My Current Strategy – short term

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 3, Surfaces and Strategies, Week 2

I have launched into a round of exciting opportunities to be active in terms or presenting my work and also attending events.  This is not about producing work, but rather receiving feedback and comments about my work.

Here is a short summary;

Redeye Hothouse Sheffield 2017 – Fig 1

This is an opportunity to present with 12 other emerging artists hosted by Redeye and compered by Paul Herrmann.  I will make notes of as many of the other presentations as possible.

The State of Photography Symposium – Fig 2

This is 6 days on from Hothouse and will be a well attended and full day of work review; I am a delegate not a presenter, however I have written to Edgar Martins to ask for a few minutes to discus his work, and mine, as his practice is an influence on my work.  I have written about his work on my CRJ.

The Proposal – Fig 3

This is a new local initiative driven my local independent gallery, Grand Union.  The event will require a small payment to attend, that cumulated fund then is presented to the ‘winning’ artist’s proposal.  A form of small scale crown funding which will be a new experience simply to partake an observe.

FlakPhoto Network – Fig 4

This related to potential practice beyond the conclusion of Module 3, however it demonstrates how I need to plan a long way ahead for shoots.  In this case I am in Boston MA for 5 days and hope to meet people and visit building that I can then shoot.  Watch this space (no responses to date!).

Photocafe; Open Call – Fig 5

This is an opportunity driven application I made – the theme is ‘ground shifting under your feet’ – so my work on buildings going or being repurposed is appropriate. I have not yet heard back from the curator.

 

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Fig 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

 

Influencer : Edgar Martins

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From Edgar Martins, The Time Machine 2010-11

This is a review of an interview with Edgar Martins, an artist who is presently influencing my practice.

Edgar Martins is an accomplished theorist and image maker.  I was signposted to him by a colleague who thought I would appreciate his work in the context of my own practice.  I was privileged to meet him in Paris when I was gazing at the most painterly and poetic print I found in the whole PhotoParis main Grand Palais space in 2016, which was his.  He is highly articulate, determined and technically accomplished.

https://vimeo.com/64806663

This short interview captures Martins’ theories and methods around planning his work, usually by brokering relationships with organisations which he knows would offer fertile opportunities to make a series of images.  His series often synthesise the real with the slightly uncomfortable and ethereal.  Because he often photographs building and spaces which are absent of humanity, yet show the tour de force of the human hand, he appeals to my mode of making series of images of buildings which are empty (of seen humanity), yet worthy and often secretive or neglected.  There is a trace of humanity in what I capture.

In this clip Martins describes an exhibition in Cardiff which had installed large scale prints of his work made in Portugal having negated his way into the principal facilities owned by the national energy company.  He demonstrates the socio-economic and political statements made by power companies between the 1920-70’s as not simply functional installations but an architectural manifestation of the “ideology of the modern” and its “aspirational project” aesthetic.  He believes that what he sees is not just about power and its generation and control, but the dream of the technological utopia, yet the paradox between modernism and modernisation, that is to say how modern structures are now functionally dated and modernisation is in train.  He has developed an eye that is attuned to seeing the banal, yet enthralling; he frames the view so as to allow the eye to wonder in all directions at the array of detail within the edifice.  He specifically describes the recce he undertook to arrange his narratives and the images that would be the optimum response to his thoughts and his eye.  Interestingly he references the “saturation of the imagery of dams”, demonstrating an awareness of the cliche, and instead gathered views of the very heart of the operations, away from the heroic scale of a damn and into confined, confided spaces.  He mourns the common and captures the uncommon.

Martin uses the opportunity in this short interview to summarise his whole practice approach by describes photography as having “conceptual tensions” and uses his work to bring together “irresolvable contradictions”.  He applies it as a medium to make space look believable, countered by a disturbing suggestion “that all is not what it seems”.  He cites a “temporal manipulation” in his imagery, a term which I have contemplated and define as the often uncanny visual clues to the passage of time, both in an immediate way, the viewer may query ‘where are the people you would expect to be working in these spaces?’ a point that pervades much of his work.  But one may also question the spaces in the broader passage of time that such industrial facilities dwell.  He later speaks about a “confluence of temporalities, looking to the future” in his exhibited work on the power company. He captures the ideology of the Corbusian ideals and the ideal of “machines for living in” and the counterpoint reality of twenty-first century and the need to regenerate power generation in complex, politically sensitive, globally wired world.

He references a fascination for the topographical surveys of the industrial era and notes the investment into logistics, access, funding and communications that are vested in making a coherent series such as this.  The work was made in 2010 and 2011.  Early in 2010 Sean O’Hagan wrote a piece in the Guardian that reflected on the exhibition “35 years previously on the “New Topographics” a title that was coined by William Jenkins, curator of a group show of American landscape photography held at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York” which, and this is the phrase that caught my eye, when noting the 168 rigorously organised images “taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal”. It included work by Bernd and Hilla Becher who worked in America flowing their German documentary sees.  O’Hagan goes on “The New Topograhics exhibition in 1975 was not just the moment when the apparently banal became accepted as a legitimate photographic subject, but when a certain strand of theoretically driven photography began to permeate the wider contemporary art world. Looking back, one can see how these images of the “man-altered landscape” carried a political message and reflected, unconsciously or otherwise, the growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded by industrial development and the spread of cities”. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes (Links to an external site.)

In summary, I am studying and reading more about Edgar Martins as I believe his research into the context in which he bases his work is thorough; his planning and execution clearly require the investment into relationships to obtain approval to shoot and to gain the co-operation of the people to move away for each shoot is elaborate, laborious and rewarding.  Add to this the imagery which is framed, composed, thoughtful and of the unseen, acts both as an inspiration and a parallel to my own practice and ambitions. I am driven to document spaces and respect those places in terms of their founding raison d’être, their present role, or often diminished role, in the evolving world of city development.

Above all Martins is anchored in the lineage of photographic documentary history, with a deep rigour of critical and theoretical analysis.

My Practice : Check Point No 1

It is time to draw out the theory that has been gathering in my head and written notes and wrap it around my work, my practice.  This is the first of what will, I anticipate, roll into a series on this blog.

As a moment of ‘checkpointing’ my own work struck, I decided to delve into my array of photographs from the visit in November 2016 to PhotoParis, to pick out this example of street photography.  I consciously divide my image making into two; the carefully considered, set-piece exploration of architecture and its demise which creates a series of related images on the one hand; on the other I provide a visual running commentary on where I visit, the streets I walk around; what I  see, feel and do on a daily basis.  The former involves kit in heavy bags, significant planning and processing time, the latter the instantaneous fusion of phone/camera/Instagram and 4G and an inquisitive eye.

This example is street photography, shot at dawn on a cold and damp day around the Opera House district of Paris.  Though with an SLR.

paris-ad-nov-2016

I am reappraising this photograph; an ontological analysis.  It was taken because I am intrigued by how advertisement/billboards can often create a backdrop to a place, to alter the visual dynamic.  Hence, in this instance my photograph captured a photograph.  I see streets as ‘rooms’ often with contrived and random things colliding and making for unexpected juxtapositions.  Here we see a room in the room.  The deliberate depth provided by the commercial photographer contrives a deeper perspective into the side of this narrow street, itself a minor thoroughfare from the main boulevard.  My work often endeavours to capture depth by shadow and light; space beyond space.  That is why I was drawn to this view. I flattened the view by placing my vantage point exactly perpendicular to the other side of the street, as if to emphasise the perspective and depth provided by the billboard.

I chose the frame to contrast the posh clothing, one in workaday business garb, the other in weekend wear but sharply contrasted with the dirt on the doorway step, the cable hanging loose and the ball tapped bollard typical of Parisian streets.  The moment was captured as the moving car lit the left side of the image with its headlamps. Here is a controlled, farmed image with models ‘walking out’ of a tight board-marked concrete corner, as if striding out, but into a very ordinary, bland street (though actually appropriately dressed for the weather).  Move much more, as if out of their false world and into the real, and they would trip over the green bin.  Or out into the path of the car racing across the image.  My framing image chooses to miss out the branding, making the view a more uncanny and awkward positioning devoid of its link to the marketeer’s essential textual link.  The ad-world is projected into the real world; perhaps a hint of the cave that is Plato’s?

The men pose tall, legs astride, upright, hair gelled, beards just long enough to strike a match, like urbane morphs from the Marlboro Men.  Their gaze is ahead, forward.  The male cliche is enforced.  Just around the corner there is a female model, in a department store’s plate glass window, wearing a skimpy bikini……in November.  The ‘Admen’ are at it again.

This is a hunted image dominated by a carefully crafted farmed image.  The studio is taken out onto the street context via billboard.  This exacting commercial, studio image will feature in magazines, social media, in stores and may even be made ‘almost real’ emulated on manakins.  The studio is a faked, idealised, made-up marketeer’s world and the printing of the billboard medium is controlled and inserted into a chrome frame.  It is then spliced into the real, moving, gritty, grey street in a trendy town, outdone by the colourful trash bin.

Influencers in my thinking and composure; a current and concise list which will keep evolving and expanding;

Theorists

John Szarkowski – framing, compression, vantage point –  The Photographer’s Eye. MoMA, New York, 2007

Berger – on promotion, prejudice and seeing  – Ways of Seeing. Viking Press, 1973

Sontag – on voyeurism, Plato’s cave and references to ‘trace’ – On Photography, Penguin, 1977

Peirce – on coding and indexation in photography – a useful introduction – Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce.  Edited Hoopes J. The University of North Carolina Press. 2014

Barthes – to keep me on my toes – Camera Lucida New York: Hill and Wang 1981.

Practitioners

Edgar Martins

Uta Barth

James Welling

Laura Letinsky

William Kelin

Artists

Mondrian & Reitveld : de Stijl

Rothko

Riley

Goldsworthy

Richard Long

Antony Gormley

Architects

John Pawson

Herzog de Meuron

Norman Foster

Philip Cox

Michael Hopkins

Caruso St John

Le Corbusier

Dennis Lasdon

There are No People in These Images

 ‘The landscapes represented in my photographs are the deserts of our circumstances

Extract;  “In The Poetic Quality of Infinity, Leonor Nazaré writes in 2013, as cited in Edgar Martins’ web site http://www.edgarmartins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Leonor-Nazar%C3%A9-The-Poetic-Quality-of-Infinity1.pdf (Links to an external site.)

‘When he states, for example, with respect to a 2009 series, that ‘The

black hole functioned as a metaphor for reason at the point of exhaustion’

(Arq./a, 2009) he is describing to us that moment of collapse in which creation

gives way to the forces of another intelligence. In addition to this possibility

there is the possibility of nostalgia, of the inscription of archetypes and of

evidence of a vague incomprehension of the void in phrases such as: ‘without

artifice, without premeditation, my landscapes raise the question of the

complexity of the collective unconscious. The landscapes represented in my

photographs are the deserts of our circumstances. They are the landscapes

that survive our absence’ (ibidem).

Edgar Martins knows that the absence of humans of these places is

unsettling and says himself that ‘the observer longs for signs and evidence of

life to increase the visual volume and give (the) place its social identity’ “

Here, the author, Nazaré, is eloquently sampling Martins’ thinking and expressions which lead the viewer of his work into a deep contemplation of the beautifully crafted and captured settings and landscapes.  He captures open views which may be democratically accessed as well as highly protected and secured places which he has gained special permissions to see.  In both positions the tranquility, the calmness, the ‘other-worldliness’ are conveyed by the state of stillness of the photographer which I believe transfers to the viewer.  The still image stills the viewer.  The emotional and cerebral window is opened and the air is drawn in.

I am convinced this is achieved by the absence of people populating his images.  The distraction of recognition of facial expression, gender, race, clothes and age are removed, to be replaced by our own occupation of the composure and serenity; the theory pervades the practice.