Category Archives: Project 1: Colour and modernity

Exercise

Produce a small portfolio of five colour images in a surrealist style.

I might return to this exercise at some point as these are not particularly brilliant examples but I need to keep the momentum going with my coursework and blog . They were taken with my iPhone and a compact camera,  I found defining surrealism and then photographing when out and about quite difficult ! I prefer to take my time and set scenes up , I shall do that when time permits.

KERN BABY

 

Catch of the day

 

 

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An unusual bird attracts two onlookers

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This building has ‘eyes’ that observe all around

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Distorted reflections

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Research point. Surrealism in colour documentary

Carl de Keyzer

Zona

A black humour pervades the strange juxtapositions and incongruous elements seen in Carl de Keyser’s documentary series of former gulags that now function as prisons in Russia.

The use of colour further enhances the hyperreal appearance of the images, a lion oversees released prisoners as they await their train back home here. An inmate wears brightly checked pyjamas that clash with the bed covers here

However despite the humour the subject matter is far from comical , the absurdity made me examine the images carefully and consider what de Keyzer want us to see , what do they suggest ?

A prisoner proudly holds a baby , perhaps his child , watched by a guard who almost seems to be a peeping Tom practically hidden from view behind a make shift curtain doorway here. A young boy of about 8 or 9 stands in front of a horse and cart laden with carcasses here. Text informs me they are in the prisoners village , a baby and the boy with his red Mickey Mouse bag do not belong in such a foreboding place.

Bizarrely wrapped in a Snow White towel a tattooed inmate turned away from the camera whilst another man reaches out to touch his back here. What relationship exists between the two men ?

The images are far more complex than they first appear.

Peter Dench

A&E Alcohol and England

A&E Alcohol and England is actually quite a sobering –excuse the pun–piece of documentary work .

I briefly looked at Peter Dench’s website for the introduction to Part three and made the following notes.Brightly coloured reportage / street photography. Candid and frequently humorous images , although some could be considered also slightly cruel . Interestingly he says his own style of photography is inspired more by writers and comedians including a favourite columnist of mine ,Tim Dowling. His website provides links to a vast variety of his work , the images are both funny , some made me laugh out loud , but also strangely depressing at times. His observational skills are clearly well honed in capturing the absurdity of everyday life.

The title of the series A&E cleverly subverts the commonly used abbreviation for Accident & Emergency hospital departments. Alcohol related problems account for more than 3 in 10 patients attending A&E departments countrywide , more at weekends. The British and their notorious association with alcohol are captured in all their drunken glory and the images , which at first might cause laughter ,see here , highlight quite a lugubrious problem. Having been closely involved with the terrible consequences that alcoholism can cause with a close family member I see beyond the initial veneer of humour present in Dench’s images and read an underlying subliminal truth.

England Uncensored

The diversity and quirkiness of a multifaceted nation is at first glance a more lighthearted investigation of England at the beginning of the 21st Century. Dench’s England is inhabited by grinning pensioners , pub strippers , bodies of all shapes and sizes , wet umbrellas’ , dogs in bags , and ethnically diverse. However whilst the majority of the images are quirky Dench still manages to convey a sense of unease , I find this image here interesting, and slightly disturbing. Look carefully at the figure behind the three elderly gentlemen , then look at these here & here. Dench’s England is not a green and pleasant land but something far more convoluted than that.

Guy Tillim

Leopold and Mobutu

Whilst using elements of humour and a surreal approach (see here)Tillim’s foreboding images of the Congo are the antitheses of Dench’s England.

The exhibited work included single, diptych and triptych images , presented in both mono and muted tones.

References /Bibliography
Accessed 14/6/15
Accessed 14/6/15

Exercise

Read the article ‘Seeing and Believing’ written by Max Houghton for Foto8.
Core resources:Foto8#4.3_SeeingBelieving.pdf

The article discusses the role of the media in the developing world. The press are frequently commissioned by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report and record humanitarian issues in the third world . Whilst the images of human suffering and strife inevitably provoke pity , they also help perpetuate a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ who are portrayed as stereotypical helpless victims. Because the NGO’s act as fixers at grass roots level for journalists and photographers this can cause unintentional bias due to the unavoidable fact that the media “are viewing “the other” through the NGO prism”.

Following Live Aid a code of conduct suggested by a group of NGO’s in 1989 to give more considered thought to how others are perceived was never formally undertaken. Photojournalist Paul Lowe makes the valid point that without indigenous photographers only a Western point of view will ever be seen , perpetuating the pessimistic imagery of ‘the other’. Lowe believes in teaching local photographers skills that will enable them to document their own environment truthfully without a Western slant.

Select two bodies of work from Eight Ways to Change the World that show different conceptual and visual styles and write a short reflective commentary in your learning log. Both bodies of work should be in colour . Discuss aspects like information , aesthetics and expression.
Core resources: Panos8ways.pdf

A target date of 2015 was set by the United Nations in 2000 to tackle Eight Millennium Development Goals in underdeveloped countries.Panos pictures, in collaboration with British charities , presented an exhibition Eight Ways to Change the World challenging world leaders to implement the promises they made. Seven Panos photographers documented the actuality of what the goals meant to the people who they were aimed at helping. The exhibition coincided with a summit meeting of UN leaders in 2005 to review progress of the Development plan.

The Goals:

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Ami Vitale

The photographs of women taken by Vitale are close up and intimate, written information accompanies each photograph.

Vitale’s images of mothers with their babies do not reduce her subjects to the ‘other’ but are tender and gentle, indicative of maternal pride , love , and protection. A sleeping and content baby lies on his mothers legs being massaged with turmeric (see here)  whilst a mother with her newborn baby , lit by candlelight  (see here) becomes a modern day study of a Madonna and child.These images celebrating new life and motherhood symbolise an optimistic future , something all mothers and children , regardless of race , deserve , and what the goals are intended to provide.

However whilst the images record the positive consequences of providing adequate maternal care the narrative indicates that there is still a long way to go before maternal health and child mortality are acceptably reduced in this region of the world.

Zed Nelson

Nelson’s images are conceptually different from Vitale’s intimate images but again written information accompanies each image so the context can be easily understood.

A half bowl of begged shrivelled fruit (see here) perhaps someones only meal , and a handful of lentils that we are informed might have been bought on credit , convey poverty and hunger despite the lack of any human subject in the frame. Old and grubby looking cooking pots sit on hard barren ground  (here ) the connotations of hardship are quite clear without being over sentimental or harrowing.

We are informed the hard manual work at a brick factory is poorly paid but frequently the only source of income. A woman sits on a mound of bricks whilst a small boy , I assume her son, holds onto her shoulder. To the back and at the other side , slightly out of focus , another woman is sat , whilst behind her a corrugated hut runs the length of the frame , out of which more women and another child look directly at the viewer ( see here) unlike Vitale’s images of motherhood these highlight the harsh reality of life for the working women and their young children in order to survive. Three unsmiling men , one to the forefront , gaze directly out of the frame , (here) its easy to imagine their exhaustion working for a pittance. Clearly the goal of eradicating hunger and poverty has not been attained as Nelson’s images testify.

The use of colour makes both bodies of work contemporary and relevant. Whilst Nelson’s images are less optimistic than those taken by Vitale both document present day inequalities that are still waiting for the action promised to achieve it.

Ami Vitale
Accessed 7/6/15
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Accessed 7/6/15

William Eggleston

William Eggleston b1939 Memphis USA

William Eggleston’s Guide

Read the exhibition press release. Core resources :MOMA _1976.pdf

An exhibition of Eggleston’s work , curated by John Szarkowski , opened at the MoMA , New York , on the 25th May 1976. To accompany the exhibition the museum published its first colour book of photographs ,The Guide. Consisting of seemingly mundane images it includes photographs of friends and family surroundings , making it something much more than a collection of indiscriminate photographs but a personal body of work capturing ” private moments that Eggleston shot with great discretion”. However a number of critics declared the exhibition un-inspiring and dull.

Influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson Eggleston was initially a B&W photographer . However from the mid 60’s onwards he photographed in colour and his highly saturated images depict the banality of ordinary every- day life. I find it interesting that he rarely dates or gives his images titles declaring “thats not about photography” — I like to give all mine some sort of title ! Whilst preferring to “photograph the boring stuff” his images are still interesting , Martin Parr describes them as capturing the “ colour of ordinary life” that contain “complex messages” . Look carefully around the frame and edges of his images , they are full of intricate detail that is all too easy to initially miss. Eggleston’s use of the dye transfer process was innovative in the art world of that time , something previously only used commercially, and certainly not something to be taken seriously.

Eggleston’s images are not decorative but his use of colour is quite distinctive.The image of a red ceiling (see below) was taken at his friends house as he lay on the bed with his friend looking up , this friend was later brutally murdered in the same room. There is something disturbing about the image , time has added another layer of meaning , the context has changed. Red , an intense colour , the colour of danger, passion , blood , heat , anger , one can imagine all these emotions when looking at this image knowing what happened there. Using harmonious tones , blocks of solid colour , and colour accents throughout his work his images are something much more than just lurid snapshots , but carefully considered and unique compositions.

Red ceiling 1973.
Accessed 4/6/15