Project : The real in the twentieth century photograph

Exercise

Look at the Cruel + Tender brochure . Core resources :Cruel&Tender.pdf.

Listen to interviews with two of the featured photographers , Rineke Dijkstra and Fazal Sheikh.

The pdf is a Teacher and Group Leaders’ Kit with information and suggestions for visits.
It includes a suggested reading list

Cruel + Tender
Held in 2013 at the Tate Modern this was the first major exhibition dedicated exclusively to photography bringing documentary imagery into the gallery arena.

By presenting documentary photography in an art based environment the images attract a larger and more diverse audience. The difference between art and documentary photography has become less easy to define , the genres frequently overlap .

The exhibition began and finished with a living photographer and was not displayed in chronological order, exploring conceptual approaches to documenting the real, how people are represented, truthfulness. The role of the viewer is also contemplated, the guide reminds the visitor to consider the personal intent of the photographer , the context , political , historical and social circumstances. Composition , form and title are decisions made by the photographer , it is important to consider why and what the photographer is trying to convey by these choices.

Themes

– Comparison & classification
– Caught in the lens
– Industry & consumerism
– Far away & close to home

Occupied Spaces
On the Road
Exploring Vulnerability
Industrialisation and Consumerism
Life Stories

Vulnerability : Dijkstra

Life stories : Dijkstra & Sheik

Rineke Dijkstra

Dijkstra’s portraits of mothers who have just given birth can only be described as raw. Powerful , strong , tender and unembellished the new mothers face the camera protectively holding their babies close to their near-naked bodies. The Portuguese bullfighters were photographed as they left the arena , exhausted and bloody. The two sets of images were not originally intended by Dijkstra to be exhibited together , she comments they might seem to re-enforce the cliched view of women as guardians , men as tough and strong .

Yet the women , despite their vulnerability , have such an aura of strength , the emotional experience of childbirth still visible on their face. Reactions to the photographs of the new mothers differed ,the unidealised images were praised by women but men were rather perturbed. Despite their masculinity the bullfighters too are captured at a moment of vulnerability , leaving the arena following a life-threatening experience their faces have a haunted look.

With minimal background and isolating her subject in the frame there are no personal details that might be used to glean any personal information . Her subjects are not in control of their situation and she aims to capture this experience. She discusses the difficulty of portraiture and how this lack of control reveals more of her subjects character but because we have become used to having pictures taken and react or play to the camera she believes it has become harder to capture moments such as these.

Fazal Sheikh

Photographing Somalian refugees Sheikh returned to re-visit families on several occasions building up a relationship with the people he was documenting and gaining their trust. He was angered by the media’s cliched images that made these people victims , frequently seen as starving and helpless.

Whilst each subject is shot in their own setting there is minimal background detail , the resulting portraits emphasise their individuality, they are not portrayed as casualties of circumstance. Additionally Sheikh returned after 8 years to re-photograph some of the children whose images he had originally taken at feeding centres in 1992 , despite their seemingly hopeless situation they had survived.

The majority of the photographs were taken with a Polaroid camera and by allowing his subjects to participate in how the images were presented it became ‘a communal affair’ . Sheikh believes text is crucial because the photographs alone ‘don’t tell the whole story’ , a combination of powerful image and expressive text ‘creates the overall piece’ . Each sitter is named , their individuality acknowledged , and written information details the circumstances that led to their exile.

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/rineke-dijkstra-cruel-and-tender

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/rineke-dijkstra-artists-talk

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/fazal-sheikh-cruel-and-tender

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/cruel-tender/artists/fazal-sheikh

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/cruel-tender/cruel-tender-exhibition-themes

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One thought on “Project : The real in the twentieth century photograph

  1. katarzyz

    I saw the exhibition catalogue ‘Cruel&tender’ a few months ago as it’s on the Context&Narrative reading list. Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits of mothers with their newborn babies drew my attention then and now while reading your post. I was wandering what makes her portraits (I mean women and men) so powerful and you just gave me the answer: sitters are not in control of their situation. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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