Read the WeAreOCA blog post ‘Seeing is believing’
Read all the replies to it then write your own comment , both on the blog page and in your own blog. Make sure you visit all the links on the blog post. Base your opinion on solid arguments and , if you can , refer to other contributions to the blog.
Jose poses the question ‘Seeing is believing Or is it ? ‘
The growth of social media and the immediacy of digital imagery has made it possible for us to watch wars unfold from the comfort of our own sitting rooms. A major downside to the proliferation of such imagery is that photographs of dead bodies and atrocities increasingly fail to repel the viewer, they have become so commonplace as to be cliched, something Anna reflects on.
The conscious decision of the US government not to release images that corroborated beyond doubt the reported death of Osama bin Laden acknowledged ‘the power of the photograph’ (Sean O’Hagan Guardian). Hence I agree entirely with Matt James that if published the images could possibly have provoked an incendiary response from Laden’s fundamentalist followers . Jose’s remark ‘it has reminded us that photography still has documentary value after all’ is a prompt that despite the overload of images we are subjected to on a daily basis there is still a place for sensitive and thoughtful documentary reportage. Yet I also agree with Richard’s comments that no image can be completely objective , at some point a subjective choice has been made , be that a politically motivated or otherwise , decision.
Reading the blog post brought to mind a photograph I was shown many years ago whilst still at school. A school friend had Polish parents whose relatives still lived there , when her grandmother died the family were sent a photograph of the dead grandmother in her coffin . She brought the photograph into school , we were fascinated having never seen such a picture before ! She had told us her grandmother had died , we believed her , yet she still brought this photograph in as proof of her death. At that young age it was all the additional proof we needed , yet how can I really know the body in the coffin was in fact her grandmother ?– I can’t and therefore I don’t need a photograph of Osama’s body as proof of his purported death.
Hannah Starkey’s reconstructed scenes are cinematic and frequently suggest a sense of alienation and loneliness see here ,here and here .
Using actors and ” tableau photography to engender anxiety or uncertainty about the meaning of an image” ( Cotton ,C . 2009 , p.g 59) her images are both ambiguous and illusional “we are not given enough visual information to make characterization the focal point of the image” (Cotton ,C . 2009 , p.g 60) as here.
I was aware of her work but it was quite difficult to find much information on the internet about Charley Murrell , her website link did not work .
More than ever children are pressured to look and behave in certain ways and Murrell’s work investigates the influence of media imagery on children , images that frequently suggest a faultlessness that is practically impossible to achieve. Murrell contrasts the children’s reality with their idealised version of themselves , what they aspire to. Her images mange to capture their childlike vulnerability see here yet additionally have the power to shock , see here , and its a combination that makes Constructed Childhoods successful as a documentary series. Despite being fictitious the constructed images narrate a truth.
References / Bibliography
Cotton , C. (2009). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Thames & Hudson , London
View the video on Hasan and Husain Essop at the V&A exhibition Figures and Fictions and write a short reflective commentary .
Hasan and Husain Essop , Born South Africa 1985 .
Having never looked at their work before I found the video of the South African twins absolutely fascinating. Their Islamic faith is extremely important to them and their staged work explores “the inner struggle” (Vimeo) facing many young Muslims who also happen to enjoy and appreciate popular Western culture . I think their ability to perform individually before the camera and then produce such carefully synchronised results is due to the fact they are twins , they instinctively understand what the other is thinking or doing , they are artistically connected.
Photographs were not allowed on the walls of their family home, “it’s a practice not uncommon in Muslim homes as photographs are frowned on” (News 24 . 2013) . The brothers are the only actors in their composite images, Hasan explains “ we decided to use ourselves instead of others in our work. This way , if we need to answer to anyone , we alone are judged” ( News 24 . 2013) .They collaborate and plan an idea before finally going to a location to perform their fictional interpretations “of Muslim life , Islamic life” (Vimeo) in Cape town.
Like Tom Hunter they are part of , and understand the traditions , of the community they are documenting . I think the brothers subjective approach is successful, their own inner conflict and fear for the future of their religion is explored in an exciting way .
Exercise : Read the article ‘Think Global , Act Local’ by Diane Smyth (BJP Aug 2010, p.55 )
Research Tom Hunter’s work at tom hunter.org/htlm/news.phd
Finally , listen to Tom Hunter talking about one of his most iconic images , Woman reading a possession order , on Radio 3:bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zt7ky
Summarise your thoughts.
Preferring a slow approach Hunter uses a large format field camera , or sometimes a pinhole camera . The images of his local neighbourhood use carefully considered light , hues and compositions and are beautiful to view. He initially began by photographing his friends and neighbours living in squats , but rather than depicting the squat dwellers as misfits and victims he wanted them to be perceived in a more dignified way , he comments “colour and light became key to the way I looked at my neighbourhood” (Radio 3 BBC) . He continues to use friends and the inhabitants of his Hackney community to convey local issues which include fabricated elements , he challenges the concept of realism believing that “images are real yet created by the person manipulating the camera” (Radio 3 BBC)
Drawing inspiration from Johannes Vermeer Hunter’s documentary work is intended to convey a sense of seriousness . Despite little information about Vermeer he is believed by some art historians to have used a camera obscura and it is this relationship with photography in Vermeer’s paintings that fascinated Hunter . Vermeer’s paintings of his small local community are intimate with minutiae details , Hunter calls him a “painter of the people” (Radio 3 BBC) , and describes Vermeer’s work as “magical and amazing” (Radio 3 BBC).Likewise Hunter’s images are detailed studies of his local neighbourhood showing the beauty that exists in the most unlikely places if you are only prepared to ‘see’ the world in a different way.
However he acknowledges an inherent problem in creating beautiful but meaningful photographs that are subsequently then displayed in small exclusive galleries and bought by wealthy collectors. He states how important it is that his work reaches a wide and diverse audience “I didn’t want to become ghettoised in the art world-if I was just trying to create beautiful objects that would be fine , but I’m trying to put across a message as well “His image Woman reading possession order captures a private and personal moment with integrity and is proof that art can force change. Due to the influence the image had the re-possession never took place , Hunter creates “art with a social impact” (Radio 3 BBC) .
References / Bibliography
Bourouissa’s work questions perceptions of traditional documentary photography using constructed personal interpretations. Born in Algeria he lives and works in France staging what appears to be hostile environments within the French suburbs. The staged image here on a Parisian ring road becomes a believable signifier suggesting unease , isolation and has a slightly threatening mood. The images here continue to focus on social isolation and convey a sense of tension. His influences include Jeff Wall , Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Caravaggio whose use of theatrical light is emulated by Bourouissa in his striking and thought provoking images.
There is an interesting discussion on Pseudo-realities on the WeAreOCA blog here.