Practice Development : Final Major Project
MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5
I decided to research two artists, triggered by brief summaries in Cotton’s book, from her chapters, Once Upon a Time and Deadpan. She cites Hannah Collins and Lewis Baltz respectively.
The status and approaches of both artists are relevant to my own practice, as I seek out opportunities to visually document the intimate commentary of spaces that are paused, but in transition. There remains a subliminal query in my own mind over my practice motives, the manner of shooting and image-making; is it neutral, observational, does it make a point and if so what? Perhaps it is the constant seeking for definition or redefinition, for bandwidth, for the position. A caution about categorisation is given, with the paradox of deliberate fluidity that my concept allows; to move laterally in the future. Perhaps it is a case of calibration over categorisation?
Collins as an artist working in photography, film and word; described as “Profoundly democratic, Collins’s work quietly insists on revealing the complexities of life, and the ways we relate to the world around us collectively and as individuals, through vision and memory, to achieve works of subtle power.” has her work in collections including the Pompidou Centre, Tate Modern, Walker Art Center, Dallas Art Museum, Sprengel Museum and Reina Sofia Museum.
The body of work created by Collins, known as ‘In the Course of Time’ (1994-6) is a capture of Polish industrial spaces. Her poetic diary texts that first appeared in the catalogue accompanying her exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery in 1995;
“Off the dark brown corridor is the brown wooden bathroom. Old string hangs from a white tank, barely visible lit by a bulb hanging loosely against the dark brown stained walls. Torn newspapers are piled on the floor and flowered linoleum is creased, cracked and re-nailed. Water drips very slowly into a small basin caught below in a pale plastic bucket….
Forgotten and abandoned workshops overheat, burning away the seething furnaces they house…
Round staircases swirl up and up into vaulted towers and luminous liquid breath bursts from hidden attic spaces…
Rough thick long hair brushes cobwebs and dust. Bright eyes gleam frightened at the invading light”.
In his commentary, Günzel, 2015 catagorsies the work “Collins is ultimately not entirely passive, even if responses call for a listening, but bring forth what they show – for which they accept responsibility. It is a profoundly ethical form of research and documentation that renders account of what has happened or is still happening and that was not yet visible or manifested”. He goes on specifically about using images to hold a moment “‘In the Course of Time’ … expounds a far-reaching paradox of photography, which as a technical medium also has the ‘ghost-forming’ ability to extract a moment from the flow of time – as well as, and necessarily, a chunk of space”. And, on the medium as a whole Photography …has a paradoxical relationship with history since the moment or continuum that they capture that no longer exists although they preserve the past that would otherwise be lost forever. There exists a dual unreality of the medium that seemingly guarantees the link with reality…. in the sense of facilitating a mediated perception of the otherwise imperceptible, which is the past in the present and the present in the past per se”.
The scale of her gallery prints, figs 1, 2, are in excess of 5m in width; she uses a panoramic technique to create an almost 1:1 scale impact for the viewer, providing the viewer with both a spatial and intimate opportunity to experience the moment of capture of time.
Collins has provided me with an opportunity to think about, not only positioning, but also the means of display, whether print or projection – a ‘whole wall’ experience conveys here a strong precedent.
William Jenkins, 1975, coined the collective term for a cluster of American photographers; ‘New Topographics’ included Stephen Shore, Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, whose pictures had a similar banal aesthetic, a kind of anti-style style. Within the exhibition catalogue Jenkins wrote “The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.”
Baltz wrote regularly about images and architecture within the French publication L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, on that website and archive reference “Minimalist and accurate, the American photographer Lewis BALTZ’s perspective on urban and industrial landscapes has maintained its full power over the decades. His series of photos and individual shots emphasize and question an ordinary and often disembodied world”.
The European Graduate School recalls his work “Lewis Baltz is best known …..showing the images of a world far removed from an heroic vision of America. This move was also illustrated by the subject matter of urban and suburban realities under change, as well as the photographers’ commitment to a critical and ironic eye of contemporary American society. …. Lewis Baltz’ contribution to the show consisted of photographs ….. offer a critical position toward the claustrophobia of urban life. Often displayed in a grid format, it is important to Lewis Baltz that these pictures are seen collectively as a group or series, as for him one image should not be taken as more true or significant than another. Through his original approach, Lewis Baltz most clearly embodies the essence of the movement’s critical depiction of the American landscape. This, according to some authors, makes him more closely aligned with conceptual art than with traditional photography.
Figs 3 and 4 show the unfinished or part destructed spaces that Baltz captured. No life is manifestly visible, but the tools and detritus of humanity patently are. These are not about beauty but the facts of the found. Thus my Pause Project echoes this approach. It is also notable that Baltz was wedded to the concept of a narrative described by a gridded stream of images rather than the singular approach of Collins. A challenge for my future editing process.
References (all websites accessed 12.3.2018)
Cotton C. 2015. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London. Thames and Hudson
Fig 1 http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/exhibitions/jano-double-side-photography-permanent-collection
Fig 2 http://hannahcollins.net/category/installation-views/
Figs 3 & 4 https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/2009.302