project that I am contracted for. Many of the course work emphasised the importance and benefits that may be realised through participating in such an endeavour. Unfortunately, my team disbanded for many reasons. Anna-Maria Pfab, contacted me to find out if I was still considering submitting a brief and I grabbed the opportunity. I wish to thank both Jessie and Anna-Maria for their assistance in giving me feedback and I realise that if I had a team with me the submission would have been so much better.
Although I have no feedback from OXFAM yet, I decided to reflect on the process. The initial draft was very technical and formal and much to complicated, a trait I have developed. From the feedback, I was guided to adapt to an audience whose main purpose was not directly aligned with mine. I needed to keep my message simple and use more images.
When investigating recommendations on how to pith I found some interesting theoretical methodologies on the net. I decided to experiment by incorporating a particular method of persuasion and appeal to see if it does enhance the impact of the pitch. the method is by deliberately using Ethos, pathos and logos in specific sections of the brief. “Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are modes of persuasion used to convince audiences. They are also referred to as the three artistic proofs (Aristotle coined the terms) and are all represented by Greek words. ( pathosethoslogos.com, 2019) “
The structure of the pitch
Introduction – Ethos,
The description of the proposed solution Logos.
The cost- Logos and a bit of ethos, definitely no pathos.
The first response I received from Jesse and Anna-Maria disappointed as I did not seem to persuade effectively as I expected. It may have been that we had too short a time. But the main reason was the way I presented it. I was reading it rather badly. The second was it was too complex for the prospective audience and I lost them. The third it lacked a visual impact, something my audience expected. I applied the techniques to the words only and only realised in the end that I should use my photography to do the same. Additional to the words, my photography should show my capability and credibility as a photographer, Ethos, my empathy, passion and emersion in the subject matter, Pathos, and be presented in a way that it makes sense within the context of the brief, logos. Although my final submission is still not right I believe it is far better than my initial attempt. I can’t wait to get OXFAM’s impression.
Preparing a pitch for corporate customers is an extremely important skill and art to develop and I will be submitting a number of briefs within the new year for personal projects and assignment opportunities. Being successful at getting the project or assignment is less important at this stage. It is more important that I get to write them, get responses and learn from each one of them. It is also important that even if I do the perfect pitch it may not realise into a project.
I have submitted my pitch for review by my peers and Illya Fischer provided me with encouraging feedback on the final submission saying that it is a much tighter pitch.
My introduction of augmented reality has also made me realise that I have another skill. I worked as a programmer before and I need to develop my skill in this direction to enhance my photographic practice. Augmented reality is a key component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it is clearly seen as expensive by Anna-Maria. I believe it is going to become as simple as facebook in the future.
Fourth Industrial Revolution will be driven largely by the convergence of digital, biological, and physical innovations (Schwab, 2019). The convergence and integration of the digital world with our primary biological interaction systems is coming off age, of which augmented reality is key. We currently have cell phones but soon we will have headgear/glasses that will allow us to visually engage with our world and information. This will open new possibilities for photography (3D and 2D) and video in the arts and commerce.
pathosethoslogos.com (2019). Home – Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the Modes of Persuasion ‒ Explanation and Examples. [online] Pathosethoslogos.com. Available at: https://pathosethoslogos.com/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
My tutor, Jesse Alexander, advised that I look at Wendy Ewald’s work. What a great recommendation! One of my main aims is to develop myself as a Photographic Educator. Wendy is a groundbreaking, selfless photographer and tutor.
“Since 1975, the American artist has been entwining photography, activism, and education in a series of collaborations that upend our prevailing ideas of authorship and authority.” Teaching photography to children and amateur photographers is unique and one is rarely able to get them to progress from the mere use of the camera to use it creatively beyond a course. Wendy is continuedly finding ways to get to engage them with the art of photography (Scott, 2019). “
Looking at her website http://wendyewald.com/ and other on-line resources she presented possibilities that adds real value in the lives she touches. When Jesse says that I need to find people to collaborate on my project I did not realise the extent of that statement until I viewed Ewald’s work. I found this gem: ” “As the photo community wrestles with questions about who has the right to tell someone’s story,many photojournalists are choosing to put their subjects in control—by giving them cameras or asking them to contribute to the process of making and choosing images.Wendy Ewald has been doing that for almost 50 years (Hughes, 2019) .”
In a way, Ewald addresses the criticism that Sontag raises in her “On Photography”. Ewald is neither a voyeur, flaneur, a thief or acquirer of images. She is the ultimate immersive photographer. Not wanting to look from the outside in or have a distance between her and her subjects, she gets involved as a participant, seeking not to direct but share with her subject- the target of her goodwill and co-discoverer.
She challenges photographers that use collaboration with an ulterior motive. Ewald is not a photographer who chooses to give cameras to their subjects because she’s uneasy in the role of the outsider photographing a community that’s not hers, or that she is critical of the relationship of the outside photographer to the subject. When asked what she thought about that as a motivation for a collaboration she responded: “ I don’t think it’s great, actually. I’m genuinely fascinated by what I do and what I get to see. I’m sorry if people have used my work to say outsiders shouldn’t come in. Because I don’t believe that, either, but I believe as an artist I can get something through collaboration that I couldn’t get any other way. And I’m always looking for fresh ways of seeing. If collaboration comes out of a defensive impulse, I don’t think it does justice to the people you’re working with. (Hughes, 2019)
Let’s let Ewald introduce herself: “For over forty years I have collaborated on photography projects with children, families, women, workers and teachers. I’ve worked in the United States, Labrador, Colombia, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Holland, Mexico and Tanzania. My projects start as documentary investigations and move on to probe questions of identity and cultural differences (Ewald, 2019) .”
On her website, Ewald presents six collaborative works. Her collaborator’s – students. These include Portrait of dreams ( Letcher County, Kentucky, USA 1976 -today), Black self/white self (Durham’s inner city, 1994- 1997) , Retratos y Sueños (Mexico, 1991), American Alphabets (1997-2005), Towards a promised land (Margate, 2003 – 2006, UK) and This is where I live (Israel/Palestine, 2010-2013). All of these projects see how she contextualises her education to help issues her students are struggling with. This has the effect of getting incredible engagement and growth. Even if she does the photography work she freely acknowledgement their part in the project. But they are fully engaged at the creative level. I can see so many possibilities in my space that I will probably be rolling about with ideas throughout the next couple of weeks. She breaks all the boundaries. She engages and fully immerses herself in her photographs and the lives of her subjects. She teaches, assists and even learns from the insights of her collaborators. She has discovered how selflessness can be achieved in a world of photographers seeking fame.
I have a lot to learn from her approach of which the following is an extract from her interview with PDN
“PDN: How did you figure out how to teach kids to photograph their lives or their dreams? W.E.: I just taught myself. I’d give them assignments about what to shoot. Some were based on shape or other visual cues. Eventually, I got the very simple idea of asking them to photograph their families, their community and their dreams and fantasies. But that came later when I was working in Kentucky. (Hughes, 2019)“
PDN: Do you think the switch from analogue to digital changed your collaborative projects? W.E.:“It was a big deal. I think the analogue process gave the kids a real focus and it slowed them down—and me too. There were discreet steps—developing film and making prints—which gave them an opportunity to understand how the medium worked.
The first time I worked digitally was in Israel for the project “This Place.” I spent a lot of time looking for cameras to use, and trying them out to see what were the best, the easiest to handle, so my collaborators would be successful. I guess I’m always trying to simplify the experience so that they can just look through the viewfinder, rather than having to fuss with the equipment.
I think a lot of people think that you can just give cameras to kids or whomever and they’ll come out with an innocent vision. I’m much more interested in them controlling and understanding what things will look like in the photos.
Some of the young people in Mexico were so small they couldn’t make the stretch between the thumb and the forefinger to click the button. They had to figure out another way to press the shutter. They carried around buckets of sodium sulfite because we were using Polaroid positive/negative film. And they made fantastic pictures.
You want to give the kids control, and they can gain that control. It doesn’t matter if it’s complicated. They learned, and I learned how to teach them to do it. It was amazing. (Hughes 2019).”
This brief encountered resonated with me and I will revisit her work in the new semester. It will make a lot of sense to incorporate some of her ideas in the progression of my project on Ubuntu vs Modernism. I have access to students from my past courses whom I want to get to engage more with their photography. Another immediate opportunity is the possibility to teach children photography in a school I am involved in.
Ewald, W. (2019). Wendy Ewald, Photographer. [online] Wendy Ewald. Available at: http://wendyewald.com/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
For my third master documentary photographer, I wanted to find someone more current. Someone with who demonstrated understanding of the earlier practices and developed over time to a more contemporary approach. Susan Meiselas perfectly fits that profile.
Figure 1 was taken as part of her first project 11 Irwin street During her studies. It illustrates her approach to photography. “The way I most like to work is to immerse myself. To be present over time without knowing where it’s going to lead me (Meister 2019)”, but invisible. She preferred being behind the camera.
As usual, who was Susan Meiselas and what was her context from her website (Meseiles, 2019)
Meseilas was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1948,
BA from Sarah Lawrence College
MA in visual education from Harvard University.
Her first major photographic essay focused on the lives of women doing striptease at New England country fairs, who she photographed during three consecutive summers while teaching photography in New York public schools.
Carnival Strippers was originally published in 1976 and a selection was installed at the Whitney Museum of Art in June 2000.
Meiselas joined Magnum Photos in 1976 and has worked as a freelance photographer since then.
She is best known for her coverage of the insurrection in Nicaragua and her extensive documentation of human rights issues in Latin America.
She published her second monograph, Nicaragua, June 1978–July 1979, in 1981.
Served as an editor and contributor to the book El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers (1983)
Edited Chile from Within (1991)
She has co-directed three films, Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1986); Pictures from a Revolution (1991) with Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti and Re-framing History (2004)
Her 2001 monograph Pandora’s Box (2001) which explores a New York S & M club, has been exhibited both at home and abroad.
The 2003 book and exhibition Encounters with the Dani documents a sixty-year history of outsiders’ discovery and interactions with the Dani, an indigenous people of the highlands of Papua in Indonesia.
Her retrospective book and recent exhibition In History (2008) was produced with the International Center for Photography, New York and Steidl.
Her most recent project A Room Of Their Own (2015-2016) explores the experiences of women in a refuge in the Black Country UK. A Room Of Their Own was published by Multistory in 2017.
Meiselas has had one-woman exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and her work is included in collections around the world.
She has received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for her work in Nicaragua (1979); the Leica Award for Excellence (1982);
the Engelhard Award from the Institute of Contemporary Art (1985); the Hasselblad Foundation Photography prize (1994);
the Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2005);
the Harvard Arts Medal (2011)
and most recently was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015).
Her work is excellently presented on her website.
In this initial blog about her photography I reflect her early work Carnival Strippers. Marseilas describes her approach in this work as follows:
“Carnival Strippers is the first real body of work. So it’s not my very first pictures, but the first time I kind of discovered a way to be a photographer that felt right for me. I didn’t go out looking for carnival strippers or researching carnival strippers. I was travelling in summer actually following small circuses that were crossing America going out to the Midwest. When I came back through to New England and I was in Essex Junction and really everything unfolded. And then I spent two more summers really committing to following the path. (Meister, 2019) ”
“Carnival Strippers begins with a series of encounters, and the photograph we’re looking at, Lena of the Bally, is not the first of the images I made, but really the first time I felt like it all clicked it all made sense, why I was looking at her everyone else the world around her (Meister, 2019) .”
Referring to Fig 1, Meiselas initially photographed in black and white and used vignetting created by the spotlight to create a focus on the subject. This is an introductory shot setting up the scene. She used a wide-angle perspective to include the environment. The dark tones reinforce the story.
She continues: “I just felt magnetical, I need to know more. There were so many issues for me looking at the woman who became Lena, who I didn’t know was Lena when I made the photograph. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. Who is she looking at? She’s looking out and looking above and looking beyond, with, I think, a really strong sense of self. The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. And so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self define as to who they are and what their economic realities are (Meister, 2019). “
I was virtually introduced to Meiselas in a video interview with Sarrah Meister, curator of MOMA where her Carnival was presented as a masterwork in documentary photography. Meiselas’ first major project shares much in common with David Goldblatt’s work Some Afrikaners photographed. They both engaged with something that personally challenged them. A sense of dissonance. They sought understanding, not judgement. The contradiction is what fascinated them. Both became the work that defined their work and established them as master practitioners. My current project on Ubuntu has the same fascination for me not that I have such grand expectations from it.
“There weren’t many other cameras. I mean if we were making this picture today it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public. I think now we find many more people performing for the cameras. So navigating from a public fairgrounds to the place where I’m invited by the women to see the world that they are within, which is the dressing room and is their zone, and just staying as long as I could and being as part of that full working process of their lives. You can’t anticipate how long you’re going to be there. Every night is unique. The dynamics of the girls that happen to come together was varied. Some were more connected to each other, and others, there were great tensions, and I was as interested in how to visualize these relationships with women and their bodies and their comfort zones and their competitiveness.”
Fig 4 is a series of photographs showing how Meiselas continuously takes photographs, varying her visual perspectives to find that defining photograph that illustrates what she wants to present and keep. This series shows how she won’t hold back and use a full film. She kept the same wide-angle lens and moved and changed her angle while choosing moments. And from the series of 30 photographs, she seemed to have selected only one with a possible 4 more, illustrating how she curated her work.
Why did she select figure 5. I sense it is the paradox between the stripper having to expose themselves, merely a sex object and a confident person with thoughts of her own. The intense closeness and framing merely enhance the tension between the three subjects ( front torso, the seated stripper and the reflected torso in the background.). The photographs dark tones remind me of Brassai’s Paris nightlife and aesthetic. Meiselas used available light and from the grain a film a high ISO film. She wanted to keep things natural and candid and almost become part of this closed environment. in much the same way as Annie Leibowitz who embedded her with the rock and roll stars. But it is their continued immersion within the lives of their subjects and presence over a significant period of time that allowed them to gain the trust of their subjects to capture the honest moments, be they aesthetically beautiful, or ugly, important or mundane. “The relationships evolved with some to be deeper in the sense that they went over multiple years (Meister, 2019).” But all special in their own right.
Meiselas continues: “My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston which at the time was my base and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend what the pictures were, and they left little initials saying I like this one. I don’t like that one. And I think one of the richest things that came form that sharing was the idea that they wanted portraits. I did not see myself and I still don’t today really, as a portraitist but it was to honor them. It’s what they wanted, it’s what they needed, for their fathers, for their boyfriends. They wanted to have this controlled presentation of self, and chose where they would be in relation to the tent and which costume they would wear, more or less, some less and some more. (Meister,2019)”
I particularly love the photograph Fig 6. Before the show. I love the way she introduces innuendo trough implying the stripper and her engagement with the audience. In a way, the young boy or girl seems to represent Sarah, herself surrounded by sexed-up men, but the face is showing fascination, respect and awe. The strippers hand points as if to select her from the crowd. The dark tones backing and enhancing the face.
Her being female made the ladies trust her and allow her to blend in. Susan Sontag may accuse her as being a flaneur, but Meseilas contests that as she concludes in the interview with Sarah Meister with: “This negotiated, or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us, and I wait a long time to feel that moment. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment. That’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography (Meister, 2019).” Her female sensibilities made the ladies trust her and allow her to blend in, but her immersion, continued commitment and sensitivity gave her permission to enter their world and freely share their lives.
Meseilas did not limit her storytelling to the photographs but expanded it in her books an website. She presents them as a series reminiscent of the storytelling technique presented in my blog on Unearthing the photo essay (Nagel, 2019)
Figures 8 and 9 Illustrate the introduction of rhythm in her presentation varying her photograph sizes. The larger photographs are the key photographs. I also love the way she introduces artefacts such as letters and sound bytes to add the story. I suggested a similar approach in my pitch to OXFAM even before seeing this website. It makes these subjects real and moves them outside the realm of fantasy.
Meiselas being an educator and documentary photographer matches my practice directly and she has a lot to teach me. I will revisit and reflect on her later work in a future blog.