Category Archives: Project 1: Legacy documentary for social change

Exercise : In the American East

Read ‘In the American East’ by Richard Bolton ( in Bolton , 1992 , pp.262-83 and write a 200 word reflective commentary on its relevance to documentary practice .

Then look at the work of Charlotte Oestervang in Appalachia (Foto8 , V6N1 , June 2006, pp.58-9) Core resources:Foto8#6.1-Appalachian.pdf

Avedon spent around 6 years taking portraits of drifters , cowboys , and the disadvantaged he encountered on his journey in the American West. Using a white background his subjects are isolated from their surroundings , the intensity of his subjects’ gaze makes it impossible to look away. “ Avedon’s was a West of those whom the boom years of ‘Reganomics’ had bypassed. There is much wrinkled flesh in the series , most of it prematurely wrinkled by a harsh climate and harsh circumstances” (Badger, 2007, pg. 180) . Taken out of context the austere portraits symbolise the solitude and hardship of the dispossessed . However Bolton dismisses this concept and suggests that Avedon’s style “renders the subject mute” ( Bolton , 1992 ,p.g 264 ) . Furthermore whilst Bolton agrees that Avedon has built up a collection of ‘types’ he argues that the images “ have only to do with how people look” ( Bolton, 1992, p.g 265 ), and tell us little else.

Bolton discusses the decline of heavy industry along with the growth of information technology identifying a post-industrial society where corporates own and control the means of communication . He considers the possibility that Art no longer functions “ as a critical space” ( Bolton,1992 , p.g 262 ) having lost its autonomy to the corporate culture he identifies. Whilst the growth of corporate funding might be considered invaluable it also enables corporations to influence how and what is seen , which has obvious implications for unbiased documentary practice.

Avedon was an established fashion photographer when he was commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum to document In the American West . Due to the financial backing it was important to prevent bad reviews hence great effort was made to control the media coverage . The Boston Institute of Contemporary Arts was sponsored by Filene’s , a department stall , to exhibit the work. The “media attention was extraordinary” ( Bolton , 1992 , p.g 273) gaining publicity the gallery itself was unable to afford but was able to use to its advantage , membership and visitors grew vastly. Furthermore Filene’s “used the show as the basis of a sales campaign for Western wear” ( Bolton , 1992 , p.g 274) fashion wear advertisements were juxtaposed with Avedon’s portraits whose subjects were obviously “ not rehearsed in professional portraiture and their somewhat ‘fish out of water ‘ vulnerability is revealing” ( Dickie , 2009 , p.g 79) which makes one question the morality of accepting such patronage and whether in fact Avedon’s subjects were exploited in some way.

However I greatly admire Avedon’s portraiture and saw some of his work last year at the MoMA , New York , a stark and highly detailed large scale print from the series In the American West was mesmerising. Unlike the ambiguity of Avedon’s images Oestervang’s photographs taken in Eastern Kentucky USA are contextual studies which place the subject within a recognisable environment , but does this make them any more truthful than Avedon’s studies ? The answer I think lies in understanding why the images were initially made and carefully considering who is funding the project , and why. The sponsorship so often needed to fund documentary projects unfortunately may also control , censor and restrict what is being communicated.

IMG_0690

 

References/Bibliography

Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography How photography has changed our lives , London UK:Quadrille Publishing

Bolton , R. (ed) , 1992 . The Context of Meaning:Critical Histories of Photography. Cambridge , MA :MIT Press

Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, London , UK:A & C Black

http://www.avedonfoundation.org

http://www.oestervang.dk/photos/The%20Appalachian%20Trail%20–slash–%20Eastern%20Kentucky/1/15/

Exercise

Marcus Bleasdale

Read the interview with Marcus Bleasdale in Eight magazine (V4N3, Dec 2005)

Anger and a desire to bring about change led to Bleasdale leaving his secure directorship with a bank to become a professional photojournalist. Following a cynical remark by a banking colleague regarding events in the Balkan’s he felt upset and motivated enough to leave , arriving in Macedonia within a few days. Covering conflict in areas such as the Balkans, Uganda , Sudan and the Congo he has become an award winning photographer deeply committed to human rights.

In the link below he discusses working in dangerous and violent places , of using vigilance with a “gentle approach” , and what strategies are needed to initiate an interchange with his subject.
http://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2010/sep/08/my-best-shot-marcus-bleasdale

He has published two books:

One Hundred Years of Darkness : A Photographic Journey into the Heart of Congo  was inspired by the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, drawing parallels between King Leopold and his army removing natural resources and abusing the Congolese to that of modern day multinational organisations and their own president.

Rape of a Nation, recorded the adverse effect the construction an oil pipe-line had on the lives of villagers whose homes and villages it passed through in Central Africa.

Like the socially committed B&W photographers his camera is used to record abuse , conflict and exploitation. He describes feeling compelled to draw attention to the 5.4 million deaths in the Congo, brought about by the actions of banks , governments , traders and industries, and believes the media have an ethical responsibility to report and record atrocities and loss, using the evidence to influence policy makers and enforce change.

http://www.marcusbleasdale.com
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://www.alexiafoundation.org/blog/2014/10/02/interview-with-marcus-bleasdale-on-photography-advocacy-and-passion/
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2010/02/marcus-bleasdale-the-rape-of-a-nation/
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2010/sep/08/my-best-shot-marcus-bleasdale
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://viiphoto.com/author/marcus-bleasdale/
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10644785/Shoot-Stories-Marcus-Bleasdale.html
Accessed 17/01/2015

http://www.hrw.org/features/fighting-their-lives
Accessed 17/01/2015

Research point:Socially committed B&W photographers

American B&W photographers

Jacob Riis (1849-1914)

Arriving with no possessions Danish born Riis emigrated to New York in 1870 and with no regular work drifted from job to job. A self-taught photographer he eventually became a police reporter for the New York Tribune in 1877. He was aware of the awful living conditions in the slums of New York , frequently inhabited by immigrants and “hoped to stimulate reform directly” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 504 ) with his imagery. Furthermore “Riis believed that individuals were formed by their environment . For him the crowded , unsanitary tenements -that is , shoddy apartment houses – were the cause of crime and moral decay. “ (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 205).

The invention of magnesium flash enabled him to photograph both the dark interiors of the dwellings and outside at night . Due to “the harsh look of the sudden intense white light and the shock registered on the faces of those photographed” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 206) his images were considered believable , impartial , and most importantly unplanned. However “several of  his photographs were posed , such as his images of street children , which show them obviously feigning sleep” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 206)

His  work was presented in various forms such as lantern slides and photographs . A book How the Other Half Lives was published in 1890. The book contained images and drawings derived from photographs. A New York exhibition of his work in 1947 contained images that were “cropped and enlarged to increase their impact ” metamorphosing his work into“ artful exhibition prints” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 206).

Lewis Hine (1874-1940)

Hine learnt photography at the request of the New York Ethical Cultural school where he taught. In 1904 he began to document immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island and in deprived areas of New York as part of the school curriculum. Between 1907 and 1918 he freelanced for the National Child Labour Committee who were dedicated to stamping out child labour and initiating reform, “ he photographed the often appalling exploitation suffered by child labourers -both in factories and on the streets-with the aim of ending it” ( Badger, 2007, pg. 46) . The published images were frequently accompanied by text and presented in a non-linear arrangement.The Ellis Island project aimed to show “ the new Americans as individuals , and to counter any idea that they were the worthless scourings of Europe” (Jeffrey ,1981, pg. 159).

Between 1909 and 1914 he worked on the Pittsburgh Survey , a study of  both immigrants and professionals. Following World War 1 he documented European Red Cross workers . By 1920 his interest had moved from recording exploitation to a more “kind of positive , representative imagery” (Jeffrey,1997, pg. 203). Hine’s book Men at Work  published in 1932 featured images taken during the construction of the Empire State Building, and celebrated “the dignity of the working class” ((Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 207). Sadly by the 1930’s his photography was considered out of date.

Its interesting to compare Riis and Hine’s images, “Riis photographed squalor and wrote about his hopes for for American society. Hine , by contrast , made pictures which looked to the future as they disclosed present hardship. His children , at work in mills and factories , are victims of a heedless system;at the same time, in Hine’s paradoxically beautiful pictures, they shine out as symbols of a better world” (Jeffrey , 1981, pg. 159) . Whilst the inhabitants of Riis’s New York look downtrodden , hopeless and defeated , Hine’s subjects have a dignified confident appearance.

References/ Bibliography

Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography  How photography has changed our lives , Quadrille , London , UK.

Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK

http://petapixel.com/2013/06/16/how-the-other-half-lives-photographs-of-nycs-underbelly-in-the-1890s/
Accessed 15/01/2015

http://artblart.com/tag/lewis-hine-mechanic-at-steam-pump-in-electric-power-house/
Accesses 16/01/2015

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pioneering-social-reformer-jacob-riis-revealed-how-other-half-lives-america-180951546/?no-ist
Accessed 16/01/2015

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17673213
Accessed 16/01/2015

Research point:Socially committed B&W photographers

Bill Brandt 1904-1983 b Germany moved to England 1931

I  briefly looked at Brandt’s work for an earlier exercise — see link
https://judybachdocumentary.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/exercise-5/

Brandt’s photography was produced for books and magazines such as Picture Post , established in 1938. Illustrated magazines became hugely popular helping  “supplement a sense of national identity in years of crisis” (Jeffrey, 1981, pg. 244) and becoming “required reading across Britain , satisfying the public’s hunger for ‘the slice of life’ photo story”  (Williams , Bright, 2007 ,pg. 83 ) .Brandt was influenced by the surrealist Man Ray with whom he studied during the 19290’s.The English at Home , published in 1936 , and A Night in London 1938 were studies of British society and Brandt “frequently pre-arranged” (Jeffrey,1997 , pg.67) the scenes he photographed , “his brother and sister-in-law Ester are , for instance , entirely convincing as a prostitute and her client ” (Badger ,2007 , pp 84) .
http://vimeo.com/63070613

In 1940 he was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to record London’s air raid shelters , the images are beautiful to look at , almost surreal , some “presumably staged” (Badger ,2007 , pp83 ) They not only capture the mood of the time but were useful as propaganda  to boost public morale proving  “that whatever Jerry could throw at them , Britons would carry on as bet they could” (Badger , 2007 ,pp83).
http://archive.museumoflondon.org.uk/collections-research/collections-online/searchresults.aspx?borough=City%20of%20London&makerString=Brandt%2C+Bill

Brandt’s 1948 book Camera in London celebrated peace and recorded an idealistic London , “Brandt’s Londoners read by open windows , move unhurriedly through the streets or enjoy a convivial evening out. Altogether it is a dreamer’s city seen under soft sunlight , river mist and moonlight , animated , in keeping with the times , by dancing children and young lovers” ( Jeffrey , 1981, pp202) .

I grew up in a Bournville Village Trust property during the 1950’s and 60’s and was fascinated to discover Brandt had been commissioned to photograph the new estates in 1941. My parents moved into their new home in 1953.
http://www.theguardian.com/society/gall/0,9730,1210120,00.html

Brandt’s later work concentrated on landscape , portraiture and nude photography.
Printed in his trademark high-contrast style” ( Dickie (2009) pp 101) Brandt’s surrealist influences are clearly seen in his nude studies .
http://billbrandtarchive.photoshelter.com/gallery/Nudes/G0000Fq7HOfGjFnU/

Bibliography/References

Badger , Gerry , ( 2007) . The Genius of Photography  How photography has changed our lives , Quadrille , London , UK.

Dickie Chris , (2009) . Photography The 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1981) . Photography A Concise History , Thames & Hudson , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

Warner Marien Mary . (2010 ) Photography:A Cultual History Third edition, Laurence King , London, UK

Williams Val and Bright Susan . (2007) How we Are Photographing Britain from the 1840’s to the present , Tate publishing , London, UK

http://www.billbrandt.com/Library/statementbybrand.html
Accessed 4/1/2015

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/
Accessed 8/1/2015

http://archive.museumoflondon.org.uk/collections-research/collections-online/searchresults.aspx?borough=City%20of%20London&makerString=Brandt%2C+Bill
Accessed 8/1/2015

http://www.theguardian.com/society/gall/0,9730,1210120,00.html
Accessed 8/1/2015

http://billbrandtarchive.photoshelter.com/gallery/Nudes/G0000Fq7HOfGjFnU/
Accessed 8/1/2015

Research point. Socially committed B&W photographers

Exit Photography Group

The Exit Group photographers were directly involved with the communities they documented , frequently living alongside their subjects. The group, formed in 1973, consisted of photographers Nicholas Battye , Chris Steele-Perkins and Paul Trevor whose combined work , a survey of British inner cities, was published as a book by the Open University in 1982. I have managed to obtain a copy of Survival Programmes via my local library. It “ was intended to be the product of a six month’s photographic project but in the end , with many interruptions, it took over six years to complete.The material was gathered at different times between 1974 and 1979 and edited from many thousands of photographs” (Exit Photography Group, 1982, pg.7) . The black and white images ,which were processed at home, and accompanying oral histories are a fascinating study of social deprivation yet “Exit, with its unfailing belief in the power of community , produced images that asserted a belief in the power of the people to rise above their circumstances” (Williams , Bright, 2007 ,pg. 138 ).
The majority of the work was divided between the photographers , Chris Steele-Perkins recording inner city life in Newcastle , Middlesborough , Belfast , Paul Trevor worked in Liverpool , and Nicholas Battye documented inner city Birmingham. 

Chris Steele-Perkins b1947 , British

Steele-Perkins joined the Exit collective in 1975.

He joined Magnum in 1979 the same year as his cultural study of Teddy Boys , The Teds , a predominantly working class group , was published. The colour photographs of The Pleasure Principle , a study of 1980’s Britain published in 1989 , not only differ from this earlier work but also “stand in sharp contrast to many of the states of imprisonment ,madness and death uncovered by Steele-Perkins in the news zones of the 1980’s and 1990’s “ ( Jeffrey , 1997, pg.434)

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 19.27.36

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 19.29.52 Both images Copyright Chris Steele-Perkins

Paul Trevor , b 1947 ,British

In the two links below Paul Trevor talks about his experience of photographing children in Liverpool during the 1970’s,they provide a fascination glimpse into his work . It is interesting to consider just how much freedom both children and photographers had at the time, a freedom that no longer exists.

Like You’ve Never Been Away , an exhibition and book published in 2011,  features many previously unseen images.  He hopes any subjects who recognise themselves ,friends  or relatives make contact so he can “make new photographs” . The 2nd link shows him meeting some of the children he photographed during the 1970’s who are now adults.

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/artanddesign/video/2011/jun/08/photographer-paul-trevor-liverpool-children-video

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/liverpool/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9147000/9147134.stm
http://paultrevor.com

Bibliography/References

Exit Photography Group (Nicholas Battye/Chris Steele-Perkins/Paul Trevor) (1982) . Survival Programmes (In Britain’s Inner Cities) , Open University Press , Milton Keynes, UK

Frydman Julien , (2008) . Magnum Photos , Thames & Hudson , London , UK

Jeffrey Ian , (1997 ) .The Photo Book , Phaidon Press , London , UK

Williams Val and Bright Susan . (2007) How we Are Photographing Britain from the 1840’s to the present , Tate publishing , London, UK

http://artlog.com/post/64976677836/chris-steele-perkins-classic-tale-of-british
Accessed 4/12/2014

http://www.chrissteeleperkins.com
Accessed 4/12/2014

http://www.chrissteeleperkins.com/portfolio/portraits/new-british/
Accessed 4/12/2014

http://www.amber-online.com/people/47
Accessed 4/12/2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/liverpool1975/sets/72157624383733904/
Accessed 3/1/2015

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/exhibitions/paultrevor/
Accessed 3/1/2015

http://paultrevor.com
Accessed 3/1/2015

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/artanddesign/video/2011/jun/08/photographer-paul-trevor-liverpool-children-video
Accessed 3/1/2015

http://photoworks.org.uk/exit-photography-group/
Accessed 3/1/2015

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/liverpool/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9147000/9147134.stm
Accessed 4/1/2015

Research point. Socially committed B & W photographers

Chris Killip b1946 British

Born on the Isle of Man Killip returned in 1970 to begin a three year project cultural study of the “tradition-conscious” way of life of its inhabitants (Jeffrey,1981, pg.127). Photographing both its people and rural farming areas he captured an era and way of life that was slowly dying. Isle of Man:a book about the Manx featuring images from the series was published in1980.

In 1976, reflecting “the merger of art , journalism and documentary” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 416) he became a founder of the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Side Gallery, a gallery committed to socially dedicated photography , of which he was a director from 1977-9 and curator until 1984.

Killip’s book, In Flagrante (1988) features images of the North East from the late1970s and the early 1980’s.The working class population of the area were hugely affected economically and socially following the decline of traditional industries and the growth of right wing politics.Killip immersed himself into the communities he photographed and “spent a long time getting to know his subjects, so that his pictures were taken as much from the ‘inside’ as it was possible for him to be” (Badger, 2007,pg.142). His images were not taken to precipitate change but depict a more “personal observation and interpretation” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 416) the book’s ” title focused a critique against the government’s efforts to reduce social supports, reduce the power of the labor unions, and create free trade” (Warner Marien, 2010, pg. 418).

His study of the small North East fishing community , Skinningrove ,was taken during the 1980’s over a number of visits , which enabled him to acquaint himself with the seemingly insular community he photographed. His relationships with the inhabitants and previously unseen images are discussed in the short clip below.
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/gallery/2014/jul/22/chris-killip-skinningrove/

In 1988 he was commissioned to photograph the Pirelli factory in Burton-On-Trent. Unlike his earlier photographs of the oppressed and unemployed inhabitants of the North East these depict working men, beautifully composed and lit , almost theatrical.

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 21.45.54Copyright Chris Killip

Here Comes Everybody features images taken between 1993-2005 , including colour as well as black and white photographs of the Irish countryside and its people. Discovering Irish ancestry on his maternal side he felt “emotionally drawn” (Liz Jobey, 2009, the guardian.com) to the location. Returning year after year Killip was able to engage with the local population. The images lack the gritty hard-hitting impact of his earlier work, they are not intended to make an angry political statement , but have a quiet and reflective resonance.

Liz Jobey 2009 theguardian.com
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/apr/20/photography-book-chris-killip  Accessed 22/11/2014

http://weareoca.com/photography/chris-killip/   Accessed 22/11/2014

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/11145782/Chris-Killip-In-Flagrante.html?frame=3064296  Accessed 22/11/2014

https://www.facebook.com/SideGallery/info   Accessed 22/11/2014

http://www.amber-online.com/sections/photography/pages/side-photographic-collection  Accessed 22/11/2014

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-27341080  Accessed 22/11/2014

Exercise

Discussing Documentary

Read the introduction and first section (pp.105-10) of the article ‘Discussing Documentary’ by Maartjie van den Heuvel (Documentary now! 2005)

Write a short summary

Maartjie Van denHeuvel discusses whether documentary photography is being regenerated and considers the possibility that as a result its relevance as a truthful means of communicating has been diminished. Can complex documentary imagery displayed in the museum or art gallery continue to be considered authentic , does it even belong there?

The growth and easy accessibility of mass media during the 1970’s has enabled viewers across the globe to experience world events without the need for participation, personal experience has become unnecessary. We are bombarded daily with imagery , an outcome of which that has led to perceptions of reality being altered , something visually literate artists may draw upon to create intricate imagery using signs , symbols and code , which in turn can be deciphered by a more knowledgable and sophisticated audience.  Reality is no longer considered a prerequisite in order to be universally comprehended and communicate a message.

The essay proceeds to discuss the documentary visual tradition citing the work of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine , socially committed photographers hoping to precipitate change through their images of the disadvantaged. A tradition that continued with the project work of the FSA photographers, publishing images that were seen as truthful and objective, not fabricated versions of events.Photography was deemed modern and authentic , unlike painting perceived as conventional and unreal. Documentary was a term initially given to non-fictional film and synonymous with reality. During the post war years of the 40’s and 50’s illustrated magazines continued to publish investigatory work.

Using 35mm cameras with black and white film documentary photographers of the 60’s and 70’s continued to be advocates of the underdog. Their work had nothing in common with the colourful and illusionary photography of the growing advertising industry.

Following the arrival of mass media documentary photography lost its definitive status as an objective medium.In place of gritty black and white imagery technically immaculate photographs were produced, fabricated and subjective narratives were displayed in art galleries. The merge of art and documentary that evolved during the 70’s allowed documentarists to re-invent themselves as artists who explored how to perpetuate a genre whose origins had grown from what was once considered to be unbiased reportage to often highly personal investigations.