The intent of my current work is to explore the act of performance in front of a camera. Not everyone likes having their picture taken, including me and this interests me. I enjoy photographing people on their terms as well as mine. Often they will choose what they wear or will be collaborative in the process of styling the shoot.
I control the lighting, the props, and the shooting position. The subject controls how they act in front of the camera. Some know how to pose, some choose to take on a part and act their way through a session. The resulting photographs tend to reveal something about the subject that they did not expect. There is often a mismatch between how someone thinks they look in front of a camera and how they actually do. The camera not only objectifies the subject but makes them worthy of being looked at, even when the subject feels they are not photogenic.
“I’m not trying to make it all about their fantasy, although it might begin there. I’ve noticed that I tend to feminise a lot of men – they’re usually reclining or photographed from above – although I don’t know how conscious that is.”
– Katy Grannan (Denes, 2005)
Although my process is collaborative in the main, there is always an underlying narrative that I have planned for a shot. Like Katy Grannan, my work is about creating a fantasy – both mine and the subject’s
My strategies for achieving this are humour, lots of coffee, cakes and often extreme props or styling. I like things that do not go together (or haven’t done before anyway). Both myself and the subject enjoy the success of the shoots. It is really great to see someone who thought they weren’t photogenic genuinely smile at a photograph of themselves. Maybe that is my intent.
Denes, M. (2005). Interview: Melissa Denes meets photographer Katy Grannan. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/nov/05/photography [Accessed 02 April 2017].
I look at the world in a theatrical way. I see ordinary things as a performance. I understand the world this way too. When I view photographs, this does affect how I understand and interpret the image in front of me. I look for the back story in the image and don’t always draw the obvious conclusion about the intended meaning.
In my practice, the female gaze is dominant. I am interested in the portrait as both a mirror and a masquerade. The imaginary and the mirror. My subjects include anyone whether or not they conform to accepted notions of female beauty standards in terms of age, size etc.
All Photographs above: Sutherst 2016 and 2017
My subjects go through a metamorphism in front of the camera. They wear a mask and through the mirror of my lens, see themselves in a different way. Very much like Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, they sometimes truly see themselves for the first time. They put on a show in front of the camera. The subject in the photograph below commented to me before the shoot that she hated having her picture taken. During the shoot, she told me that she was acting for the camera and afterward she messaged me to say that she felt empowered and full of confidence. She has finally seen herself in the mirror for who she is. But is the image a masquerade? Is she wearing a mask?
Doane (1982:81-82) states that “The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it at a distance. Womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed. The masquerade’s resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness, as presence-to-itself, as, precisely, imagistic. The transvestite adopts the sexuality of the other – the woman becomes a man in order to attain the necessary distance from the image. Masquerade, on the other hand, involves a realignment of femininity, the recovery, or more accurately, simulation, of the missing gap or distance. To masquerade is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and one’s image.”
I create a connection with my subjects that feels intimate and makes them feel comfortable and confident when the camera is pointed at them. There is a distinct collaboration between me and my subjects that allows me to capture the images I get. My photographs are very reflective of my personality and imagination and I obtain a closeness to my subjects. This is in stark contrast to the gaze of a voyeur. Angier (2015:79) commented:”…The basic condition of the voyeuristic scenario is distance, an essential separation between the seer and seen…”
And to use Barthes (2000:10-11) words, perhaps we all masquerade in front of the lens: “But very often (too often, to my taste) I have been photographed and knew it. Now, once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of “posing”. I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image. This transformation is an active one: I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice (…).”
Angier, R. (2015). Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography (Required Reading Range). 2 Edition. Fairchild Books.
Barthes, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. Edition. Vintage
Doane, M. (1982). Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator. Screen, 23(3-4), pp.74-88.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
– Henry David Thoreau
A picture is worth a thousand words — but which words should we use to describe what we see? We are aware that photographs are a powerful medium and can communicate information to the viewer. But they can also misinform. This is especially true if we’re not careful how we read a photograph or if the photograph is placed in a viewing context that disrupts and alters the intended interpretation. A photographer makes decisions about a photograph when creating it. In the same way, the viewer makes decisions about how to read a photograph. In addition, a viewer has to also interpret the context in which the photograph is viewed. They will then make links to their own knowledge and experiences to determine an interpretation of the image before them.
Every photograph is situated in a context in which it will be interpreted (intentionally or unintentionally). Museums and art galleries attract a particular type of person. Not everyone will go to visit a gallery to look at photographs. In a gallery, the photograph is usually viewed along with the addition of text. It is easy to alter the meaning of the photograph with the text that accompanies it. We are also forced to interpret the image alongside the aesthetics in which it is presented. The aesthetic of the gallery and associated labeling can both facilitate and hinder the viewer’s interpretation of the image. In the gallery context, the viewer is more likely to be someone who likes artworks. Photographs appear more interesting when placed in a frame on the wall and we are more likely to spend more time viewing and studying the image than we would if we saw it on the internet.
Photobooks offer a different context for us to consider. They represent a more intimate space in which to view and interpret the intent of the photographer. This is in stark contrast to images presented in an online gallery, where they are subjected to a fleeting glance and potential misrepresentation / misinterpretation from many different viewers.
So, where to present my work? I have been giving a lot of thought to this over the last couple of weeks of the module. My work in progress images are bright and playful and the viewing context needs to represent that. A gallery exhibition sounds like a dream, however, I am concerned that the forced aesthetic will impact on the reception and interpretation of the work. The demographics of viewers will be limited. I want my work to be seen by many, not just a few.
I am considering the possibility of a billboard type display, out in the open for all to see. This resolves the issue of a limited demographic spread of viewers and will allow me to remain playful with my images. This context would enable me to add some clarity to the communication in terms of my intent and concept. This could be enhanced through the use of text to support the image. The text would not need to be a label but could be part of the image, much like the text in an advert.
I am also considering the publication of my images in a magazine. This would add to the fashion feel of some of my constructed work. Again the audience will be limited to the readership of the work but would allow the intended interpretation to be clear. I would be able to be specific with text to help ensure this. I am currently developing and nurturing contacts in this area.
Large installations and structures displaying my work are also under consideration. A member of my cohort suggested a suspended cube containing images might be a possibility. This would add drama and uniqueness to my diverse portfolio. I am currently exploring this theme further.
Whatever way forward I choose, I am aware that a good photograph is a good photograph. However, presenting my work in the wrong context or inappropriate form could lead to misinterpretation of the work and will end up being a huge disappointment to me.
“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
Since its evolution, photography has been making an impact on the world. It has changed our perception of the world. We better understand what the world looks like outside of our own borders. We are exposed to a wider view of the world than before the medium was developed.
In 1976, Stanley J. Forman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a haunting image of a woman and child falling after a fire escape collapsed caused controversy and debate after the Boston Herald published it. The newspaper was criticised for publishing such a horrific picture. However, the photograph prompted many to check their fire escapes and a law was passed that ensured that the building owners were responsible for the maintenance of fire escapes. Thousands of other lives have probably been saved because of this image and the changes it brought about.
Since then we have been exposed to many similar images. Have any had the same impact that this image did? Are we now immune to effect these images have on us? These images have raised awareness and informed us of disasters and the loss of human life, but they have not changed things.
Today we live in a visual world. Often we need to see things to believe them. It is the age of viral news media and a great many images are viewed around the world via the internet and especially. People are more likely moved by photographs than by reading news stories.
We can view these images and feel empathy or horror at what we see, but the images we view today do not really bring about change. I believe that people are now just too desensitised to shocking images. What seems to be a powerful image has lost the ability to shock, motivate, or inspire us. We are informed by the images and they highlight issues to us. When we view images of disasters and suffering around the world, we might contribute to collections for the charities, but then go on with our own lives. These images appear so many times, that we become immune to their impact.
What photography might change is our perception of a situation. Will it change the situation and stop it happening? As much as I would like it to, I don’t think so.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the ‘JHERONIMUS BOSCH AND VENICE’ exhibition at the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
Walking up the grand staircase of the Doge’s Palace, I was struck by the beauty of the venue for this exhibition. The exhibition is housed in the Doge’s apartment.
The exhibition is themed around Bosch’s relationship with Venice. The display is arranged through 7 rooms in the apartment and includes work by Bosch’s followers and contemporaries.
Figures 3 and 4: Sutherst 2017
Curated by Bernard Aikema, the exhibition has been sponsored by the University of Verona and co-produced by the Civic Museums Foundation and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. The exhibition centres around 3 of Bosch’s paintings which have been recently restored.
Rooms 1 and 2 – Bosch’s works in Venice
Room 1 contains the 2 triptychs -‘The martyrdom of Saint Uncumber’ and the ‘Three hermit saints’.
The Three Hermit Saints Triptych
Figures 6, 7, 8 and 9: Sutherst 2017 – The Three Hermit Saints Triptych
The martyrdom of Saint Uncumber Triptych
Figures 10, 11, 12 and 13: Sutherst 2017 – The martyrdom of Saint Uncumber Triptych
These meticulously restored paintings appear jewel-like in the darkened room. Lit from above, I felt like I was viewing the works in a theatre where I was looking down on the scene. I feel powerful and supreme – I wonder if this was the intent of the curator? This effect is striking and all encompassing. I am sure that Bosch would have approved of this approach. His work is both astonishing to the viewer, yet baffling at the same time. The lighting and positioning of work adds to this feeling.
Room 2 contains the set of four panel paintings -‘Paradise and Hell (Visions of the Afterworld)’
This work is placed in the middle of the room on a grey plinth so that the viewer can walk around the paintings. The backs of the paintings are marble-like in appearance.
Again the room is darkened and the paintings are lit from above. The detail in the paintings is remarkable. I have included some images below.
Figures 21, 22, 23 and 24: Sutherst 2017
These 3 restored works are remarkable and worth the entry fee on their own. Unlike many viewers, I do not find the work scary or filled with horror and monsters. I could stare at the paintings for hours and still not see all the wonder and detail in them.
Room 3 – Cardinal Domenico Grimani
This room contains some of Cardinal Grimani’s collection of ancient Greek sculpture and the famous Grimani Breviary, a masterpiece of Flemish miniaturist art. Cardinal Grimani was highly educated and enjoyed many passions such as sculpture, Leonardo da Vinci’s works and art from Flanders. The 3 Bosch works are also believed to have come from his collection.
Figures 25 and 26: Sutherst 2017
Room 4 – The Grimani collection of antique sculpture
The Cardinal bequeathed his collection of artwork to the Republic of Venice. Among the sculptures on display, there are also three precious marbles which were placed in the ‘Sala delle Teste’ of the Doge’s Palace after his death in 1523.
Room 5 – Dreams and monsters in the Renaissance imagination
Marcantonio Michiel described the works of Bosch in the Grimani collection as depictions of ‘dreams’, ‘monsters’ and ‘fires’. These concepts were not new the the Venetians. There was a fascination around 1500, in Italy, with the world of dreams. This room displays paintings from around this period.
Figures 27 and 28: Sutherst 2017
Figures 29 and 30: Sutherst 2017
Figures 31 and 32: Sutherst 2017
The painting above held my gaze for some time. The use of the coloured wings and the faces of the characters I found mesmerising. A closer look at some aspects of the work are below.
Figures 33, 34 and 35: Sutherst 2017
Room 6 – Bosch’s followers and contemporaries in Venice
This exhibition also considers the large number of followers that Bosch had. I was particularly struck by how many of the works were by anonymous artists. I found this surprising, but wonder if it had anything to do with how the images were perceived at the time.
The spread of Bosch like motifs such as deformed heads, grotesque characters, unreal images and hellish landscapes are clear in the paintings in this room.
Figures 38 and 39: Sutherst 2017
Figures 40 and 41: Sutherst 2017
Again, I have considered the detail in the paintings as they are compelling and intriguing to me. What exactly was going on in the heads of the artists? They, like Bosch, have created fantastical characters without any form of technology or modern day stimuli. I wonder what kind of work they would be producing today, with all we have available to us.
Figures 43, 44, 45 and 46: Sutherst 2017
Room 7 – The apotheosis of Bosch in the seventeenth century
The interest in the horror filled grotesque paintings appears to have waned towards the end of the 16th century. There were, however, some who continued the work.
Figures 48 and 49: Sutherst 2017
Detail from the painting:-
Figures 50, 51 and 52: Sutherst 2017
The rooms of the exhibit are dark with grey walls. The paintings are lit from above which adds to the dramatic content of the work. The rooms are spacious with high ceilings and stone-like floors, through which you can feel the other visitors walking.
There are large information panels in each room. These have white text printed onto dark grey boards. At the side of each painting is a small grey plaque with white writing. It details the name of the artist, the year (or approximation) the work was produced, the name of the work (if known) and the medium on which the work was produced.
The work is centred around Bosch and his relationship with Venice. The work is stunningly presented in a simple, yet dramatically lit environment. Once inside the exhibit, I totally forgot I was in the Doge’s Palace – I could have been anywhere. There is mystery in Bosch’s work. Many interpretations exist for these exceptional works. I believe it is this uncertainty of Bosch’s intent that attracts the viewers. This was certainly true for me.
I feel privileged to have seen these works in the flesh. If you are in Venice before 4th June 2017, I would highly recommend that you visit this.
Photographs offer us a connection to the physical world. They allow us to see and investigate the world in which the photograph was taken. All photographs are posed or framed, so does that make them lies? A posed or staged photograph will always only contain what the photographer wanted you to see. Because the photographer has made choices about the framing, all photographs decontextualise the subject. We do not see what was above or below the subject. We do not see what was to the left or right of the scene and we have no idea what happened before or after the shot was taken. All we see is a split second, staged or not.
The basic idea behind constructed images is that the photographer the image in front of the camera. This construction can mean a lot of things. It could be that the whole scene has been created, including purpose-built elaborate sets to create a fictional image. It may also mean that the photographer has made slight changes to the scene in front of them.
“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.”
– Ansel Adams
Jeff Wall is a photographer whose images blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. He uses a variety of techniques to create his images. His subjects dress up in the clothes and costumes needed to recreate the scene he saw. Where appropriate he uses props, backgrounds and poses to recreate the original scene. Wall also uses Photoshop to post process his images.
“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think that perhaps it is possible to walk like Alice, through a looking-glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.”
– Tony Ray-Jones
In his interview with The Guardian with Sean O’Hagan (2015), Jeff Wall describes his photographs as ““cinematographic” re-creations of everyday moments he has witnessed but did not photograph at the time. “To not photograph,” he says, “gives a certain freedom to then re-create or reshape what I saw.” He takes months to stage and direct each of his “occurrences”.” Wall is recreating his memory and interpretation of an event. Yet many of his images look just like snapshots. Roberts (1999: 189) considered this in his book when he refers Wall’s work as ‘a conceptualised realism of the ‘everyday’’. He further remarks that Wall ‘re-establishes the pleasures of identification and visual ‘mastery’ over an event that the conventional naturalistic photograph brings.’
Gone are the days when we believed everything we saw in a photograph and photography was about showing the truth. More and more today photography is being used to create a fantasy. As a photographer, it is my job is to ensure that I not only open the eyes of the viewer to the world that surrounds us, but that I provide them with a view of how it could be.
Roberts, J. (1999). The art of interruption. 1st ed. Manchester [u.a.]: St. Martin’s Press.
The Guardian. 2015. Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’ | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show. [Accessed 04 February 2017].
This advert shows a potentially naked couple involved in a passionate embrace. The dark background makes you think that this is taking place at night adding to the sexual aspect of the image. There is an implication through the text that this is could be an adulterous relationship, a captured moment. The position of the product beneath the head of the female could indicate that she is his guilty pleasure or secret.
The man is dominant. He is making eye contact with the camera and is positioned above the female, asserting his control of the situation. The female is gazing up at him as though she wants his attention. The advert tells men that if you want to feel more attractive to women and have them swoon naked over you, use this product. The lips of both the male and female are red- the colour of seduction and passion. The title of the product and the man’s calm gaze makes me wonder what he is guilty about. His expression and the product name could have many connotations dependent on the viewer. Each person who views the image will have a different baseline on which to judge and interpret the image. Different audiences and viewers will have different interpretations of the image. this will also be true of the different interpretations realised in different cultures. The kinds of questions that could be asked of the image are:-
What is he guilty about?
Did he take advantage of her?
Is he cheating on her or with her?
The other question that springs to my mind is what are Gucci guilty of? Without the imagery they have used, I would definitely be looking for an answer to that question!
The image is selling the lifestyle of Gucci. The product exudes passion and excitement. There is an element of danger in the guilty pleasure of the product. There is a fantasy, almost dreamlike quality about the image. For men and women, this embrace and intimacy are what the use of the product means to them. The choice of golden tones and highlighting add to the sexual feeling of the image, implying quality and expense with the Gucci product. Gucci are reliant on the sex implied in the image to sell the product.
There is a lot to think about when presenting images for public consumption. This image reminds me that there will always be several meanings given to an image. I need to be mindful that I make sure that all aspects of my image are interpreted in the way I intend and that I ensure there can be no ambiguity or misconstrued message given in the signifiers and signified aspects of my images.
Figure 1: Gucci From Just Jared. 2017. Chris Evans: New Gucci Guilty Ad! | Chris Evans : Just Jared. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.justjared.com/2010/12/19/chris-evans-new-gucci-guilty-ad/. [Accessed 13 March 2017].
“The attempt to force human beings to despise themselves is what I call hell.”
― André Malraux
The fish hook piercing through the side of the mouth represents the girl being hooked on smoking. She is not in control of her addiction. She has a sad and pained expression that indicates that this is not a situation she wishes to be in. The inclusion of the text and logos adds a layer of trust that the poster has been produced by people who want to help. The advert creates a strong emotional response to the image. The effect is immediate. When I look at this image I feel anger that the girl has allowed herself to become addicted to smoking. I feel disgusted about the situation too. Then, I start to feel sorry for her. Why has no-one helped her before; how did she become so addicted? The advert is strong and powerful; not easily forgotten by the viewer, whether they smoke or not.
But is this big brother just dictating what we can and can’t do? This image can be viewed as distressing, particularly to children, due to its graphic nature. For smokers (the target viewer), the image could be seen as offensive, with the indication that they are not capable of giving up smoking on their own and that they have to rely on others to help them. The image is somewhat unrealistic. The piercing of the cheek may not be translated as being hooked on smoking by some viewers. The advert appears to target a narrow demographic on first glance – young female smokers. There were images in the series which opened up the demographic a little but would not have targeted all those it needed to. People need to relate to the images they see before them in order for the message to really hit home.
This image has the intention of confronting smokers about their habit. The NHS has used shocking and graphic images to get that message across and to try and make the advert memorable. I understand the message the advert is giving but think that the choice of imagery is too graphic for public consumption, especially when part of the message is to try to stop children smoking. The image is intended to make smokers realise the control that smoking has on their lives.
But, does making people feel bad about themselves and despising their habits, really help them to quit smoking?
“It is a good thing that women are so easily manipulated. Otherwise, most of us wouldn’t be here.”
― William Randolph Hearst
This image from a campaign by retailer Lane Bryant was intended to promote that sexy comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colour. It is ok to be beautiful and confident women regardless of your body type or ethnicity. It was created to counteract a similar looking Victoria Secret advert that used much thinner models. The Lane Bryant plus-size models are definitely not Victoria’s Secrets angels (size 0 and size 2 models). The Victoria’s Secrets advert is shown below.
The main difference between these adverts, besides the obvious model sizes, is that the models in the Lane Bryant image appear to be having fun. The image implies sexiness with the text #ImNoAngel. However, in the image itself there are no underlying sexual undertones as seen in the Victoria’s Secrets advert. Models in this advert are twirling their hair, sticking out their butts and the lingerie they are wearing is pushing up their breasts. This simply is not the case in the Lane Bryant advert, where the models look comfortable in the lingerie they are wearing. The body language between the two adverts is also distinctively different. Victoria’s Secrets models are about being sexy; Lane Bryant’s are more about having fun. I am not sure that this is the message that Lane Bryant was intending to share with us.
The Lane Bryant image could be viewed as pitting fat vs thin. The image is skewed in that it only shows a subset of women who are of a larger build, but still with all the ‘correct’ proportions. They still have mainly flat stomachs which is not true of many women. It is saying that you should not be thin! This is still not a true reflection of society. It is skinny-shaming and could be highly offensive to anyone who was unable to gain weight or was recovering from anorexia. Lane Bryant is still drawing attention to women’s size.
Culturally, women are made to feel they need to conform to images of perfection. Patriarchal cultures still pit women against each other – it keeps women obsessing about their looks. This campaign was designed to promote diversity in representation of different women. It is designed to empower ALL women to love themselves and be confident in themselves. Although the advert is a step in the right direction, I think there is still a long way to go. The message would have been more powerful if women of ALL sizes were included.
Their of this exercise was to post an image without comment or title to see how someone viewing it would interpret it.
Comments from my peers and friends on Facebook, included that the image was about “strong self-expression”. The viewers picked up correctly that there was a strong rapport between the model and myself (we have worked together on numerous occasions and have become good friends). However, there was some confusion about what the image represented. Thoughts on the subject ranged from an alien creature caged in a white room behind a sheet of glass, to a lively sprite, mythical creature, troll, fairy or elf. One suggested that the shoot was to portray a subject that was “gender neutral”. If you refer to the blog post of 27th January, you will see that the intent was to portray strong women.
The comments below and misunderstanding about the intent, are indicative of an image that is not completed; the intention was always to add to the image in the way that my inspiration for the shoot, Mutu, does. I do like that the comments are not all positive and that there is confusion. I want the viewer to study my images and really interpret them in their own way.
“I am confused – is he representing good or is there some other dark force at work.”
“It makes me feel as though something is waiting to happen.”
“She looks trapped or in hiding/dazzled in a sphere or box. I think she looks defensive not playful. The knee is covering the major organs as protection and the back is arched like a cat becomes when confronted. This could be interpreted as a warning, like animals to warn off their prey.”
“She looks at us with the same wonder we look at her. Is that malice or fear we see?”
My peers also commented that the gaze was self-confident and direct to lens.
The gaze of the subject was considered a form of communication and the pose considered odd with “a strangely semaphore quality.”
They commented that the shoot looked fun and the image made them smile. One commented that they liked that “the marks on the floor of the back drop indicate movement and perhaps the contortions that have been exercised to achieve this pose”.
Other comments were “It is most obviously a staged image – designed not to represent truth but a wondrous fantasy. Being a studio shot with careful controlled lighting it has a distinct theatricality to it and the gaze of the model invites us in to join the fun.”
The choice of a white backdrop was described as drawing the viewer in and that the subject was saying ” Focus entirely on me as there is nothing else to look at.”
In both the university forum and on Facebook, it was thought that the white paint on top of the other paint was influenced by the aboriginal Australians
Comments were made on the composition and styling. These included comments such as “well-posed example of fantasy photography’; “lovely colours and great use of space”; “very colourful and vibrant tones.”
I thank my peers, tutor, and friends on Facebook for their comments. I am sure that if this had been presented as a finished image in a set, then the meaning would have been cleared. It is really useful to hear what others see in your work. Sometimes we are too close to it that we do not see all the meanings.