Wednesday, June 23, 2010

3. EXPOSED@Tate Modern - my first visit - 2'nd June 2010

I can't help thinking that the title of this exhibition is a little cryptic.

Exposed here, is not referring to that basic element of photography, the act of making an exposure, rather it refers to emotions generated when something private is exposed to the public. The exhibition has little to do with exposing light to a particular form of media rather it is the content of the image that is being exposed. This exhibition explores whether invasiveness is inherent to the medium of photography.

The main photograph used to advertise the exhibition is of Greta Garbo with an outstretched hand, apparently trying to stop someone photographing her. This is an older Greta Garbo who is wearing a face far removed from the glamorous image she is known for. Perhaps it is the hand of someone else.

The photograph of the Queen with her dogs is one image that stands out largely because it is of the Queen though one might not realise that initially. It is the liveried corgi attendant who gives the game away and makes what might have been an ordinary situation, an extraordinary one. Although apparently taken surrepticously, the photographer had been presumably granted some access to get this close.

Another photograph that interested me was by Andreas Magdanz largely because it bears some resemblance to my own "surveillance" photographs which are mostly of surveillance cameras in their environments.

One room of the exhibition is devoted to a 3/4 of an hour slideshow of several hundred images from Nan Goldin's "Ballad of Sexual Dependancy" which is also a photobook; the book is considered to be one of the best from the last quarter century. Watching it through left me feeling nauseous since many of the images portray unnatural scenes.

I wonder what takes me to see an exhibition that leaves me feeling slightly depressed rather than happy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

photography on Radio 4

Although Radio 4 is not a visual medium, there is quite a bit of intelligent coverage of photography.

A previous blog was about Radio 4's coverage of the new Tate photographic exhibition, Exposed, while I write this I am listening to the Food programme which is running its' second programme on food photography. An interesting insight with one exasperated professional photographer saying how hard it is to make a living now that there are so many amateurs out there, thanks to the accessibility of digital photography. While he bemoaned the loss of general quality in photographic imagery, he also applauded the fact the medium can now be used by so many people.

Photography is about the eye of the photographer rather than the equipment he or she chooses to use. There are some very gifted amateurs around though. This is evident in the large number of food blogs that people are creating.

On thursday, I listened to the obituary programme to hear an interesting account of John Hedgecoe whose books I have read; in fact, an old book of his on portrait photography helped with this module since his remarks although addressed to analogue photography are still relevant. He was the first professor of photography in the UK and took the photograph of the queen that appears as an outline on all the UK stamps and hence is arguably one of the most widely printed photographs with about 25 billion estimated copies. Royal Mail tried to deny Hedgecoe had anything to do with the image which forced him into the courts to make a legal action which he won.

In the evening, David Bailey was talking. Whatever one might think of Bailey as a person, one can not help but appreciate the fact that while doing his military service, he had a Picasso as a pinup while all the other soldiers went for "page 3" photos; ironic perhaps, that Bailey went into photography rather than art! This decision was largely influenced by a Henri-Cartier Bresson photograph.

Another interesting programme that related directly to this People and Place module, was Law in Action, where the question of photographing buildings from a public space came under scrutiny. Usually, photographers are approached by security guards and threatened by the police if they do not stop engaging in an activity that is "welcomed" according to the law. Police have no powers unless they consider the photographer actually does present some kind of real danger as a terrorist in which case the officer is permitted to view the film/photographs. If the officer feels that the images do pose some kind of threat then the photographer can be taken to the nearest police station for further questioning. In fact, the photographer does not need permission to photograph from a public space anymore than the building needs permission to photograph using CCTV cameras.

People hide behind database protection legislation. No law to stop photographer photographing building from street but there can be extenuating circumstances e.g an abortion clinic where people are entering and leaving. Not an offence to take photographs in the street!

What about if people want to photograph one and keep those images on file? It seems they do not really have the right to do this unless they have reasonable grounds for doing so.

Exposed, the Tate Gallery exhibition, was also considered. There are extant surveillance photographs that were taken almost 100 years ago of the women's suffragette movement.

Questions of privacy likely to be a developing issue!

Friday, June 4, 2010

link to a talk by Martin Parr

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Assignment 1 : follow up photo

After completing assignment 1 and getting feedback, I realised I had not quite accomplished what I had wanted and the tutor had suggested; a photo of the subject being herself rather than projecting an image. Hence, I arranged another shoot, this time of the model Katy, at the computer wearing tights with a ballet dress ...

First there was the technical side to set up. While the position of the model was quite straightforward, the lighting was not; I wanted to photograph the interior with the view through the window likewise perfectly exposed. This was not easy to arrange as the lighting differences between interior and exterior, the dynamic range, was too much for the camera to handle. Flash was used and by the end, two flashes were bounced off the ceiling to give more light. It was found that a smaller aperture (f11 or less) was required to block too much window light as the shutter speed was more or less fixed at 1/200'th of a second.

Direct artificial light on the subject's face would have resulted in shadow though increasing the illumination of the monitor might have helped here. Colour temperature within the photograph was determined at the start using the White Balance feature that involves photographing a white card.

Apart from the technical challenge of photographing the subject by a window on a bright summer's day, the real purpose of this session was to produce a likeness of the subject that did reveal something of her beyond the image she has learnt to project. Of course, this is not unique to the subject, we all have personalities that we project onto the world and to find the face we had before we were born, is effectively impossible. However, I do feel that the images I made of Katy during this session were more "honest" than those made before. The image below is a franker example ...

Unfortunately, the lighting here casts shadows although this could be photoshopped out.

I do not see myself continuing to photograph Katy as she and her family are likely to move away soon so that Katy can attend acting school where she has won a place. Sessions were not easy to arrange and on this occasion it took a long time to get her to wear the clothes I wanted; her apparent reluctance might have been the result of my trying to produce images which show her as she is rather than what she seeks to become.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2. Exposed @ Tate Modern review in the Guardian by Adrian Searle

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, which opens at Tate Modern tomorrow, is full of sneaky images and surreptitious views, hidden cameras and nefarious goings-on. The show takes us from the American civil war to the burning oil fields of the first Gulf war, from an 1860s execution in China to the view from the witness room of the death chamber in a modern Mississippi penitentiary. There's plenty that is ghastly and ghoulish, much that is seamy, and much that is innocuous but invasive – like Harry Callahan's sneaky views of women lost in thought, and Yale Joel's 1946 shots through a two-way mirror in a Broadway movie theatre lobby. Artist Bruce Nauman maps his studio in a video shot with a night lens. Nan Goldin makes a slideshow of her life and loves. The Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki photographed people having sex, and watching others have sex (and sometimes joining in), in a public park at night. The only ones not looking are the couples themselves.
We spy a KGB agent rummaging through files, and approaching a secret meeting place in the Westchester woods. The paparazzi snap Liz Taylor and Richard Burton snogging as they sunbathe. I stopped dead at Merry Alpern's great series of views through dirty windows, of the goings-on in a brothel, seen, Rear Window-style, from the photographer's own building; figures lurch at the window, clothes undone, these bits of bodies and partial faces are all the more tantalising for being such fragmentary views. There's sex and strangeness here, exhibitionists and narcissists - like the French transvestite artist Pierre Molinier, who referred to himself as a male lesbian, and whose onanistic antics in his home-made get-up were often photographed by his daughter. There are also electrocutions and suicides, lynchings and murders and the results of death-squad assassinations.
This, you might say, is not for the squeamish, but many of these photographs have already appeared in weekend supplements and high-circulation magazines.Our appetite for such images appears to be boundless. And the show is full of witnesses and rubberneckers. As Kim Novak takes her seat in the railroad dining car, all the guys in the carriage turn to watch, and we watch them watching her. Greta Garbo avoids the camera, but a dead man on an Italian garage ramp, hit in the back, no longer cares. People are seen through two-way mirrors, captured by buttonhole cameras and cameras that see in the dark. There's a whole vitrine of walking stick cameras, watch-fob cameras, cameras with hidden, second lenses that point in a different direction to the one you think they do. People look at themselves, and we look at them. We are always looking over the photographer's shoulder. Gotcha.
Exposed is a rough ride – by turns entertaining, horrifying, morbid and compulsive. There are key missing images, the most obvious being the infamous shots taken at Abu Ghraib. I kept thinking there's an even better show to be made here – and one with a less obvious American bias. French artist Christian Boltanski is about to record his every move, day and night, on camera, a live feed going to a collector's bunker, until the artist's death – a work that does not appear in the show, and which should.
Instead of this, though, the show ends with a film of a CCTV camera turning on a wall, by Thomas Demand. We look up at it; it looks blindly down at us. It is worth remembering that in Tate Modern there are cameras everywhere; weep in front of a Rothko, and someone in a back room will be watching. In the age of Facebook, YouTube and reality TV, many people don't seem to care how much of themselves they expose. And in the end, maybe we all like looking.