Part 2

Research note – aesthetic codes and reusing images (Project 2)

Gianlucca Cosci and Mona Kuhn both used shallow depth of field to focus the attention of the viewer on what they think is the main part of the subject. Looking back at my old catalogue of images I found one in particular that I feel can be used with the same effect.

dscf2087-2011-07-22-at-16-23-00

This picture was taken in mid-2011, shortly after the beginning of NATO’s intervention in Libya against Gaddafi’s regime, in which France, then presided by Nicolas Sarkozy, played an important role. It is in this context that I remember taking this picture, focusing on the headshot of the French president, as he was the man of the moment. A long time had passed since that picture and for a long I though that Sarkozy was going to be out of politics forever, particularly given the way he lost his presidential election and the corruption scandals he was involved shortly after leaving the presidency. But these are strange times, and it does seem that Sarkozy has again a good chance of returning to the fore and become the French president once again. I would like to re-imagine my picture in the context of this process of political death and redemption, like a project covering personalities that fell out of grace and managed to return to the limelight. The picture I took shows a man in the news, but the context is not clear (you cannot read any text in a normal print of the image) and the setting, on the handle of a slightly run down door for a non-specific establishment, could be interpreted as either the news being delivered to your door, or somebody discarding an old newspaper because he or she could not find a bin nearby. In that respect, this could either be used to illustrate Sarkozy’s old political demise or his return to power, if that ever materializes.

Research notes – Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) was a French photographer.

Famous for his fashion shots, Bourdin was particularly interesting as a photographer in as much as he used, while alive, magazine and advertising photographs (ie, what we would normally considered his professional work) almost exclusively as the medium for his artistic expression. While one would perhaps see this as nothing out of the ordinary, after all, even when shooting professionally one always expects a certain aesthetic to be maintained as the photographer’s distinguishing style; Bourdin commissioned photographs were heavily charged with social commentary, or even in direct contradiction with the promotion of goods (which one would consider to be the primary goal of advertisement). One gets the impression that in the end his primary consideration was the concept behind the pictures, rather than the specific promotion that the commissioned work was supposed to undertake (see for instance these examples from the Charles Jourdan campaign here and here, which purport to be advertisements for women’s shoes). Bourdin photographs contain, in many cases, direct or subtle elements of violence, often accentuated by the use of saturated primary colours (see previous examples, but also here and here) which are in direct contrast with the glamour one would expect from fashion photographs and which generates uneasiness  in the viewer.

Bourdin is particularly famous for his colour work, which was often overly saturated and full of contrast (see . It is fascinating how much he managed to achieve with a medium that, according to many, offered less control over output and manipulation than B&W before the advent of digital photography. His black and white photographs, while lesser known, are equally full of symbolism and veiled social critique as his latter colour work.

“Guy Bourdin was an image maker, a perfectionist. He knew how to grab the attention of the viewer and left nothing to chance. He created impeccable sets, or when not shooting in his studio rue des Ecouffes in le Marais, in undistinguished bedrooms, on the beach, in nature, or in urban landscapes. The unusual dramas that unfold in these seemingly everyday scenes and ordinary encounters pique our subconscious and invite our imagination. Moreover, he developed a technic using hyper real colours, meticulous compositions of cropped elements such as low skies with high grounds and the interplay of light and shadows as well as the unique make-up of the models.”(1)

Again, preparation of all the photographic elements in advance seems to be a recurring feature. It is not surprising given that Bourdin’s background was fashion photography, that requires meticulous preparation of every aspect.

Many of Bourdin’s photographs show only parts of women, particularly legs and torsos. The faces are missing or obstructed in many of these pictures, devoiding Its subjects of identity and reducing them, quite literally, to the minimum required to sell a product (in this case footwear). This is particularly poignant in a series of picture of legs, cut under the knees, walking down the streets (see here, for instance). Bourdin may be deliberately doing this to objectivise its subjects, perhaps as a commentary on the fashion industry or society’s attitude towards women. The point is more directly made in one of his black and white prints entitled “Polaroid” (1978), in Which a woman appears to be part of a property for lease (see here).

_____________________

(1) Bourdin, G. (2016) Guy Bourdin – Louise Alexander Gallery. Available at: https://www.louise-alexander.com/artist/guy-bourdin/ (Accessed: 21 September 2016).

Research notes – Fay Godwin

Fay Godwin (1931 – 2005) was a British photographer.

The following notes are taken from a viewing of the book “Landmarks” – a retrospective of Fay Godwin work (1). As customary in other research notes on books, I make below some general observations on layout and presentation.

  • The book contains both portrait and landscape pictures.
  • Both orientations are combined, presented together.
  • There is no specific reason why they are put together in this order. No evident connection, except for broad categories (landscapes, portraits, etc).
  • There are both colour and black and white pictures .

Some of the landscape pictures (most of which are B&W) are quite interesting because they include both natural and man-made features. In some cases (road markings, farm fences), the effect is complementary, but some of the features are not expected or incongruous (buses, theme park posters, security fences, earth moving equipment) and create an effect of shock in the viewer. These pictures and the way they are presented remind me of the A.O.N.B. series by Keith Arnatt, which has the same aesthetic values. Godwin makes very clear her views on the subject matter by her titles. One picture of an otherwise tranquil Welsh mountain track, with a mechanical digger in the middle of it is titled “Welsh Water Authority bulldozing Bronze-age tracks, Snowdonia National Park, 1988” (see here). Other pictures show dying trees and cut down forests. There are no man-made features in these pictures, but the impact of man is clearly shown by what is missing.

The pictures seem to be taken with normal perspective and a small aperture, as most seems to be in focus, from beginning to end.

Another interesting series of pictures, also reminiscent of Arnatt’s work with rubbish, are the glassworks series. These are in colour and show various subjects through layers of glass, some of which appears broken or steamed. The defects or water drops in the glass create additional shapes which, combined with the softening of the light from the translucent effect, creates a series of abstract, ethereal pictures, full of beauty. Like in the case of Arnatt’s work, it is quite remarkable that this is achieved with discarded rubbish and weeds, items that one would not normally consider particularly beautiful, but that are transformed by the treatment, thus challenging the spectator’s preconceptions.

A follow-up series entitled “secret lives” seems to follow from the above concept and tries to focus on details of various objects, often shot through obstacles such as mesh. These also show the artist’s desire to explore views which are often missing and pushing the boundaries of what is real and what is abstract. These are all presented in colour.

_______________

(1) Godwin, F., Armitage, S. and Taylor, R. (2001) Landmarks: Photographs by Fay Godwin. Stockport: Lewis, Dewi Publishing.

Research notes – Mona Kuhn

Mona Kuhn (b. 1969) is a Brazilian / American photographer.

The following notes are from pictures of Mona Kuhn’s book “Evidence”, appearing in an article by Doug Stockdale that can be found here, as well as other pictures of Kuhn found online.

Two interesting aspects of Kuhn’s work in “Evidence” is the use in some pictures of glass and its reflective / translucent properties to add elements to the frame (eg her reflection, the sky, trees) and to diffuse her subjects by mixing them with the reflections, in a process that creates new images that are neither faithful reproductions nor entirely abstract, but stay in between.

The other element that is interesting, and this ties with exercise 2.6, is the use of wide apertures / narrow dept of field in the pictures, sometimes in a counterintuitive way, eg with the main subject being completely out of focus while some seemingly irrelevant object like wild flowers appearing sharp in the foreground. To add to the effect, Khun skilfully composes the pictures to ensure that we are under no doubt as to who are her subjects, placing the sharp flowers or the leaves on the edge of the frame, as if they were there just to provide a context to the subjects, in a confusing way.

Kuhn also creates “layers of softness” by placing the subjects at increasing distances from the focal plane (see here, for example). This is done in a way that provides sufficient separation to allow the viewer to distinguish each shape, in spite of the softness, thus providing a clear path for the eyes to go deeper into the frame by creating a sense of story. This is a remarkable achievement given that the subjects are each presented on their own and, far from interacting with each other, seem to be lost in their own minds.

The use of intense natural light on many of the photographs, not only delineates the bodies of her subject but also, and perhaps as a conscious byproduct, generates large blown-out areas without any details, in some cases approaching 50% of the picture’s area (as in here). It is generally not pleasant to watch, but it does add to the idea that the photographer is more interested in showing her subjects in the best possible way and background considerations come second, which is not necessarily a risky approach given than in many cases the subject themselves are an integral part of the background.

Research notes – Gianluca Cosci

The following notes come from an interview of Cosci by Kev Byrne, which can be found here https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/an-interview-with-gianluca-cosci/. All quotes are from Cosci

….Panem et Circenses was taken exclusively around the Millennium Dome which at that time was a depressing no man’s land after being open for only 12 months in 2000. It was Blair’s vanity project to boost his image as “presidential” prime minister. That white elephant with a price tag of nearly one billion pounds of tax payers’ money was standing empty while he was declaring war against Iraq. I had the need to work on that specific place in that moment.

Cosci shows here the importance of location as an integral part of the concept one wants to convey, yet while I am sure the idea to shoot around the Millenium Dome did not come on a whim, his description of the process makes it sound like the decision was more emotional than rational. Sometimes impulse is also an important part of the photographic process, and in many cases we are not sure what we are photographing or why, but still go ahead and do it because we had the urge to do so. Some of these images then make sense when we sit down and look at them a few days or months later.

at the end of the day one tends to always believe in the photographic image even though after Photoshop this is getting less and less true I guess, but the sense of “evidence” remains anyway, especially if one compares it to painting for example…

Even with Photoshop, there are still details that are there in the photograph which are ignored in the manipulation process and that form part of the record, the bits we would ignore perhaps when we paint.

…photography does suggest a kind of reality even though a highly subjective one indeed… And it includes that frozen moment in time that is the essence and the allure of this medium.

I can personally related to Cosci points about reality and time. I am currently trying to work around these concepts by looking at objects that occupy a specific space during a limited, short time: discarded coffee cups, left over food, cigarette buts, carrier bags. Most of these objects are overlooked, avoided, when taking pictures. But they also have a story to be told: how they got to where they are and where they will go next. I try to capture a slice of that story in the limited time, sometimes seconds, that I have in front of them.