Coursework, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – Twentysix Bus Stops

We were tasked with producing a series of images as a small book inspired by one of Ed Ruscha’s books.  We were given complete freedom to respond to this task in any way we wish as long as it was in response to at least one of Ruscha’s books.

I have been considering the display of my work as part of this course. I posted in my CRJ about placing images in bus shelters. (CRJ post – Informing Contexts – Billboards and Bus Shelters).  I thought this would be a fun way to explore how bus stops vary around the country.

I decided to try a different approach for me.  I put a request out on Facebook, posting it in several groups, for images of bus stops to be emailed to me.  I did not specify anything more than that.  The intent was not to use any of my own images.

Each image is placed in the book with the name of the photographer who took it.

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Along the way certain things surprised me.

Firstly, I joined a group on Facebook – The Wonderful World of Bus Shelters. The group claims to be a group made up entirely of photography enthusiast who enjoy photographing and sharing bus shelter images.  I then posted my request, expecting the enthusiasts to want the be involved.  Oh, how wrong was I?

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The response was surprising. The members started getting upset and offended, and I found myself having to justify and re-explain my project.  I was accused of trying to steal their images, even though I made it clear that I would not use any images that had not been sent to me with permission via email.  Some of the comments are shown below.

The final comment before I left the group was that the members did not understand why I “couldn’t just take my own photographs”.  This was despite fully explaining the philosophy behind the project.

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Luckily, I had a great response from other people, with images coming in from places all over the UK and Europe.

My role has been curating and editing the resultant book.  I reduced the number of images to 26 in keeping with Ruscha’s TwentySix Gasoline Stations.  I then cropped each image to 8×10 format and converted to black and white for a consistent approach.  Each image was then auto tone corrected.  This has enabled the images to appear bland and low-contrast.  Normally I would add interest during the editing process, increasing the contrast etc.  I wanted to ensure my work remained quite true to the blandness of Ruscha’s aesthetic.

I was pleasantly surprised too see the mixture of bus stops that were photographed.  Some were modern and others run down older variants.  Materials varied with each image too.

The font used for the front of the book (Rockwell Extra Bold) was chosen to as closely resemble Ruscha’s choice.  I did not want to use the same font colour for a couple of reasons.  Firstly I was concerned that if the colour was slightly off it would look odd and secondly, I do like to be a little different.  This is one area that I could have artistic say over.

This project has taught me about the value of crowdsourcing images for projects. It was actually quite fun waiting to see what was going to be sent in.  However, I will be mindful in the future to ensure any such projects are clearly defined at the request stage, along with details about how the images will be used.

It was strange experience for me, yet incredibly liberating not to be the one taking the photographs.  Normally, I like to be controlled with my submissions of work, so this was unnatural to me.  But I decided I needed to leave my comfort zone, pop on my brave pants and do something different.  And here we are.  Overall, I am pleased with how it came out. 🙂

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – Andrzej Georgiew, Layers – A Visual Record

Andrzej Georgiew died in  2016.  He specialised in the portraits of cultural people including actors, writers and musicians. His chosen equipment was large format cameras which allowed him to communicate with his models and get to know them.

Georgiew returned to the same portraits over and over again, exploring the different layers of the sitter.  As he said in the quote in the images below says “I keep getting the feeling that I’m always taking the same photograph”.  Each time he shot the portrait he was able to peel back another layer.  Each image differed from the others by the tiniest of differences.  Georgiew was able to scrutinise these differences and work out which was the image to choose and why.

The exhibition venue had several rooms, each with an interesting mix of images.  The bathroom was decorated with explicit paintings by several artists.  These often humorous images had meanings that were clear and compelling (see below).

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Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – The Power of the Avant Garde – A Visual Record

The term avant garde comes from the French for the advance guard and originally comes from the military term for the small military unit that was deployed in front of the main troops. The term has been used for political movements that were seen as progressive.  The term is now commonly used in art to describe artwork that is deemed to be experimental, radical, or unorthodox.

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Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

The work often has a hidden meaning. For example, Marcel Odenbach’s work ‘Closed and Hanged’ 2013 (figure 1), appears on first glance to show four red judges’ robes and matching velvet berets hanging from branded designer hangers on a metal clothes rack, while traces of red ink drip down the walls beneath the gowns.  The image is stunning beautiful and really draws the viewer in. When I looked closer at the work, I noticed that the artist had used an assortment of collaged pieces of paper in the work.  These pieces of paper appear to be historical in origin, but I was unsure of their source.

Between each of the clothes hooks are black and white images that appear to show images of Nazis that were presented as evidence in war crimes trials. The message hidden in this work is clear to me, Odenbach has chosen to comment on the German atrocities carried out during World War 2.

Other images below show the range of work on show.

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Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – The War from Here

Our second curator led tour in Krakow was again with Gordon MacDonald at the exhibition ‘The War From Here’ at Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art.

The exhibition shows artist’s views of war from a non-conflict situation.  None of the images were shot in a conflict situation, but were shot in more domestic settings to show how we view war from our own homes and comfort.  MacDonald described the work as ‘agents of containment in a domestic setting’.  The artists are imagining war from home or commenting on war from different angles.  Some of the images were produced by watching military personnel operating drone military equipment to do air strikes, or by using montages of juxtaposes of domestic settings with war situations.

This was a non-documentary war show.  The images and displays are quite easy to look at, but get the viewer thinking about how we consume images of war and how we think about war.

The images are often neither truth or fiction, but are a combination of both; an interpretation of the truth,  The images made me realise how complicit we, as the public, are to the notion of war and how it is sold to us. Countries like the USA are built on war and these images played with the viewer and their ideas of real scenarios. But the scenarios are fake.  As these fake scenarios have been recorded as photograph documentaries, they undermine the truth behind war and the images we are presented with by credible sources.  What should we believe?  Who should we believe?  The exhibition left me with an uneasy feeling about what I have perceived to be truthful depictions in the media about war. MacDonald has been extremely successful in producing that emotion in me.

Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – MOCAK – A Visual Record

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) is a contemporary art gallery. The aim of the gallery is to present and support contemporary art and artist. In particular, the gallery displays art from the last two decades. There are exhibitions of both Polish and non-Polish art.

Below are images that I took during the visit that I found particularly inspiring or amusing.

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – Susan Lipper, Grapevine

Susan Lipper, Grapevine: 1988–1992 – MOCAK – Krakow’s Museum of Modern Art – 28th May 2017

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Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

At first glance, Lipper’s Grapevine exhibit looked to me like a set of straightforward and conventional documentary photographs of life in small-town America.  The town is called Grapevine. A closer look revealed a different story.  The photographs appear almost like a parody of what we expect to see life is like in Grapevine.

 

On her website, Lipper explains about the project in her ‘Introduction to Grapevine’.

“These pictures are not an effort to document, in any real sense, Grapevine Hollow, West Virginia, but rather the collision of my experiences, the tangible world and the nature of photography.

I first photographed Grapevine, West Virginia in 1988. It is such a small town that a resident once said that if you didn’t know it was a hollow you would think it was someone’s driveway. It was never my intention to stay for a long time in any one place, the general nature of most photographic road trips, yet repeated visits of varying lengths up to several months continued for over five years.

I found myself driven by a desire for repeated interaction with the community and to specific places and events in Grapevine. And also perhaps to an intimacy never before imagined. After all it was a chance set of circumstances which brought me to Grapevine in the first place.

This series of photographs is my journal.”

(Susan Lipper 2017)

 

Lipper’s photographs play with the viewer.  They are a kind of theatre made especially for the viewer.  Lipper’s website explains that the “work strongly spoke to a diaristic dramatization of her new home, with friends and adopted family playing their part. The series contains scenes of collaborative staging underscoring the often polarized roles of rural men and women.” (Susan Lipper 2017)

The photographs portray the ‘residents’ of Grapevine as the stereotypical hicks or hillbillies. This is what viewers expect to see in rural West Virginia.

Figures 2-4: Sutherst. 2017

Housed in a separate gallery space at MOCAK, the photographs occupied 2 adjoining rooms, each long and narrow with floor to ceiling windows forming one of the short end walls.  The prints were of different sizes on 3 walls in each room, with single large-scale key images occupying the end walls.

 

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Figure 5: Sutherst. 2017
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Figure 6: Sutherst. 2017

Looking closely at the prints, I was not particularly taken with them. For me, the images are too grey and there is not enough contrast within each image. I wondered whether the printing process used for the images had caused the whites to appear grey, so I have since studied the images on Lipper’s website.  Again, on the website I find them to be too grey as well.  So now I am intrigued.  The tones used are obviously deliberate.  These low contrast images have little or no highlights or shadows.  They are simply just shades of grey. There is little variation between one shade and another. To me, the images feel quite flat and soft.

Figures 7-10: Sutherst. 2017

I find the overall appearance of the images to be quite subtle, but with a mysterious and almost malevolent feel to some of them.  This was further emphasized by the reflections on the photographs due to the sun shining through the windows and reflecting off every surface. The reflections distracted my eye and made the content quite tricky to view at times. This also meant I found myself in the photographs as I was recording them. I am sure this was part of the effect intended.

 

REFERENCES

Susan Lipper. 2017. Susanlipper.com [online]. Available at: http://www.susanlipper.com/about.html [accessed 29 May 2017].

Susan Lipper. 2017. Susanlipper.com [online]. Available at: http://www.susanlipper.com/text_gv_introduction.html [accessed 29 May 2017].Surfaces

Coursework, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – Krakow Group Project

During the face to face event in Krakow, we were placed into 3 groups.  Each group then selected a envelope with their title in it.

The brief was to make a small body of work of images in the allocated groups.  The work needed to respond to the title, Krakow and work seen in exhibitions in Krakow.  The work had to show discernment in image choice, with at least one image per person in the group.  The group had 48 hours to complete the project before presenting it the the other 2 groups and university staff.

I was placed in a group with Matus (from cohort 2) and Tomasz (from cohort 3).

On opening the envelope, we discovered that our title was ‘LIMINAL’.

The Oxford Dictionary (2017) definition for liminal is:-

– Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.

– Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

We decided to concentrate on the spaces, time and people in-between thresholds. We first tried shots with teabags and tea to show the stages involved.  We agreed to shoot within this remit and reconvene over the weekend.

The images that I produced for the project are shown below.

 

We each brought images to the next meeting and produced a shortlist of images. The contact sheet of the shortlisted images we produced is shown below.

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After much discussion, the images were finalised and the finished body of work was compiled and is shown below. We presented this a group, each of us talking a bit about our own images.

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I really enjoyed working with other members of the course that I did not know before. As a team were balanced and worked well together.  We didn’t argue over the choices we had made, but had rational discussions about the merits of each image.  We then worked on the order in which the images should be presented, agreeing on the final version quite easily.

On reflection, we realised that we could have split this work into a couple of separate bodies of work which would each stand up to scrutiny. But, this was a successful project completed in a very short time.

 

REFERENCES

liminal – definition of liminal in English | Oxford Dictionaries. 2017. Oxford Dictionaries | English [online]. Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/liminal [accessed 26 May 2017].

 

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – An Interview with Gordon MacDonald

After listening to Gordon MacDonald talk about the exhibition ‘We also dance’, Philip Singleton (also on the MA Photography course) and myself went to ask MacDonald a few questions.  Philip asked the questions and I decided to record some of the conversation on my iPhone.  At the end of the discussion, MacDonald agreed to us using the video for our blogs and signed a note to this effect in my notebook.

The video has been uploaded to YouTube:

 

MacDonald was extremely generous with his time and shared with us some of the thought processes behind his decisions as curator of PhotoMonth 2017. He explained in some detail some of the exhibits which really helped contextualise what we had looked and and went on to look at during our visit.

Philip and I learnt that interviewing someone is actually quite a tricky process and requires preparation beforehand.  Also, sometimes chance and serendipity play a big part in capturing moments like this. At times the sound is not a good as it could be.  The interview was conducted in a busy gallery and you can hear the background noise and chatter as I only had the iPhone to record this and no directional microphone which would have improved the sound.

Each of the shows within PhotoMonth were different and he explained how the bodies of work chosen tended to coalesce into the themes during the curation process. The discussion really opened my eyes to how curators will select bodies of work based on their own interests and the interests and themes of a show.

I am very grateful to Gordon MacDonald for his generosity in sharing with us his experience and for spending so long talking to us.

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – We Also Dance

We arrived at the Museum of Photography in Krakow in good time for the curator guided tour of the exhibition.  I was first to arrive and had chance to exchange pleasantries with Gordon MacDonald, taking the opportunity to capture a portrait (figure 1) of him in front of the information board.

When the tour started, MacDonald explained that he can’t dance!  He described himself as a watcher rather than a dancer.  He said that he has a real interest in watching and thinking abstractly about dance.  He then went onto explain that despite the title, the exhibition was not really about dance, but about personal self-expression.

 

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Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

Some of the work on display described dance as a route to resistance or a route to social change, a way to climb out of your social status and position into another.  Dance can be seen as an aspirational step ladder.

The exhibition includes Northern Soul Dancing and ballet dancing in the north east of England, amongst others. Some of the photographers presented challenging and thought-provoking, complex images.

 

Figure 2: Sutherst. 2017

MacDonald talked about how he met the photographer Morten Nilsson by chance.  Whilst in Houston, Nilsson slipped his portfolio under a toilet door to MacDonald.  It was an unplanned serendipitous meeting that Nilsson capitalised on. As MacDonald said, artwork quality and chance are the routes to success.  The stare in Nilsson’s images is intense.  It comes through the camera lens and out the other side to the viewer.  You are drawn in.  The male figures have both a fierce and effeminate quality to them.

 

Figure 3: Sutherst. 2017

One of the video displays by Vojtěch Veškrna, shows a ‘dance’ that is actually showing how a pilot practises a stunt display.  They practice the manoeuvres on the ground as shown in the videos below.

 

Video 1: Sutherst. 2017

Video 2: Veškrna. My Air Force. 2015

 

Figure 4 shows stills of video clips that were running showing women dancing superimposed onto other images. Zarina Muhammad’s work ‘Cargo Collective’ was extremely odd to me and I really did not understand the message or inspiration behind the work.

 

Figure 4: Sutherst.2017

Video 3: Muhammad. Untitled 13. 2016

Video 4: Muhammad. 👸🏾🍍. 2015

 

In figure 5, Denis Darzacq depicts a ‘Falling Man’.  This was taken in a poor part of France and used street dancers to stage images.  The narrative is about the feeling in that part of Paris.  these dancers feel like they are falling and crashing to the ground.  They feel let down by society.  The images in Daracq’s work are staged and not manipulated in Photoshop, which makes them really powerful social messages.

 

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Figure 5: Sutherst. 2017

Figure 6 shows another video display.  This time, Gillian Wearing’s ‘Dancing in Peckham’ was quite uncomfortable for me to view.  It made me, as the viewer, experience discomfort watching her dance in public.  It was obvious to me that Wearing is intensely self-conscious and shy in the video, yet she keeps dancing. The work is powerful in the emotions it made me experience. (Video 4 below shows the exhibit)

 

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Figure 6: Sutherst. 2017

Video 5: Wearing. Dancing in Peckham. 2014

 

Figure 7 shows yet more uncomfortable viewing.  Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s ‘Dance Party in Iraq’ appeared quite sinister in nature.  The video installations show videos that the artists have collected and found from many sources of American marines dancing on the battlefield, in Iraq or Afghanistan. These are not the images we are normally presented with from war zones. We see joy and other emotions that we don’t associate with war.

To me, I saw the colonial impact of an American empire that was almost taunting the nations they are in with ‘we have your land, now you can have our culture’.  There was no music to accompany the video clips.  This removed any kind of logic from the dancing and made me concentrate on the act of the dance.  I think this lack of music really emphasised to me the sinister undertones in the installation.

 

Figure 7: Sutherst. 2017

There was other work on display in the exhibition, which visually challenged and stimulated everyone who attended the tour.

Today, we are obsessed with controlling all aspects of our lives.  we have become much more remote from each other than in previous times.  Dance allows us to be free with our own bodies and to move freely and without restraint with the bodies of others.  We let others into our personal space, something we as a society have been pulling away from in recent times.  The experience is universal.  No language is needed.

 

VIDEO SOURCES

Video 2: MAF. 2017. Vimeo [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/119052203 [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 3: Untitled 13. 2017. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMPLhc3IB0Y [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 4: 👸🏾🍍. 2017. Vimeo [online]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/132568669 [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 5: GILLIAN WEARING – Dancing in Peckham. 2017. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQqZj7DhRzQ [accessed 28 May 2017].

Contextual Research, Surfaces and Strategies

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – Divisive Moments and Lookout

Divisive Moments and Lookout – Ethnographic Museum, Krakow – 27th May 2017

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Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

A collection of American UFO photographs forms the Divisive Moments exhibition.

The Divisive Moments exhibition was a project curated for Krakow Photomonth 2017 by Gordon MacDonald.  The images and accompanying documents were collected from the rich UFO Photo Archives.  The exhibition was previously displayed in the Photographer’s Gallery in London in February 2017.

This exhibition showcases images from the moon landings to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Photography is often used to provide ‘proof’ of things.  Throughout its history, photography has been used as ‘evidence’ to support conspiracy theories and the existence of extra-terrestrial beings and UFOs.

The Ethnographic Museum is housed in several buildings in Krakow, the Ethnographic Museum. The chosen building provided an interesting venue steeped in historical features which contrasted against the images.  Alongside the photographs, the display included research documents, films, and books.

Figures 2-4: Sutherst.2017

The display was challenging to the viewer and prompts consideration about what they believe.  Are we visited by alien beings travelling the universe in strange looking craft? Or, have we been tricked by people who feel the need to make often complicated fiction about the existence of UFOs.  These decisions are often life-changing and the creator believes the stories to be true.  Are they delusional? Or, are we actually being visited by other beings? I, like many others, am still unconvinced.  I believe that the conflict of beliefs and disagreement over the existence of aliens is the reasoning behind the name of the exhibition – Divisive Moments.

Some of the photographs in the exhibition were familiar to me, whilst others appeared quite odd and unusual. Some images looked manipulated as the UFOs portrayed in them look awfully like the top of lamp posts etc. In other photographs, it is hard to determine if the UFO shown is real or not.

Figures 5-8: Sutherst. 2017

But do these photographs prove or disprove the theories? The nature of photography and the ability we have to manipulate and stage images or take photographs to merely document and record what we see means that neither side can prove their case through the process or analysis of photographs. The photographs could be fact or fiction dependent on the intent of the photographer.

 

“The intervention of a machine gives photography the illusion of unbiased observation”

– Gordon MacDonald

(Sooke 2017)

 

We know that the saying the photograph never lies is not true.  Whilst researching ufology in preparation for the exhibition, curator MacDonald noticed a trend: “Flying saucers tend to get spotted by white males in remote areas – the Swiss Alps, deserts in Nevada, rural Argentina, Mexico – rather than by masses in urban areas. There’s never been a claim that a spaceship was spotted by 10,000 people on Oxford Street, for instance – though perhaps there will be during our show.” (Sooke 2017). MacDonald has communicated that well within the exhibit.

 

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Figure 9: Sutherst. 2017

The second part of this exhibition was the collection of Polish UFO photographs forming the Lookout exhibit. Set in the basement of the venue, the small prints on the white walls draw you in and make the experience quite intimate.  The basement gave an almost secretive feel to the work. This exhibition was curated by Gordon MacDonald and Joanna Gorlach.

 

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Figure 10: Sutherst. 2017

The exhibition material was taken from the archives of the ‘UFO-Video’ Warsaw UFO Research Society. The society has researched a wide range of paranormal topics and delivered talks and reports about unexplained phenomena.

 

Figures 11-20: Sutherst. 2017

The reports, documents, and photographs in the exhibition were produced during the era of communist rule in Poland.  It appeared to me when looking at the photographs that the notion of UFOs holds more interest to Polish people than to British people and I found this quite strange given the nature of communism.  The Polish interest in UFOs appears to have begun in 1978. 71-year old Jan Wolski was reportedly abducted by aliens from the small farming community of Emilcin in eastern Poland on May 10, 1978. This was the first UFO abduction ever reported in Poland. (Source: Huneeus 2017). Wolski’s case was a useful benchmark that was used to study reports of an abduction.  The case had very little, if any, media exposure that is normally associated with contemporary American abductions. After the encounter, Poland became the first communist country to develop UFO research which was both legal and independent of the state. The Polish ‘UFO-Video’ archive demonstrates how open and consistent this research was.

The staging of both of these exhibitions was cleverly constructed. The mix of images and other media drew me as a viewer into the content. Housing each part of the exhibition on different floors in such a historical building really emphasized how the research had developed in 2 separate parts of the world. The exhibits complement each other and reveal the true fascination we as a species have with the thought that we are not alone in the universe. Whilst I remain unconvinced about the existence of UFOs and aliens, I was fascinated how photography had been used as a key part of the evidence to ‘prove’ both sides of the argument.

 

 

REFERENCES

HUNEEUS, ANTONIO. 2017. “Poland’s first abduction case is monumental | Openminds.tv”. Openminds.tv [online]. Available at: http://www.openminds.tv/polands-first-abduction-case-is-monumental/1619 [accessed 28 May 2017].

SOOKE, ALASTAIR. 2017. “The strange photographs used to ‘prove’ conspiracy theories”. Bbc.com [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170216-five-photographs-used-to-prove-conspiracy-theories [accessed 28 May 2017].