Photography The Shapeshifter
David Kirby on his deathbed, Ohio, 1990.
How do I feel about this ability for photography to shapeshift through context?
I find it quite fascinating how in which we as humans have the potential to react differently to something once it has been labeled or placed into a certain category, at the end of the day, this image is, in my opinion, a tragic photo and it will remain that way whether used on a gallery wall or the side of coffee mug, however, yes, the context in which the image is displayed can influence the reaction of the viewer. If the viewer does not know the full story of the image, why the person is sick and what the bad situation at hand is here – and IF the image was to just be viewed outside on a billboard outside, I believe the average person MAY ether..
1.Not know enough to care (or not care completely)
2. Care with the information along side the advertisement BUT, it may to some (non – photographers or photographers) loose a portion of its artistic value the original photographer portrayed in the body of work created.
When displayed as a body of work, I feel there is a lot more meaning too it, it suddenly becomes a lot more personal, a reflection of the photographer, a stronger insight to the situation with alternative images to view and ultimately more artistic value.
How do I read this image in its different context of consumption as photojournalism and as advertising?
I view the image no different, the only difference I see is the way in which the image has been used and what the person who used its intentions where by doing so. I have come to a minor conclusion that I do think it has the ability to take away the images artistic value and make it become something else other than what it was originally intended for (by the photographer and what is naturally resting in the image). An advertising company (or any large company) has the ability to twist a message, story and, in this case, a image, to bend it towards their own benefits and gain. A negative situation or not, once a image has been taken to use by someone else (hopefully not in the wrong context) it is being provided by someone else and that will in fact impact the in which someone receives the image,
I’ll give an extreme, but basic example, how would you react if an angel where to give you a cupcake? Now how would you react if a demon where to give you the EXACT same cupcake, same aesthetics, same flavour? Would you view and receive the cupcake in the same manner? Would you ask more questions? Who would you be more likely to receive the cupcake off in a positive light or a negative light?
Do I feel there is a shift in meaning?
As stated above, personally not so much other than its new given purpose when switched from solely artwork, to the use of advertising…
On one side (artistic) I am looking at the sadness of the situation, the realism and the horror of loss.
The other side (advertising) i’m obviously looking at it in a similar way – but with the knowledge that it was being ‘used’ for a method of awareness.
However, there is one shift that stood out to me…
In relation to my project, I found it very interesting that they re-coloured the image to make it look “more suitable” for an advert and “give it more impact”. Implying that in this case, colour would be more punchy and more likely to grab someones attention. I will take this small insight on board. Is there a certain time and place for colour against black and white images? Had this stayed black and white for the advertisement, would it of had a similar or different impact on the masses? I would say that if they where to leave it how it originally looked, it would have preserved more of the sadness that comes from the image, as black and white images can sometimes, a lot of the time, be used for colourless, dull, scary or sad emotional moments. This strengthens my previous mentioning that an image can be taken in another context and literally twisted to be used for a different purpose, for the users benefits, shifting its meaning by appearance.
What do I think are the ethics of this image as used in the context of a socially concerned advertising campaign by a clothing company?
A positive I can draw from this is that it did bring awareness. The image itself is a powerful shot which captures the raw emotion of sadness and devastating this can be. I guess it all comes down to ones perspective. An image placed on to a piece of clothing is mostly two reasons…
- Something the wearer likes/find attractive
- A statement the wearer agrees with. Passion mixed with fashion.
That being said, in this case with it clearly being reason number 2 – an image which someone is so passionate about they want to wear it and share it with the world. They would be wearing it to share something they care about. I think its good for awareness but, well, I wouldn’t think would be so good for a young child to view, at its a rather sensitive and sad subject, which may emotionally trigger someone especially if they have been through a similar situation of someone passing away.
In considering the case of Benneton do I find any of these images offensive?
I think the majority of their images are powerful and for a good cause, however I do think that this ‘unhide’ campaign image (above) went too far. I think it is offensive to the people in the images and they should not have edited their faces to do this, especially without consent. I can also picture that a lot of people would be offended by this image for many reasons, being the obvious homosexuality combined with the race differences. So I guess my answer would be that no the image itself doesn’t offend me, but I find what Benneton to had done careless and wreckless. This just goes to show the power of editing and its effects it can have on a photo…
Some people labeled this image “Vulgar” (yes its not the most prettiest photo in the world but we did all look like this at one point). Some people labeled this as “advocating abortion” (beyond me why anyone would think that). What I stopped to think about is (in relation to my research project) – what is it aesthetically in the image that makes it able to cause such reactions, the hard light? The harsh flash? The bright background? I think the way this image was taken and the decision made by Benton really makes it shout out to the viewer as opposed to baby being merged in with objects included into the background.
How do I feel our reading of these photographs might shapeshift given the context – the advert, the magazine, the book, the newspaper, the gallery – that they are consumed in?
The advert – Manipulated by the user, stripped of its original artistic purpose and given a new one that may no longer hold as much artist value and may even hold a new message and meaning.
The magazine – A similar response, however more personal time to view the image. I do feel when an image is placed a magazine, as an advert, it is handed a little more value and honour. As a magazine is after all taken up a lot by images, in some cases full pages, and there is only a limited amount of pages. Also it is often accompanied by large text, which can possibly distract the view away form the photo.
The book – As an artist’s book, being a physical object which is most likely solely dedicated to the images, this gives them a high amount of value and personal viewing time. The fine printed, thick paper – more so than that of a magazine, gives the image an element of sophistication, dedication and importance.
The newspaper – Opposite to the book, displayed on weak, thin, dull coloured paper, which leaves the image lacking its full potential. Newspapers are disposable, they are quickly published everyday meaning that the image will be just as quickly disposed of. Paper or not, an image displayed in the news will hold its purpose based on the title and issue at hand, leading the image itself to have a higher chance of being overlooked.
The gallery – Similar to the book, enhanced by the dedication to display the images physically one by one up right for the viewer. The context of a gallery give the image a deeper sense of appreciation. A place which almost seems as if it was built for the very photos that are being viewed when inside. A place where the image can be discussed with others spontaneously. A place that is quiet, allowing maximum focus on the image and its purpose.
What contexts or contexts does, or could, my practice operate within?
I share my images online, through Facebook, Instagram and a website. I have experimented with different styles and categories of photography. I have taken landscape images which have been balanced with portraiture. These images have been infused with a bright colourful style of editing which is a reflection of the way I see things, however they are still able to portray cultures and personality with never actually aiming to portray culture, I aim and focus on the individual themselves and their personality, any visual culture representation will follow. I’d now say that the context my photography lies in is a mixture between fashion/beauty/landscape for simply the viewers pleasure, but my range is ever growing – I want to improve, grow and discover new method for photography with in my project and the course.
Is there more than one means by which we can consume my practice?
I intend to be different, i’m sure that’s what a majority of the other photographers say, but I feel quite strongly about this, no other way to put it. I learn and observe others to grow ideas and which can adapt with the modern movement of imagery. I am looking to also ben my photography with the platform of video, recording my experiences and sharing images through video format.
Do I have any ideas about how my practice might be received given this infinity of contexts?
I do believe I need to expand my output rather than just online. Online is a method good to get your work out quickly, but like the newspaper, it may seem that it can also quickly be disposed by the viewer due to the consistent uploads of images every second online today. I want to try physical flyers, books and hope to one day display my work on gallery walls. I have also used online advertisement. As I was saying earlier, this may seem to take away a percentage of the artistic value of my work, but I am just trying to express my passion for people and photography whilst trying to make a living.
Are any of Szarkowski’s photographic characteristics important to my own practice and why is that?
From the beginning, I had always been very observant and aware of the importance of the composition of a photograph. What is put into the frame and the vantage points selected by the photographer is what I used to (and still do far a large portion) think was what made the photographers image unique and acts as a photographs ‘base of the spine’ given that it is the factor that puts all the aspects of photograph together in one piece after pre-visualisation – the photographers choice of the camera’s settings – shutter speed/exposure/iso and I would agree that the “camera’s view finder is a essence of the photographers craft” as the photographer is forced to make the choice what to include in the image and what to disregard. I think it is this element (combined with time) that gives photographers and photography its own specialty among other platforms, yes you can take multiple photos but at the end of the day, each photo is only one frame, and that is one chance each time to get the perfect shot.
Guy Bourdins powerful and intelligent use of the frame amplifies one of the natures of photography Steven Shores talks about which is the ‘Mental’ image the viewer creates with what they can and very much in this case can’t see. I have to say I find Guy’s style impressive and in my case, does get my imagination flowing. However on a critical note, for someone who, lets say is not very into photography or doesn’t naturally have a very visually creative mind, may criticise these images as being ‘untalented’, a ‘poorly/missed placed’ shot or ‘timed wrong’ – if without knowledge of what Guy was intending to purposely achieve with his images. I in my case can relate to these images, with respect to Guy’s work, and Shores theory, I think that the ‘mental nature’ aspect works in a greater scale over a greater length of time. It occurred to me that Shores ‘mental nature’ of the photograph has been a factor in my life for quite some time that would be recognised very rarely. For example…
As a perspective, Shores mentioning can be viewed similar to an experience many have had – a faceless voice you have been listening to on one of your say, favourite podcast, radio show or a phone call… a voice you’ve become so familiar with, you’ve grown to love the person – then when you finally see that persons face, it never really seems to match the image of the persons face you created in your head.
Now, have you ever gotten this experience with an image, one so familiar that you have build up that personal mental image around the non viewable area of the photograph so strongly, that when you actually get a chance to view the world around it, it has an impact in your brain, as if you brain refused to accept it.
There is a chance you may or may not recognise this house right away, although this is technically not a photograph, it is an image (often shown in a single frame) displayed regularly all the way through September 10, 1990, to May 20, 1996 from the sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ of the famous Bel Air mansion used to film the sitcom. This image would appear and I would always imagine what the surrounding area would looks like – A solid image in my head that the house is placed on a long road stretch of road, always sunny, surrounded by many other white, similar sized houses and that the grass infant of it was a field that continued all the way down that stretch of road… But after searching the location, my subconscious vision that stuck with me all that time was incorrect…
As the house is in fact sealed off by a closed gate, the ‘field’ is the lawn, the ‘long stretched road’ is the drive way. This being the power of the mind, I think that the more time spent analysing the photo the more chance a mental image outside the frames will arise.
Szarkowskis mentioning of the framing being a skill and shores statement of it being a natural element and Guys work put this to the test all backs up the importance the composition of a photo has.
Bianca Brunners (2008) – Hotels Vacation also traveled the same road of experimentation with the frame thus leading to the ‘mental’ nature…
I found these images very impactful. Simple but effective, these images leave me feeling on edge, unsettled… Very creepy.
The ‘mental image’ of course has been experimented further and quite physically outside the frame through Guy’s images. What fascinates me is the endless limitation that this technique could unfold. Similar to the endless vortex that can be created when lining ups mirrors at a certain angle.
Guy has also made use of mirrors in his practice…
Relating to my project, I wanted to use a handheld mirror in my practice, these images above are giving me additional ideas of how I can use both mirrors and multiple frames with in one image, accompanied through layering and editing to capture multiple compositions in one image.
Can I add any new ones?
“If the photographer could not his subject, he could move his camera” – Szarkowski
Felix Nadar – Worlds first aerial photographer – ”San Francisco in Ruins.” Aerial view of the damage caused by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit San Francisco on May 28, 1906. – source
I have always liked this idea of being able to essentially create a ‘new world’ by consciously striving to find new composition which is at an unusual angle for a human eye to regularly be viewing. I admire that Felix Nadar took this to a new level quite literally in his time to reach new vantage points capturing brilliant landscapes. This is one of the reasons I want to experiment with the vantage points we have access to now with the use of a drone. New compositions are a key testament to the choices and skills a photographer makes. However there are only so many different compositions that can be achieved and I believe there is much more left to be explored through editing. Whether in the darkroom or on the computer, I strongly believe what you do after the photo has been taken hold just as much importance of the photographers decision, personality, meaning and skill as to the actual efforts of capturing the image.
Szarkowski advocates that photography had never been successful at narrative – I would agree to some extent, that to me in a way means photographs are able to be a step away from ‘reality’. They can be exaggerated through the choice made through post processing with the ability to wield light and saturate or desaturate colours at the photographers will.
Does a photograph really need to be a ‘viewed scene’?
Yes, to begin with.
How do I work with these characteristics of the photograph as a constructed reality?
As long at it was taken through a camera to begin with, then any manipulation or adjustment after, in this day and age with all the technology and shifting between platforms and media, would still class as form of constructed reality as long it still holds (and is not completely disorientated) some of the original structure it was birthed with at the point of shooting..
What is photography for me and how would I define it in the context of my own practice?
Photography for me is an opportunity for people each individually share their unique way in which they see this world we live. It can be done in many ways, formats and concepts.
A photograph could be taken every day, every second of someones life if they chose to. Or they can be taken in more concentrated bursts to portray something or someone in a body of work or just the one image, which ever way the image is taken and in what context it is given, it will always hint a essence of the photographers character as a person when provided by the artist themselves.
What is it for?
To share an idea, event or personality to another persons unique perspective on life. Each image will spark off a different reaction to each viewer.
Are there any characteristics that are particularly important to me personally in achieving this?
I want to portray personality and atmosphere. A balance between the window of reality and a reflection of the way I see the world. I believe a lot of this can be done through post processing as aside from a unique composition, well executed position of a subject and impeccable timing with thought behind the process. True magic can be made from the ability to alter the atmosphere.
Are there any points made in this session which particularly resound to my own approach, or not?
Many as i’ve disused above, my favourite lesson so far discussing many relatable topics to my feelings towards photography and the exploration of my project…
Although, I would have to disagree with the art press’s words on the ‘what is a photograph’ exhibitions work…
Do you find the included works a refreshing antidote to the straight and rather traditional photographic examples that Szarkowski and Shore use, or do you think the works included in this exhibition, is a rather reductive and elitist view of a non-reproducible photographic object which omits the plethora of digital and vernacular practices which help define the photograph today?
I think it is refreshing and experimentation is needed, there is only so much a photograph alone can hold.
Which do you think is more successful and why?
The straight and rather traditional photographic examples that Szarkowski and Shore use of course are the most successful and will always be what a photograph is. One day that could of course evolve and that is what I want to explore and experiment.
How do I work with the photograph as a made and/or potentially reproducible image?
I keep digital copies, if I am to display them digitally on social media, they will be watermarked as it is easy to copy. If it is a physical print it will not be watermarked.
Further relation to my project, another photo I came across on pinterest was from Guy’s work for Charles Jourdan…
I unfortunately for the time being could not find any information about this photo, but I find it absolutely stunning. One side of the photo the heels looks as if it is in flash, or direct sunset, the other side a slower exposure leading to some blur of what appears to be the heels on fire and pitch blackness of the ladys leg. I can’t quite figure out how this shot was taken, there is a shadow running along the middle in between the two shoes. It doesn’t look post edited. Maybe this was just taken in the correct spot where the light is blocked half way by an object ether intentional or . It also appears that the lady on the left is separate to the lady on the right as looking closely her bare foot is next to the one with the heel, so are these two different women? Or two different shots layered over each other to make one, very similar to what I have been exploring in my project. This is a great photo and I would like to try to replicate the technique.
Speaking of similar to my project, I also noticed my recent work has had an almost exact resemblance to Robert Doisneaus image displayed in the presentation…
The same goes for the work of Doug Aitken (2003) – New opposition IV…
I admire this work, the image to the left ironically makes me feel warm, safe, hard to explain but as if the worlds been shrunk down, compacted to a size which is easily accessible to explore and wonder. The colours are vivid which is something I can relate to with my work
Before I had came across Doug’s work, I had tried a similar technique myself. Two images held side by side and flipped.
This lesson has made me think more about the future of photography, the elements that put together a photograph and the outcomes they bring leading me to ideas I can perform to further my project in understanding new ways to for a photo to have an aesthetic or meaningful impact.