Informing Contexts – Assessment period task
When I started this MA I, at the time, thought I knew who I was as photographer and where I sat in the world of photography. I was making an income as a wedding and portrait photographer. Clients were happy, and to some degree so was I. I was making some nice images, always creative in the studio, be it newborns in buckets or period costume. I am self taught and used the web to teach me using people like Phlearn to pin point and help if I needed to know how to for example remove a background. I have always been drawn to the Dutch Masters era; the incredible paintings you see in museums and stately homes were where I was always inspired from. My initial task was to see if I could re create that, using modern techniques, in camera and with postproduction techniques I have learnt along the way and using colours, styles and textures to age digital images. So Caravaggio and Rembrandt figured heavily as those where in great supply and where I kept getting drawn. I always have been and probably always will be attracted to the notion of nostalgic photography. Its one of the main reasons I picked up a camera in the first place. I wanted to record all those precious moments on film as there are none of me growing up whilst in care. This is a limited market though and I was struggling to find an audience for historical nostalgic photography. Even though trips to Wild West shows, people love to dress up, is isn’t really something that people put up on a wall, or would want to go visit a gallery for. My interests in photography have a greater reach; I love talking portraits of animals and places I visit although I haven’t really ventured much into landscape. I dabbled with macro in the summer but time has pretty much been taken up with producing work for the MA.
I don’t want to re cover what I have liked, disliked or why I linked to my current work as I have done this in my CRJ previously but just to say as the MA has progressed have looked to more modern photographers and painters to bring my work current. That doesn’t mean I have lost the desire to have a vintage or historical aesthetic as I haven’t. But I have enjoyed experimenting with mixing modern with historical in my images.
They all represent places I have been during the module or events that where happening at that time. For example a trip to London and ride up in the Eye, I added to the image. Also the red arrows anniversary 100 I added to the crystal ball.
That said the results in the previous module seem to suggest that experimentation is not favoured within each module as my scores where higher without. It feels like you need to choose what you want to do then stick to that and not make adjustments within a module but wait until the next module starts.
Informing contexts I hope will enable me to experiment further to help find my place in the current contemporary market. My aim at all times is to engage the viewer in a beauty or history, but without the use of authentic props it is hard to do. I want the images to tell a story and have been working on the through these modules.
The last module I focused on child mental health. As a foster carer I have had a pretty rough year with many issues to deal with and wanted to get that into an image. As the module progressed and feedback received I changed styles at times, bringing it right up to date with social media. But I do still love the entry of vintage styles and historical events, for example racism modern day, and the Klu Klux clan still there in the background.
I have struggled at times to find work that I would say is similar to mine, well none that have made a real success of it in terms of exhibitions or reasons why they do things, they just, like myself create “one offs” Like Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk. She creates scenes that I would like to create given the costumes availability. But having spoken to providers, I would be looking at a cost of £1000 per image with for example ten people in it. I do not have suppliers near me willing to donate for exchange of prints as yet. Who knows when I am famous I may get these offers to enable me to create Caravaggio scenes. Until then I shall come up with ideas for body of work and create to that. One other restriction I have is time. By the time I start a module I already have sought my models. They come from all over the country, and the reason I use advertised models is because parents are happy to have some nice photos in exchange for then collaboration and sourcing correct costumes. It is saving me a fortune. I sadly do not have the time to create scenes, within a twelve week period, so I am hoping that my FMP will give me the time to do that. I can’t start planning that yet though as I don’t know where my practice is going to develop into yet.
Whilst shooting the previous module I was inspired by teenage behavior to have the kids in control. My current plan is to focus on children who have led or been significant throughout history. I again will mix past with present so I am not just copying other painter’s work. Because I create my scenes, they are what I see in my head and they change again with postproduction. I would see myself as a Fine Art photographer. Purely because my images are not what come straight out of a camera, they are created from ideas to finished article. What I have found is that taking a photograph of a person as a portrait not doing anything is about them and a picture taken of something happening is about a moment in time, and it is those moments that we treasure when we look at family photographs and what so many of the famous paintings are of. They are of moments in time, which someone wanted to capture for whatever reason at that period of time. It is hard to constantly create a body of work that is not just re-photography of someone else’s work.
Being self-taught and creative, I am constantly learning. As my craft changes I meet new hurdles I need to unpick, or to make my workflow quicker. I make my own textures and tones for my images and create actions for simple things like curves etc so that a body of work has the same aesthetic.
Recently the value in what I do has decreased as the uncertainty of where I am developing grows, as the images are about creating and not capturing a moment in time. I aim to consolidate my practice through this next module and develop more consistency in my new style. I am creating a moment that I want to reflect a current issue with a historic twist with a fun element and a look that makes you question its validity. I do however very often shoot from hip and have recognized I am easily distracted. If on a brief, I have learnt that I would need to stay to plan and focus on the project at hand, I am enjoying the fact I can have creative control and go where my imagination takes me. Is it wrong that I can’t explain a meaning behind an image and I just liked it? I have no intentions of working as a full time photographer. I believe the location of my studio in rural Lincolnshire doesn’t help me have success locally. So unless I achieve fame some how I can’t see people wanting to travel to me either. So I have resigned myself to learning about the art, improving my own skills, and shooting for me. It is very refreshing too. The previous module was aimed at students wishing to go forth and make a career in photography and who would be happy to carry bags for someone else and earn minimum wage so at times it was hard to engage and enjoy. It at times was a case of going through the motions, as the work didn’t really fit where I am or where I intend to be.
I have looked into reasons why I invite oil paintings so much into my current practice and it always comes back to nostalgia. In John Berger “ ways of seeing” he talks about publicity and how modern images very often link back to old paintings.
“Publicity is, in essence, nostalgic. It has to sell the past to the future. It cannot itself supply the standards of its own claims. And so all its references to quality are bound to be retrospective and traditional. It would lack both confidence and credibility if it used a strictly contemporary language.”
The old paintings often depicting what was good in life at that time or what a person desired. Where as current publicity is designed to make you unhappy with what you have and to desire more.
The paintings that inspired me told stories of what was happening in that moment and it was what I wanted to replicate in my photography but as time has gone on I need to try and add my own story even more. But reading John bergers book made me realise my current thoughts on producing art are retrospective but hold no credibility in the current contemporary market something I need to change.
Until I started the MA I didn’t really have any idea who Cecil Beaton was. Well, I had heard the name but never really knew how well known he was and what for. But a fellow student suggested his name and before I knew it I almost felt like I was looking at someone like myself. In the film Cecil Love, he mentions that he preserves the fleeting moment while others want the labyrinth of the chase. I see that as a difference between editorial photographers and portrait photographers.
He started by taking photographs of his own family like I did. And then moved on to advertising and portraiture. His then creative side could come out after he had become well enough known to be given the trust in budgets to create sets for his imagination. He is well known for his nostalgic view on things but it didn’t matter what genre he was working on, it was always recognized that it was his work. In the film My Fair Lady he was highly involved in the costume set for that and it is very obvious he was nostalgic towards the Edwardian look, but like my current work, he added a modern twist to the costumes and saw it all as a way of escapism, also like my self. My photography has been not only escapism from my pretty stressful work fostering children, but cathartic from my own traumatic childhood.
David Bailey said “ He invented the Edwardian and gave it a different look.” I haven’t actually messed about with costumes that much but seeing what he did to my fair lady costumes has inspired me to be a little more adventurous.
Like myself Cecil was self-taught, rubbish technically but like myself he taught himself what techniques he needed to know at that time.
He staged himself, with his love of dressing up. Until recently I had never taken a dlsr selfie. But seeing some work recently where the photographer features in the work somewhere, I quite like the idea of having a cameo in the image itself. I like the way he isn’t afraid to turn things on their head, away from where they are meant to be. Something else I will be carrying into my next project.
To quote Cecil “Beauty is where you see it” he even saw beauty in the war years with his documentary photography and is probably why he did so well as they were different to what every one else was producing at that time, and some of the soldiers were actually erotic images, probably due to his sexuality and desires he was feeling at that time. However with the development of dlsr cameras and IPhones, everyone is a photographer and with apps now they can be creative ones too.
Its not the world as he saw it, it’s the world as he wanted it to be. Like myself as I get older I continue to experiment and develop myself and like myself he felt the older he got the harder he had to work. I’m unsure why specifically but I would suggest it was because of the amount of up and coming photographers competing for work.
Cecil said in his diaries
“What if one doesn’t want to specialise?
Be anything that will insert integrity of purpose on imaginative vision against the play it safers, the slaves of the ordinary.
What if one is a dreamer?’
Probably one of the worlds most famous photographers of children, sadly I can never seem to find much positive to say.
I read Sally Mann book immediate family, well, I attempted to read it on the Eurostar and quickly put it away when images of children naked were on show. I felt very uncomfortable and had to put the book away. Maybe I feel I reacted that way because I have seen first hand the damage that sexual exploitation does to children; I felt that her kids were unknowing victims at that time. My own kids would run around naked, and so they should be able to, but at some stage we have to say, only in our four walls and not for public display. For example there is an image called Popsicle drips, her sons penis, and the remains of a melted ice pop. No face in the image is what I find disturbing, as that image is I would deem pornographic in taste. Secondly because I know how the public view naked kids these days.
In the book she talks about a photo of herself as a baby that she was naked and how it affected her so much as a teenager she flushed it down the loo. Although as an adult she may have regretted that choice. The damage was done. But she still went on to take images of her kids that I interpreted at times to be sexualised; especially as she refers to them as modelling naked it must have been a considered action and not an every day photo of the child naked playing etc. I take photos of my children and grandkids at times naked, being free children. But the thought of my kids being pleasure for some paedofile, because let's face it that will happen, and that causes me mental stress. The final image "The last time Emmett modelled nude" is an obvious photograph of an unwilling model.
The conflict within me is huge as I actually do love some of her work.
Some viewers might argue that her work is scattered with sexual connotations, nudity was clearly an accepted and natural part of Mann’s home that the child is naked makes some viewers uncomfortable and challenges their thoughts on what is acceptable. Few artists who challenge the standard ideals of childhood are as deliberately provocative as Mann. One way of looking at it is that Mann’s photographs are a simple record of moments in her children’s’ lives. Children playing, eating, wounded and sleeping. They are recognisable and intimate moments that almost all mothers experience. Mann claims that ‘many of these pictures are intimate, some fictions and some fantastic, but most are ordinary things that every mother has seen’
However, another way of looking at it is that the taking of such intimate photographs is complicated and not very clear as evidenced by the withdrawal of certain photographs from public display due to their perceived pornographic element. Susan Sontag states in the book On Photography‘ to photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time. This indicates that Sontag believes that photographs can be intrusive and that once an image is captured on film it exists in its own right. And unlike back in those days, film could be destroyed but with the digital era Images when on the web are there forever.
To take a photograph, Sontag writes, ‘is to appropriate the thing photographed’ The appropriation, the stealing without touching, the having a semblance of knowledge, Sontag likens to perversion. It can be seen from this that Sontag believes that everything can be photographed as long as the end result is interesting, nothing else really matters. My opinion is that Sally Mann falls victim to this concept, seeing her children as purely artistic objects, encouraging them to pose in such a way as she thinks of the composition and make an interesting photograph. This preference for creating aesthetically pleasing, posed, images rather than capturing the natural reality of childhood is one of the main criticisms of her work. The image of Shiva at Whistle Creek is a more natural depiction of Jessie playing in the water compared to the very posed image of Virginia at aged six, holding her body in a pose for the sole purpose of creating an interesting picture. According to Sontag therefore Mann has taken possession of her children’s’ bodies to make them her own through the art of photography.
In September 1992, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story by arts critic Richard B. Woodward entitled “The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann.” The piece wasn’t overtly critical, but honed in on the children’s sexuality and raised ideas about child abuse and incest that seemed deliberately designed to spark controversy. Mann later complained that Woodward had taken her words out of context.
The children have become objects of art possessed by Sally Mann, which many would argue is distasteful. Sally Mann is clearly a very influential, controversial photographer. She has the ability to take sensitive at times but also provocative images. Some of her photographs in ‘Immediate Family’ portray loving images of her children. However there is also a disturbing element to some of her other photographs, for example Popsicle Drops or Dog Scratches, which can be viewed as sexualised images. To counter this it is necessary to appreciate the context in which the photographs were taken, a mother photographing her children. However it can be argued that Mann should be more sensitive in choosing the material, which she makes available in the public domain.
The artistic techniques employed by Sally Mann are exceptionally effective. She succeeds in drawing the viewer to the focal part of the image through the use of composition, light and contrast. Whilst her subject matter can be controversial she produces stunning images. Interestingly her children have grown up wondering what all the fuss was about.
Shiva at Whistle Creek, depicts Jessie crouching in water. She was clutching her knees and what seems to be a praying position with the hands pointing towards the water. Avoiding contact with the camera, maybe looking at the water, a stunning image.
In comparison Dog scratches, lying on a bed in a provocative pose. Arms and legs seem posed, the light captured on the whole of her body gives a very different feeling to the viewer.
Danielle Van Saddlehoff
I came across Danielle at the Paris Photo. Some of her images made me stop instead of the constant walking and not seeing that I was doing. I found a similarity to my own work, in that the Golden age masters inspire her and that shows in her portraits
“What I like about the paintings from that period is the technique used – the ‘camera obscure’ – the dark background, the things you do not get to see as an onlooker and playing with the light. But what I do find very interesting are the themes that give me plenty of room to “speak” of the universal emotions, dilemmas that people experience. And what is beautiful about emotions – they do not change over the time, through the centuries. For example, from looking at my work “Story Of Lucretia” you can easily figure out that it was inspired by Rembrandt’s painting.”
“I am interested in capturing the emotions, the feelings. What I find most important in my work as a Fine Art Photographer , but also in the work of other artists, is the ability to be honest and authentic, make the onlooker believe in your story. Actually, the work of photographer could be compared to de work of actor. If you’re looking at a good theater performance, you don’t actually try to figure out the acting techniques. You just allow the actors to engage you as a viewer and make you part of the story. This way you no longer think you’re sitting in theater. In fact good actors can convince you that what happens in front of your eyes is real. The same applies to the photographers. Unfortunately – ninety percent of the images that I see – do not make me believe. I look at it and think to myself- the light is great, the model is great- but I still don’t believe a thing the artist tried to “transfer”. All I see is a posed, artificial scene.”
This gave me huge food for thought in my last module. The last thing I want is a posed artificial scene, but the trick is going to be learning how to set a scene, mixing old with new and not have it look fake.
One of the main differences we have is that she doesn’t like her models to wear makeup and doesn’t use photoshop as she wants things to look natural. The downside to that, with the modern digital age, some of her images look a little washed out and not like the stunning colours in old masters paintings. I attempted this in some images in my last module, and the images felt naked. They spoke but I didn’t feel as much as images that were photo shopped to say what I wanted.
All images can be seen in the CRJ post
BEATON, C., & HOLBORN, M. (2015). Cecil Beaton: photographs.
BEATON, C., & VICKERS, H. (2017). Cecil Beaton: portraits and profiles. [London], Quarto Publishing.
MANN, S. (1992). Sally mann: immediate family. [Place of publication not identified], Aperture.
SONTAG, S. (2014). On Photography.
accessed 18 November 2018https://www.sallymann.com/new-page/ accessed 16 November 2018
SMLhttps://archive.org/stream/PHOTSusanSontagOnPhotography/PHOT%20Susan%20Sontag%20On%20Photography_djvu.txt accessed 28 Nov 2018
accessed 16 November 2018