William Klein [1928- ]

William Klein, 2012 (mobile phone photo)






On 28th April I attended William Klein’s lecture, made as the recipient of the Sony Outstanding Contribution to Photography  Award. Klein was being interviewed by  Simon Baker, curator of photography and international art, Tate, (ahead of a book and exhibition on Klein in October 2012).     I have put together a virtual  pin-board of a selection of Klein’s images on http://pinterest.com/lightseeker99/william-klein/

After serving with the US Army in Paris, in 1946-48, Klein dreamt of being an artist in Paris.  As a result, he attended art school with Leger. He commented that his art background, and in particular his experience of working with charcoal, meant that as a photographer, he was never bothered by blur, weak greys etc. It also influenced one of his notable techniques of producing images with soft or blurred foreground faces whilst faces in the background remained sharp.
Klein explained that in his book, New York, 1954-1955, he set out to capture the ‘something else’ of New York, not Fifth Avenue etc. He was also responsible for the book’s innovative layout which used a story boarding approach.  Klein stated that he set out to capture the most documented things in the world, Times Square, electric signs etc “in his own way”.
In 1955, Klein was contracted by Vogue, despite ‘having no training or fashion photography experience, and was an outstanding success there for the next ten years.
Klein moved on to talk about his books Moscow, and Tokyo, both published in 1964.  He observed that photo books were uncommon then and recalled that he had to publish in Paris as New York publishers considered his work to be ‘too grungy’.  His recollections of making the Tokyo photographs were interesting.  He commented that when photographing in New York, he knew that he was hitting the ‘bulls-eye’.  In Tokyo, he knew nothing about the culture and didn’t know whether his images meant anything!
Klein’s work attracted the interest of Fellini and he moved into film, becoming Fellini’s assistant, although still working in fashion photography at the same time.  He commented that:
“I thought my books were films and the next steps were to make films”
and in 1966 he directed ‘Who are you Polly Maggoo’  , an ‘excoriating satire of the fashion industry’ (IMDB)
Klein talked only briefly about his well known painted contact print images.  He said that he set out to show the sequence, in order to demonstrate that not every photograph is perfect.
Klein’s presentation attracted a large and visually sophisticated audience and I very much enjoyed the event.  Klein is one of those photographers of whom I was relatively unaware – but then recognise some of his work when I see it.  Although he is now somewhat frail, he is an engaging and forthright speaker.  In fact one of the things that I will take away from the presentation is his approach, his drive to be original and his determination to present his own view of the world as he sees it.  I shall certainly visit the exhibition at Tate Modern later in the year.

Gillian Wearing – OCA Study Visit

Before attending the study visit I had completed the pre-visit reading of link and link and so I had an initial understanding of her approach.   By the end of the visit I hope that I have formed a clearer view of Wearing and her work, albeit that my views are relatively brief.  It’s also important to place her work in the context of the time it was made.  Work such as ‘Dancing in Peckham’ seems much more commonplace in the YouTube era than it did at the time – when it was groundbreaking.
During the visit, the stills work we saw related to signs and masks.  The former had a snapshot feel to it, although it predates the wider acceptability of such an approach through Wolfgang Tilmann’s work in the 19nn.  I know that I was not alone in being instantly reminded of Bob Dylan’s video for Subterranean Homesick Blues.  Our guide referenced even further back to the extensive use of signs in paintings. This is not something I would have known and prompted much discussion during our ‘networking’ break as to whether ideas in art can ever be truly original.  Nevertheless, some of the signs images on display have a certain resonance, such as image 1 below, where a young and apparently affluent man signs that ‘I am desperate’.  Apparently, Wearing made more than 600 sign images and many of those on display have never been exhibited before.  It was suggested that the work has been heavily influenced by the work of the Canadian Sociologist Erving Goffman.
In the masks work, (images 2-6 below), the photographer was much more ‘present’ physically and intellectually.  Many of my fellow students described the work as creepy.  However what I found most interesting about the general reaction was that they all talked about her rather than the images – paradoxical for this particular artist who it seems wishes to inhabit the personality of the person portrayed.  It was also  interesting how Wearing uses presentational devices such as the colour and size of frames, image sizes and hanging heights to distinguish her work from documentary photography and, in particular, make the masks series look like a family album.
In the later masks work, 6-7 below, Wearing recreates iconic images. This is a development of the masks idea and stylistically the images are stronger – although I suspect that this strength is ‘borrowed’ from the original images.
The images referred to above are shown on my Pinterest site here.  For convenience an image of the pinboard is shown below – please note that Pinterest does not currently allow images to be re-ordered and so they are not in the same order as the above text – please follow the numbers.

Learning summary
So what did I learn from this visit to the Whitechapel Gallery? Certainly I learnt more about Gillian Wearing’s art and I think that I will recall her images for many years to come.  I also experienced, almost for the first time, some discomfort with both images and the artist herself – but that’s a good think, it leads to thinking through the reasons for this discomfort.  This exhibition also enabled further exploration of the relationship between photography and art – here we have work that is clearly, in my mind, art, but where the medium could be viewed as incidental.  All-in-all this was time well spent and a positive learning experience.

Martin Parr

In writing up my learning log for Assignment 5, I referenced the work of Martin Parr.  My tutor suggested I should expand on this reference, hence this entry which has been prepared following a day researching Parr at The British Library.  I’ve placed the following images on my Pinterest board on http://pinterest.com/lightseeker99/martin-parr/

Pinterest: Martin Parr

  • Badminton Horse Trials, 1988, © Martin Parr
  • Lakeside Tea Room, Southwold © Martin Parr
  • Honister Pass, 1994, © Martin Parr
  • Beijing World Park, 1997, © Martin Parr
  • Galway Races, 1997, © Martin Parr
Relating Parr to my Assignment 5:
Explaining the influence of Parr on my work is not a particularly easy thing to do but I will make an attempt.  In this assignment, I, like Parr, sought to capture the ‘tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations’, [Williams, 2012], although much of the time I was that tourist.  I made images, A5-A for example, in moderately challenging circumstances where relatively few people take photographs – you can see this is in the reaction of the main passenger on the left hand side of the image.  Similarly, I have tried to capture a sense of the incongruous, for example the monk in A5-C and the driver’s reflected face in A5-G.  In some images, I have also tended towards a slightly more saturated colour than my usual taste, notably in A5-K.  There is something more of Parr in my images, although it is difficult to define.  I would not say that I am working in a conceptual way, nor is my work art in the sense that Parr’s is.  Perhaps I am like Parr in that I am one of those:
“who find plesaure through loking at the particular, but always with a mind on the larger social view”, [Phillips, 2007]

Parr, [1952-], studied at Manchester Polytechnic in 1970 and amongst his contemporaries were Brian Griffin and Daniel Meadows, (see my earlier post here).  Some consider that at this time, ‘Britain was asleep photographically’ ,[Phillips, 2007], but Parr, particularly through Creative Camera magazine, became aware of what was happing in the US and the work of Winogrand, (see this post),  and Friedlander in particular.  John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs (1973), was an important influence on Parr as it included both snapshots and ordinary pictures as well as those by artist – photographers.
“Parr and his fellow students devoured this book [The Americans, Robert Frank, 1959], a copy of which he bough in Manchester although it was generally unknown to his lecturers there. [Phillips, 2007]
In the early 1980s, Parr switched to colour photography and in 1982 published ‘The Last Resort’, arguably a defining moment in British Photography that generated extreme criticism.  However, how views have changed over time:
“At the time, Martin Parr’s series of photographs from New Brighton, a dilapidated seaside spot on the Wirral, were seen as condescending.  But now they look humourously engaged and fond, bringing Bristich working-class nook and crannies into view, and reminding us how unusual that was, (and is), in art photography.” [Badger, 2010].
Parr, a founder of the New European Color Photography School, works in a conceptual way showing in art galleries as well as photography galleries. Parr credits Tony Ray-Jones,  an important bridge between UK and US photography, as his most important influence.  In his more recent work, notably Common Sense (1990, [xref], he openly acknowledges the influence of Nobuyshi Araki and The Banquet .
Parr is often described as  aggressive  photographer, both by the viewer and the subject. For example, the Bristol Evening Standard reported that one of the women in Parr’s The Cost of Living project, from which my first example image is drawn, claimed that she had been ‘photo-raped’. I found Badger’s view on the perceptions of Parr helpful:
“because his various projects have tended to deal specifically with an uncompromisingly direct, even confrontational depicition of social groups [he] is branded as aggressive. which is then conflated in many people’s minds with cynicism.” [Badger, 2010]
Val Williams provides a useful statement that I think summarises some key aspects of Parr’s work:
“He has also honed in on types within society….the middle-aged woman with lipstick very bright or a little smudges, leaning forward for a kiss, is a familiar character in Parr’s documentary cast list, as is the tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations.  People, reading and eating in cars have particularly engaged Parr, as have shoppers, making small decisions, looking, wondering, searching.” , [Williams, 2002].
Further references:

And onto the next course….

Over the next couple of month or so I will be getting the work featured in this blog ready for submission.  I will also be started the level 2 landscape course.  I’ve decided to run a private learning log for that course and so all new learning will be written up in that log. This will be the last post to this blog apart from some very specific reading I need to write up. Thanks for visiting!

Roger Ballen

On April 3rd I attended Roger Ballen’s presentation for London Independent Photography’s Janet Hall Memorial Lecture.  Ballen’s work can be quite challenging as can be seen in this example, possibly his most well known image.

Image 1: Dresie and Casie, Twins, Western Transvaal, 1993

Ballen describes his work as ‘about memory and consciousness’ and he seeks out ‘enigmatic qualities and motifs’. He is quite a challenging speaker and suggested to the audience that most people do not get the ‘point’ of this image which in his mind is that  viewers ‘know’  that they are ultimately related to these people, that is what horrifies them rather than the subjects within the image.
BJP described him as:
 “doggedly searching for a photography that can expand beyond the individual elements it depicts to provide something much more abstract and introspective that approaches the gut of the human condition.” [Davies, 2012].
Ballen claims that his attention is initially often caught by small details.  For example, he stated that the curl of wire caught his eye before the policeman in image 2 below.

Image 2: Sergeant F de Bruin, Department of Prisons Employee, Orange Free State, 1992

Understandably, I think, this type of work tended to be classified as ‘documentary’, although that was not Ballen’s intent and it has taken him some time to move forward from that interpretation. In the late 1990s Ballen decided not to travel but to concentrate on Johannesburg, in his own words, he “began to think of himself as more of an artist”.  He explains further:
“I’m very much a formalist and like linking aspects of pictures – form driven not content driven.
His most recent work is more conceptual.  As his work progressed, people featured less and less and rats, birds, drawings and paintings began to appear in work that is much more surreal and disturbing, more imaginary than documentary.  He explains the disappearance of people from his images as follows:
“I’ve found that no matter how hard you try, when people look at a photograph, the first thing they go after is the face.  That’s where the meaning is centralised.  If you can pull the face out, then all other aspects of the image tend to play a greater role.  They have a more interactive relationship.  I want to say they can breath; they have their own breath.  “

Image 3: Onlookers 2010 from the Asylum series

Ballen observed that “the best pictures I take, I have no understanding of. …..What you’re seeing here is ‘Roger World’.”  He views himself as coming from a generation who learnt photography on the street and not through conceptual learning at universities.
So, what did I learn from the hour or so I spent with Roger Ballen?  On reflection, I think I learnt more about him than his work.  He has a complex and controversial view of the world and is quite combative.  His work has changed significantly over the years and, without getting into any side debates, is clearly more art than photography, in my opinion.  However, Ballen’s intensity and clarity are both characteristics that I would do well to emulate to some degree as indeed is his ability to progress and move forwards.  For example, his recent video for the group Die Antwoord, ‘I fink you freeky’  has generated nearly six million hits on YouTube at the time of writing, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw

Eves Arnold: In Retrospect

I was up very early today and so spent some time catching up on photography related documentaries I’ve recorded from the tv.  BBC4 recently repeated the 2006 Omnibus documentary on Eves Arnold.  This covered the full range of her work from early days in Harlem to her more well known work in Russia, China, South Africa and with celebrities such as Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe.  Some of the points that I picked out as interesting were:

  • Arnold states that the difference between an average and fine photographer is ‘the wit to take advantage of the accident’.
  • Some of those she photographed, Angelica Houston for instance, commented that they never saw Arnold capturing the moments that appeared in the images. Arnold herself stated that she starts behind the scenes with the hope that by the time the action takes place, they will have forgotten she’s there.
  • Arnold came across to her subjects as modest and self-depracating – she ‘receded into the background’ but, this turned to her advantage with her subjects become more willing to suggest ideas and engage, (with the exception of Margaret Thatcher who took this to the extreme – Arnold stated Thatcher was her most difficult subject within her career).
  • Michael Arnold, (her grandson), commented that the most important thing he had learned from Arnold was “to know how to look at something rather than photograph something”.

All-in-all an interesting documentary and an hour well spent.

Assignment 5: People and place, on assignment

Assignment brief

The great distinction between professional and amateur photography is not competence or special skill or technical quality (although these may play a part, and professional photographers certainly work hard to achieve excellence in these areas). It is that professional photography is performed to order, for a contracted purpose, and in order to deliver results that a client has asked for. The client may be a manufacturer, a magazine or book publisher, an individual who needs specific images, or anyone who is paying for an imaging service. Quite apart from the commercial aspect of this, a well-defined assignment actually benefits the photography because it directs the creative effort. This is what you will explore here.

For this final assignment, the choice of subject is yours, with the only limitation in that the subject should be from this course, which is to say people and/or the places they inhabit.

First decide on a notional client. Choose the kind of client – newspaper, magazine, text book publisher, advertising agency, television graphics, etc; the purpose of assignment – educational, informational, promotional; and how the images will be used: to illustrate a story, to sell a product etc. You choose.

You then need to imagine what the basic brief would be, which will mean thinking from the other side of the fence – what someone commissioning a photographer might want. Write yourself the brief so that you can refer back to it.

Having assigned yourself the brief, you now need to complete it. You need to submit between eight – 12 photographs. Accompany the final images with a short written assessment.  This should include:

• the ‘client briefing’ that you gave yourself

• a statement of how you set about planning the photography

• how well you succeeded, including the difficulties and opportunities you encountered that you had not anticipated at the outset.

Please note that one of the most important aspects of photography is using discernment in your choice of the images you choose to submit. You need to show both your tutor and assessor that you can project good judgement in your choices.


The client briefing

Notional client:

A magazine that uses photography to illustrate entertaining articles of the type produced by the photographer Tom Craig with AA Gill for The Sunday Times Magazine.

Purpose of assignment:

Informational / factual / entertainment

How the images will be used:

To illustrate an entertaining article about the trials, tribulations and realities of being a tourist.


Most travel articles depict the sights that people might see.  They present locations and experiences in a favourable way providing a context that readers can pleasurably imagine themselves being in.  The purpose of this article is to better reflect the realities of travel and tourism – the queues, the busyness, the mundanity of mass site seeing etc.  It aims to present the view through the perhaps slightly jaundiced eyes of a somewhat world-weary participant in the travel/tourist merry-go-round.  The work should focus on the experience of the traveller/tourist and those around him/her, it may include images of the destination, but it’s the experience that’s important rather than the destination itself.

Planning the photography

Shortly after writing the brief I put together a potential shot list as below.

 Potential shot list:
  • in transit
  • organised excursions
  • crowded locations
  • people interacting with the location
  • people experiencing the place
  • tourist areas, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and trinkets etc.
  • unusual or unexpected travellers or tourists
  • unusual, (to the eyes of a visitor), or unexpected scenes
  • people capturing their own photographs / videos of their experience

In order to better meet the requirements of the brief, I decided that I would visit a location I hadn’t been to before and participate is some of the more typical activities that needed to be reflected in the article.  As I was beginning to plan the work, an unexpected business trip arose which also   provided me with the opportunity to take a week’s holiday and so carry out the assignment.  I therefore draw up a list of activities which included taking a coach excursion, a river trip and visiting an all day festival that would include music, food and markets.  I also planned to visit the key attractions that a typical traveller/tourist might visit both during the day and at night.

As I intended to blend in as much as I could, I decided to minimise my equipment to a DSLR, a wide angle and standard zoom lenses.  I also took a polariser but had no tripod, no flash and far less equipment than usual.

In addition to my shot list, I also tried sketching some ideas – although I found I didn’t use these in practice.  The work of  Martin Parr in ‘Last Resort‘ also influenced my thinking and I suspect that this is evident in the brief I prepared.

The selected images

Click any image to view full size in a new window. 


A5-A: 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/100@f4

Image A5-A was made on the City Circle tourist tram and provides the ‘in-transit’ shot from the shot list. In order to make this image I had to make several trips before I was actually able to secure one of the few seats that gave a clear view of the tram.  It took several more trips before the crowds dropped sufficiently for me to be able to secure a worthwhile shot.  This is really quite a claustrophobic environment in which to fire off a DSLR – it would not go down well in London but here, looking like a typical tourist I managed to get away with it.  The man on the left could see what I was doing and the eye is immediately drawn to his slightly confrontational gaze.  The man on the right also saw what was happening and his posture is somewhat more evasive.  Overall, I hope that this is a useful context setting image for the article intended by the brief.


A5-B: 45mm, ISO 400, 1/100@f5

A5-B meets the shot list requirement for people experiencing the place.  I took many many photographs in this location on two different visits.  The scene in image A5-B caught my eye for several reasons.  The scene is unusual – in terms of the line of people looking intently, their lack of interaction with each other, the reflections in the glass and the mirror on the right, and the curious lines taped on the floor, (which direct people around the different views).  My feeling was that this scene had enough interest in it to draw the viewer into trying to work out what is happening.  Paradoxically it is an internal view of people looking to the outside.


A5-C: 50mm, ISO 400, 1/35@f5.6

Part of my set brief was to capture unusual travellers/tourists.  I hadn’t expected to see a Buddhist Monk hitting the tourist trail and I also felt that his traditional clothing was particularly incongruous in this modern hi-tech setting.


A5-D: 35mm, ISO 400, 1/80@f4

A5-D meets the shot list requirements for organised excursions and people experiencing the place.  During this assignment I ‘staked out’ a few locations that I had learnt were popular with the many guides who walk tourists around Melbourne.  This back alley is surprisingly popular with tourists and the guide in the red shirt is pointing out the tag mark of a particular graffiti artist.  I must admit that I hadn’t encountered tours for graffiti before and so I found this idea quite unusual and therefore picture worthy.  For this shot I waited for the guide to gesture and the participants to look before making the image. The fact that the guide happens to be wearing a red t-shirt helps to make what is happening clearer.


A5-E: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/4@ f5.6

A5-E meets the shot list requirement for both people interacting with location and unusual/unexpected scenes.  The National Gallery International in Melbourne has a water feature that cascades over the very glass windows/walls.  Quite a number of visitors feel compelled to come up and touch the running water and I realised that this might make an interesting image that would meet the requirement of showing people interacting with the location. Making such a shot proved tricky in terms of anticipating people approaching the glass (which is many yards wide).  It was also technically challenging because the external light was constantly changing from bright sun to shade, which such a significant difference to the exposure that for these ‘grabbed’ candid shots that I could not set a manual exposure and I had to rely on the camera’s metering – which is likely to be fooled, (and often was ), by this fast changing extreme brightness range.


A5-F: 25mm, ISO 200, 1/800@f8

Crowds are one of the subjects I had envisioned in my shot list and I soon became conscious of the difficulty that people had in seeing the entertainment on offer.  Quite a number of people resorted, as here, to using the video on their cameras to watch what was happening in front of them.  I was intrigued by this idea of experiencing a live event ‘second hand’ through these screens and could easily have put together an entire project just on this idea.  The bright colour of this woman’s top and the oblique position of her arms help to isolate her from the general crowd at the Japan Festival.


A5-G: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/200@f8

My plans included a coach excursion and I duly went on a 13 hr coach trip!  Stops on the trip were relatively few and I realised that all that most of the passengers, myself included, could see was the drivers face in the mirror and the t.v. above his head showing the road ahead.  Image 5-G shows the driver’s smiling reflection whilst the passengers are shrouded in darkness – my attempt at a Barthes punctum!


A5-H: 24mm, ISO 400, 1/500@f13

A5-H also meets the shot list requirements for an organised trip.  My second trip as part of this assignment was a late afternoon river cruise.  Image A5-H is suitable for the article because it illustrates the somewhat quirky behaviour of the participants in such an activity.  Although we are in a relatively small space and undertaking a shared experience, nobody is apparently looking at the same thing.  Typical tourist photographs are being taken – a  partner with the background behind and a snapshot of some of the passing scenery.  I think that the viewer’s eye will keep roving around the participants whilst working out what is going on.  This image was at least in part influenced by Garry Winogrand’s  ‘Circle Line Statue of Liberty Ferry, New York 1971’.


A5-I: 24mm, ISO 400, 1/200@f8

Part of my brief and shot list was to capture unusual or unexpected scenes.  In this case, passersby would relax in deck chairs whilst watching short films being shown on this giant outdoor screen, (which was very clear despite the setting sun immediately to the right). In this particular frame I liked the juxtaposition between the strange, possibly violent, image on the screen and the serenity of the viewers lolling in their deck chairs.


A5-J: 28mm, ISO 3200, 1/200@f4

A5-J meets the shot list requirements  in terms of tourist areas, bars and cafes, people experiencing the place and a crowded location.  The Queen Victoria night market positively buzzed with people and energy.  This gave me an opportunity to capture one of the requirements, a crowded location. The light streaming through the smoke from the grills helps convey the atmosphere of this place which was incredibly busy.


A5-K: 17mm, ISO 3200, 1/4@f4 hand held (IS)

A5-K brings the project full circle and shows the night-time view to the left of the viewpoint in A5-B.  This shot again shows people experiencing the place but the transformation from day to night means that the place itself is much more prominent than in the day.  There are multiple reflections of internal lights, other people, and indeed myself, within the glass.  You will see from the exposure details that this image was made at the maximum ISO and aperture of my camera and the exposure is 2 stops below the 1/focal length ‘rule’.  Although image stabilisation was used the image is only ‘acceptably sharp’ in the context and would not stand up to being used for a large print.


What I set out to achieve

The brief I set myself allowed a degree of creative flexibility but also required some serendipity.  I sought to provide quite a wide range of images that would in turn allow the writer some flexibility to create an appropriate ‘tale’.  I also set myself the task of being an active participant within the events and situations that I was photographing.

How well did I succeed?

I made several hundred photographs for this assignment and, although the eventual selection would be fairly flexible, after a few shoots I became more confident that I was achieving some of the required images.  Because I was a ‘participant’, most of the images are spontaneous which meant that for most of the time, my mindset was that of a photographer rather than a traveller/tourist.  At times I did worry that this meant I was missing out on experiencing the locations but in fact I eventually concluded that if anything I had got more out of it due to the extra effort and thought I was putting into everything.

I found the selection of the images quite difficult and revisited it several times over a few weeks.  What helped me eventually was to write out a simple ‘narrative flow’ and this made the selection and sequencing of the images more straightforward.  The ‘narrative’ is below.

Many days begin with a trip on the free, City Circle tourist tram.  A visit to the highest public viewing point in the city, the 88th floor of the Eureka Skydeck, enables everyone to take in the view of the city and get orientated – including an unusual visitor.  Moving outside, the local tourism industry has sprung into action with guided walks for everything – including, as here, the best local graffiti sites. Some choose to experience the sights first hand.   Events are running everywhere and for many, the only way to see is to take photographs or even watch videos on their phones – an oft observed phenomena during this project.  Moving on to an organised excursion, the experience was dominated by the travel rather than the place.   Out on a river trip, another common tourist trait is in full swing, photographing oneself in front of the sights or scenery.  As sunset approaches there is the slightly surreal sight of films being watched outdoors in Federation Square, (Melbourne’s second most popular tourist attraction).  As night approaches, the Queen Victoria night market sees attracts huge crowds for food and music.  Finally, the sun having just set, we come full circle back to the 88th floor of the Eureka Skydeck.  

Of course there were a number of images where it was difficult to choose which ones to include and indeed, some of the images in the selection are either weaker or less obvious contenders than others.  I would include A5-E, A5-H, A5-I and A5-J in those categories, however I do have plenty of other images in reserve if required.

The assignment brief also asks for comments on difficulties and opportunities.  Often I find that these two are inter-linked.  For example in A5-E, I could see that in this situation, a potentially interesting image could arise but, I would have little or no control.  On my first trip to this location, the shots were entirely spontaneous.  However, when I reviewed the images on my computer, ‘near misses’ and poor exposures dominated.  This first trip was on a Saturday and visitors and therefore opportunities were plentiful.  On my second trip, I set out to photograph this scene exclusively but, although my technique was better, being a weekday, visitors were fewer and so were opportunities.  In the end I set myself a time limit and ‘staked out’ the scene for one hour before moving on to seek other opportunities. Other difficulties during the assignment included extreme lighting, i.e. very dark as in A5-J and A5-K and extreme contrast in A5-E and A5-G which demonstrate how I coped with these lighting conditions.  One genuinely unanticipated difficulty was a smeared sensor that was not apparent until images were reviewed on the computer.  This meant that I had to reject a number of one-off shots, particularly those that featured expanses of blue sky. Looking back at key opportunities, these mainly related to grabbing opportunities as they arose, the monk in A5-C, the guide’s gesture in A5-D and the particular frame on the film screen in A5-I.  But there again, to some extent you make your own luck by being prepared.

Summary and conclusions

One of my own key observations when I look back at this final assignment in people and place is how far I have come.  Were you to look back at the many tens of thousands of images I have from over the years, one of the fundamental characteristics that you would observe would be the absence of people.  I even have images of some of the most crowded places in the world that are completely free of people.  Yet, in this project I have provided a set of images full of people and I have photographed complete strangers from very close range without hesitation.  I’ve come a long way indeed.

Garry Winogrand

Winogrand (1928-1984)

My tutor suggested I would find it helpful to take a look at some of Garry Winogrand’s work and so I spent a Saturday at The British Library looking at:

  • Winogrand: Figments from the Real World by John Szarkowski; and
  • The Man in the Crowd – the uneasy streets of Garry Winogrand.  

Before looking at the photographs, I thought it would be helpful to understand something of the man himself, his background and his contemporaries.  Winogrand had been studying painting at Columbia University when a visit to the university’s darkroom led him to abandon his course and take up photography instead.  In his first few years, photography earned him little money.  He worked as a stringer from 1951 and acquired an agent in 1954.  During the 1950s he worked as a photojournalist during the boom years for the picture magazines but, as this work faded away in the early 60’s he switched to commercial work. His close friend and peer was Lee Friedlander.  Later in his life, once his personal work had become more widely accepted, Winogrand taught at art schools and universities.

Winogrand told his contemporary Tod Papageorge that he felt he only began to become a serious photographer in 1960.  According to Szarkowski, Winogrand was part of ‘the available light revolution’.  Amongst other things, this would have meant using graphic qualities to impart meaning and also moving in closer to include less in the frame. Although not originally knowledgeable about other photographers, Winogrand had been shown American Photographs by Walker Evans, this caused him to realise that photography could be used intelligently and the book remained a significant influence on his work.  From 1960, Winogrand began to photograph the ‘magic power’ of women on the street leading to his, (weakest), book, ‘Women are Beautiful‘.

Pictures of family outings led Winogrand to realise that there was more to Central Park Zoo and this led to his book ‘The Animals’ in 1969.  Szarkowski, (1988) comments:

“In Winogrand’s zoo…the animals are not more important than the humans, and are in fact united with them in a peculiar kind of symbiosis. Winogrand’s zoo is a kind of theater, in which humans and the lower vertebrates act out in parable the comic drama of modern urban life”

In his street pictures of the early 60’s, Winogrand developed two pictorial strategies:
  • exploring the unexplored possibilities of the wide-angle lens (hand held) e.g. photographing an entire pedestrian from a distance normally used to photograph faces, (and with interesting geometric consequences – although he was not interested in attention grabbing optical effects)
  • tilting the frame, making a vertical near the edge square and so discovering a freedom of composition and perhaps, through sloping lines, implying connections between people.

Note: I relate to both these points.  During my assignments, I repeatedly commented on the fact that a very wide angle lens could be used very close to people who would assume, wrongly, that they were not the subject of the photograph.  However, in conjunction with this finding, I have struggled to find the best approach to the distortion of horizontal and vertical lines near the edges of the frames.  

Winogrand is often quoted as saying that “he photographed to see what the things that interested him looked like as photographs”.  Szarkowski, (1988) went further and considered Winogrand’s approach to subject size:

“Winogrand had consciously been interested in the question of viewing distance since at least the mid-sixties, by which time he understood that that closer is merely easier, not necessarily better.  How small in relation to the total field can the most important part of the subject be and still be clearly described? Or, more precisely, how is the meaning of the most important part of the subject affected by everything else within the frame.”

Winogrand was a prodigious worker throughout his life.  He left more than 300,00 0 unprocessed exposures at the time of his death.  His working methods remained straightforward, Tri-X film, D-76 developer and Polycontrast paper.  Two further quotes  help to sum him up:

“.. Gary Winogrand, whose ambition was not to make good pictures, but through photography to know life” from Szarkowski, (1988)


“He was concerned with what was on the surface, it’s uppermost layer, the open secret, so patently superficial that everyone missed it.” Lifson, (1999).

The images

Below is a slide show of some of the images I particularly related to.

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Some of the reasons his work appeals to me include the unlikely and implausible subjects he finds, for example the monkey in the convertible in ‘Park Avenue, New York 1959’ and the incongruity of the man carrying a rolled up object in ‘New York n.d.’ .  Winogrand’s images also demonstrate what Barthes termed the ‘punctum’, for example the teeth of the brown bear against the bottom of the sign in ‘Central Park Zoo, NYC 1962’, the plaster on the nose of the man in ‘Los Angeles 1964’ and particularly, the serviceman who has lost his legs sitting on the ground in ‘American Legion Convention, Dallas 1964’.  These are powerful images indeed.

I have enjoyed learning more about Garry Winogrand and hope to take some of that learning forward into both how I approach the next assignment and also how  I approach some individual shots.

Ian MacDonald

I just spend an enjoyable half-an-hour watching ‘Shooting Time’ a 2007 film about the work of Ian MacDonald. MacDonald photographed the industry and people of his native Middlesborough working in 4 x 5.  He has published a number of books and his work has been exhibited in The Photographers’ Gallery amongst other places.  Decaying industry has long been a particular interest of mine and Ian’s monochrome prints certainly hit the nail on the head in capturing decades of dramatic change in the north east

Book Review: Roswell Angier, ‘Train Your Gaze’.

Train your Gaze by Roswell Angier

As I read through this book, I took the time to pause and reflect at the end of each chapter.  I made the notes below during these reflective interludes and they pick out what were for me the main points within each of the chapters.  I have subsequently supplemented these notes with hyperlinks to related sources of information.

Chapter 1:  ‘About Looking’

I found the story about Avedon photographing in complete silence quite fascinating.  I’ve really never thought of that approach before.  The author subsequently relates this approach to the slow process of making early photographs – very plausible.

In his interpretation of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still, #3, 1977, the author neatly summarises the questions the photographer generates in the mind of the viewer:

“What, or who, am I, the photographer, looking at? From where am I doing the looking? How does this position define me? How does my gaze intersect with—or fail to intersect with—the gaze of my human subject? These questions precede all others.”

Chapter 2: ‘self portrait/ no face’

Chapter 2 surprised me, I don’t think I have ever thought about the concept of a portrait with no face before.  The two Lee Friedlander examples used were very illuminating, particularly Lee Friedlander ‘New York City, 1966’ where Friedlander becomes a part of what he is looking at.

John Coplans is not a photographer I’ve encountered before but I found his Self-Portrait (Feet, Frontal), 1984 quite compelling.  As Angier Says,

“Coplans’s engagement with these details takes the notion of the portrait as a “likeness” to an exaggerated extreme, far away from social or psychological notions of personal identity. His self-portraits begin and end with solid surfaces.”

As I said earlier, I haven’t previously reflected on self-portraiture and Angier distils the key differences nicely:

“You cannot see yourself through the viewfinder, you cannot make any of the myriad of small decisions—about framing, about choosing the right moment—that make you want to press the shutter-release button. You have lost a degree of control. Because you are not behind the camera, you cannot previsualize the resulting image. That means that you may make a picture of yourself that you don’t like. Along with increasing the chances for accidents, it increases the chances that you will make a picture that you don’t understand. “

Chapter 3: ‘People at the Margin the Edge of the Frame’

This chapter made me realise the usefulness of this book.  It definitely added to my knowledge and began to supplement my way of thinking about photography.  For example, I have never before thought of framing as being ‘aggressive’, but Angier’s use of this term is perfectly valid in his comment upon a particular image by Eugene RichardsNursing Home Resident, Dorchester, Massachussetts, 1976:

“The act of photographic composition here is aggressive. The photographer’s own gesture, his act of framing, literally marginalizes his subject, implying thereby an opinion, certainly a feeling, if not a judgment, about the nature and quality of her life as represented in this moment.”

The chapter also provides some interesting additional information on famous photographers and their images.  On Cartier-Bresson the phrase, “the decisive moment,” which was the English language title of Cartier-Bresson’s1952 book, was a mistranslation of the original French title, Images à la sauvette.

“A la sauvette is a colloquialism roughly equivalent to ‘on the run,’ but …there is also an untranslatable future element involved. The instant being described is the one when you are just about to take off, the point at which the shortstop is ready to dash in any direction as he watches the batter step into the ball, or when the pickpocket waits for his victim so he can strike. Images à la sauvette is the right title because it characterizes the photographer’s actions as well as his subject’s.”

On contrasting Cartier Bresson and Winogrand

“There’s something porous about the way Cartier-Bresson frames his pictures, as if the edges of the images are being allowed to leak.”

“….Garry Winogrand, whose work is certainly in the tradition of the decisive moment, frames his pictures differently. He is more aggressive than Cartier-Bresson in terms of his willingness to invade his subject’s personal space. …Winogrand believes in the four walls of the frame. They’re solid.  Nothing leaks out. “

The section on Dorothea Lange was illuminating.  Angier’s explanation that

“The desire to communicate knowledge of the subject by means of the image (otherwise, after all, what is the point of making the picture?) leads the photographer to identify with the subject. There is a potential for bonding, which provides the rationale for a certain kind of portraiture, such as that practiced by Dorothea Lange.”

Seems valid to me.  A few years ago, I saw a vintage print of the Migrant Mother, Nippomo, California, 1936 at the Lowry Gallery in Salford.  It was presented side by side with other compositions Lange made at the scene – these paled in comparison to the famous image.  My understanding of this image has been enhanced both by Angier’s explanation but also by the quotes he provides from Lange and, in later years, one of the two boys included in the image.  There is a significant difference between the stories behind the image as told by the photographer and one of the subjects.  However, as Angier’s says

“Lacking in factual accuracy, “Migrant Mother” has nonetheless been thought to possess powerful symbolic and emotional truth”

Finally, one of the things I have noted in reading this book is that it makes me aware of photographers I might not otherwise encounter.  Ironically, the last photographer in this chapter is Boris Mikhailov who I encountered for the first time in my post on 3/1/12 about my visit to ‘New Documentary’ at Tate Modern.

Finally, whilst I do not normally quote from the exercises at the end of this book’s chapters, I will make an exception for this chapter which I found thought provoking:

“You might actually photograph a homeless person, or someone else whom you perceive to be helpless or marginalised.  Think about the implications of where you locate your subject in the frame.  If you situate your subject at the edge of the frame, will that imply something about his or her social position as a ‘marginalised’ person?  By framing a photograph thus, will you simply be adding insult to injury?  Conversely, what might it mean if you place your subject at the centre of the frame?  Is it respectful to engage your subject so directly?  Or do you thereby turn your subject into a specimen?”

Chapter 4: ‘behaviour in the moment: picturing eventfulness’

This chapter focuses upon two main aspects, that photographers select one instant out of a continuum and that viewers ‘skew’ meaning in the act of interpreting photographs.  It considers the difference between taking and making photographs by comparing examples by Weegee, Robert Frank and Helen Levitt.  Taking the first of these, Weegee

‘was just as likely to turn his camera on marginal details as he was to point his camera at the criminal or murder victim’

Robert Frank photographed his own perception of the spiritual and social condition of Americans in the 1950s.  Referring to the ‘Bell Isle, Detroit’ example given in the book:

“while the picture implies a judgement about the quality of these people’s lives, it is literally about nothing much”

The Americans is about alienation.

Helen Levitt’s work from the 1940s is frequently based around visual rhymes.  She predates Frank but her work is all about ‘poise’

“..about her own poise in finding and framing moment of ballet-like precision, and about the poise that seems to inhere in the body language, expressions and spatial disposition of her subjects on the city sidewalks.”

The chapter closes commenting on the carefully constructed work of Jeff Wall, whose work I had enjoyed in my post on the V&As ‘Photography in the Wake of Postmodernism’ exhibition in 2011.

Chapter 5: ‘You spy: voyeurism and surveillance’

I understand that this is one of the more controversial chapters in this book and that some find some of the images controversial. Well, I’ve read it and formed my own  opinion.  Something that surprised me was the number of examples of work on voyeurism made by female photographers – as Angier says. ‘voyeurism is usually assumed to be a male activity’. The presentation of some of the work was interesting – Diane Baylis’s use of small images designed to draw spectators into  intimacy with the images seems very apt – especially given that they would be very aware of people around them noticing what they were doing.

Daniela Rossell’s use of a person’s environment to put ‘distance’ between the viewer and the subject is an interest idea and worth bearing in mind for the future.

I related to Walker Evans’ work on the subway and have tried some of this myself whilst commuting – see my scrap book.  I experienced very similar technical limitations, even in this day and age, and interestingly resorted to the same remedy – waiting for the train to stop, (albeit whilst using an app that minimized any camera shake!).

Harry Callahan’s work surprised me – I’m so used to the philosophy of shooting the street with a wide angle lens that the concept of a portfolio built up using a telephoto seemed different.  Similarly, I was surprised to learn that Cartier-Bresson regarded a 50mm as the only focal length lens for street photography.

Finally, and using the cover image of the book as the example, Shizuka Yokomizo introduced a  whole new take.  Her ‘Dear Stranger’ series involved sending an anonymous letter asking strangers to stand in their windows whilst she photographed them, without meeting them, from the street.  What a clever idea – photographing a stranger, whilst visibile as a photographer, and remaining an anonymous stranger. To quote Angier. “ ‘Dear Stranger’ is paradoxical, because it suggests both intimacy and distance’.

Chapter 6: ‘Portrait, Mirror, Masquerade’

This chapter focuses on the question of identity and its centrality to portrait photography revolves around two questions:

  • Who am I looking at?
  • Who is doing the looking?

It revisits the idea that in the 1840’s, (the daguerreotype era), the photographer was a technician concentrating only on the first point and that Julia Margaret Cameron (linked to my post) was one of the first to ‘try to get under the skin’ of the subject.

The chapter then moves into very new territory for me when it begins to explore the idea that:

“identity is something constructed, something neither given nor found lurking in some ‘inner’ region beneath the social surface.” p80

The more controversial idea that our perception of gender roles is also a construct is also explored at some length.  In particular, examples are provided and discussed, typically involving self-portraits and double self-portraits, to explore the idea that being female is a performance and therefore a constructed role.  I found this particular explanation helpful in understanding this chapter:

“Sex and gender are no longer assumed to be synonymous, the former being a biological given, while the latter, (often connected to racial and ethnic stereotypes), is considered to be a cultural construction.  Accordingly, male may be reflected as male (and white as black), or the reverse.  The two images of identity are deeply connected, as in a mirror, but discontinuously so.  Sameness is difference, and vice versa.”

Later the chapter references the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan who proposed that the initial recognition of the self as an “I” occurs between the ages of six and 18 months.  The child recognises an image or reflection of itself as an “ideal I” and strives for the rest of life to reconnect with this “ideal I”.  This idea as a metaphor of self establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent on external imagery and images of others. Angier suggests that

“some self-portraits’ can be seen as attempts to reconstruct the original mirror-image to transform the Ideal I into something else something like an alternate identity”.

The chapter closes looking into work with which I am more familiar, Nan Goldwin’s ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ (1982).  Angier however, does pull out detail that I had not previously noticed, for example, the inclusion  on one Goldwin photograph in the background of another, frames within frames.  With these examples the author brings us full circle arguing that Goldwin and her circle do not simply live their lives but they perform them.

Overall this was a long and complex chapter – perhaps the most challenging of the book so far.

Chapter 7: ‘Confrontation: Looking through the Bull’s Eye’

After an explanation of zen archery, Angier explains that the point is to make pictures in which the act of framing/aiming becomes invisible.

“If you’re not distracted by the possibility of adjustments to framing and composition, you can concentrate completely on minute variations of gesture, facial expression and body language…..The resulting image will present itself as a momentary seemingly unmediated exchange between you and your subject”

As an example of this approach, Angier cites the work of Manabu Yamanaka whose nude photographs of very elderly women are described by the artist as “a Buddhist exercise in compassionate contemplation.”

The author moves on to the work of August Sander, with which I am more familiar.  Whilst I have thought of them in terms of social types before, the author’s suggestion that they are a throwback to the daguerroypist’s method, rendering the photographer as a technician was new to me.  Although Angier has linked to daguerrotypes several times earlier in the book.  In the previous chapter Angier explored the idea of ‘performance’ and this is repeated here.

“The photographs then read as records of performances – countering the assertion that the bodies are inherently linked to each individual’s profession.”

The Bull’s Eye mentioned in the chapter title refers to the camera viewfinder which is inherently designed to temp the user to position the subject centrally.  The idea of ‘confrontation’ is considered by revisiting the work of Walker Evans and then moving on to Diane Arbus who makes use of centrally positioned subjects within a square format.

Thomas Ruff, whose work I have seen in galleries, is explored at some length, particularly his notion that ‘photography is incapable of accurately rendering reality’.  Interestingly, Angier suggest Ruff’s image of ‘Betty’ is a clear reference to the soft-focus technique of early 20th century pictorialism.

I found the analysis of Rineke Dijkstra’s images most interesting.  I have seen these first hand, possibly at the National Portrait Gallery, Angier’s states:

“It proves that hitting the target – the face in the center of the viewfinder – can have an unanticipated result.  Instead of producing knowledge, or encouraging wide-ranging speculation about the lives of their subjects, the pictures resolutely remain pictures.  We have to dig hard, and mostly on our own, for their social implications.”

The analysis of Dikjstra’s methods is interesting, the lens axis coinciding with the subject’s navel, the upward tilt of the camera (I struggled in part one of this course to work out the best approach to camera height and whether or not to tilt), and the horizon line bisecting the hips.

I particularly like the following statement by Angier concluding his review of Dikstrka :

“I think the key perception here is that the portrait photographer is not obliged to get her subjects to do anything.  The pose should be an empty structure.”

The final element of this chapter that I found useful was the ‘note on backgrounds’.

“In the sense that they contextualize and actively direct our responses to what we see, all backgrounds function as stage sets.  It doesn’t matter whether the settings are carefully fabricated or found by chance.  They should all be treated as constructions, because they are the bearers of meaning.  They are never neutral.”

Chapter 8: ‘Out of focus: The Disappearing Subject’

I found this chapter illuminating.  All my life I have followed the ‘convention’ of having sharp foregrounds, (and often with sharp backgrounds too), and yet here’s a chapter that concentrates on inverting this /convention’.  Certainly I had not thought of examples of Klein’s and Frank’s work in this way before.

I like the logic of the impact of breaking out of this convention:

“…you create confusion and ambiguity….you force the viewer to ask…The experience of looking changes from passive to interrogative.  “

“blurry images often enter into our own interior space, sometimes without our permission.  We become engaged with them; we cannot look at them dispassionately.  They become more like metaphors than expository descriptions.”

As a child towards the end of the 60s and early 70s I had my first camera – it was a Diana and so I was pleased to see the work of Nancy Rexroth using a Diana in the same period.  What most struck me about Rexroth’s work was her thinking.

“For me a photograph of Iowa doesn’t necessarily have to be about Iowa.  Iowa is flat and clean and has a lot of sunshine.  In dreams and memories it becomes distorted.  Dark evenings, hot-cold sunlight, diffused windows and hallways..Through the Diana they become memories of a place I maight have been before.”

However, my favourite images in this section were those of Uta Barth and I shall certainly attempt to make some images of my own in this style.  These images:

‘register only that which is incidental and ephemeral, implied’….slowly it becomes clear that we are presented with a sort of empty container and it is at that point that people begin to ‘project’ into this space”.

Chapter 9: ‘Darkness’

I found this chapter very interesting and encountered both new photographers and techniques.  Gary Schneider’s work and techniques, (he uses exposures of greater than one hour, placing his subjects in pitch darkness and selectively illuminating them with a flashlight), are quite extraordinary.  Schneider’s aim is to

“undermine the tendency of contemporary portrait subjects to instinctively put on their camera face.”

The long exposure time intensifies the collaborative commitment, and because the subject is inevitably moving during the exposure, the image becomes

“an accumulation of the secretion  of all the expressions that they were making during the exposure – what they were thinking, what they were feeling or what they were projecting”

Scheider uses five foot high prints to ensure that these accumulations are visible to the viewer.

The chapter goes on to consider portraits of and by blind people.  Angier explains that:

‘Blind people cannot look back at the camera.  The proof of the subject’s consent, the eye contact that is the usual underpinning of formal portraits is missing’.

He quotes from the writer Rebecca Solnit:

“…Thus the photographer and by extension the image and its viewers are never acknowledged…..Blind people are subjects who shift the power of [the] gaze.  They remind us of a desire to be seen and acknowledged, and they remind us by its very absence.”

The photographer Nicholas Nixon’s work shows him using photography to describe some of the non-visual ways they blind experience the world – a very challenging project.

Finally the chapter closes with work considering a different aspect of darkness – a condition of being.  Joel-Peter Witkin’s work is indeed dark and challenging to look at and interpret.

The chapter closes takes a look at photographic syntax:

“…the syntax is never invisible, Sometimes it becomes a significant part of what the image is about.”

Chapter 10: ‘Flash’

This was perhaps one of the weaker chapters in the book.  Angier devotes too much of the content to explaining basic flash techniques.  There were interesting points – the movement away from ‘the available light credo’ and the use of flash to mimic behaviour of ambient light.  I was of course introduced to photographers new to me; Mark Cohen extremely close (less than two feet), flash lit images are startling, both for the subject and the viewer.  His preference was to photograph at night:

“when you take a flash picture of somebody at night you get a much more distinct and compact event.”

Also of interest was a further development of the idea of the ‘syntax of the camera’.  This was illustrated through Chauncey Hare’s work in which the even spread of bright light ‘obliterates nuance and eliminates the singling out of select details for dramatic emphasis’.

“Open flash”, (the use of a slow shutter speed to capture some of the subject and its movement by ambient light) is discussed extensively and illustrated with Bruce Gilden’s work.  These images are amongst the most interesting in this chapter with darkly shadowed areas contrasting sharply with bright highlights of areas close to the flash. Like Cohen, Gilden photographs very close to his subject in the belief that, ‘I think by geeting closer I say more’.

Continuing the theme of how the use of artificial lighting has evolved, Angier considers the work of Gregory Crewdson – using examples with which I am familiar.  This ‘new look’ emphasises smooth production values, particularly apparent in Crewdson’s staged tableaux (see also my review of Red Saunders).  Angier describes the particular images as:

‘non-events that have a seductive patina of significance’.

Finally, Angier covers the relatively recent work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia.  These photographs made using a remote strobe are also non-events but the dramatic lighting makes them seem full of ‘enigmatic significance’.

Chapter 11: ‘Figures in a landscape: Tableaux’

Tableaux refer back to tableau vivant the climactic point in a play ‘when the actors on stage formed a clearly composed visual image, (a tableau), at which point they would freeze, and hold their positions until the curtain came down.

In this chapter, Angier covers each of the selected phographers in much more detail than usual.  Beginning with August Sander, he looks at ‘Young Farmers, 1914’ in which the featureless background resembles a stage set for his stationary subjects.  This is an unsettling image with the suited farmers looking uncomfortable in their suits and incongruous in the landscape – this contributes to what Angier refers to as a sense of ‘eventfulness’.

The work of Joel Sternfeld is considered at some length.  I hadn’t previously appreciated that he works in 10 x 8 which explains the more formal qualities of his work.  Sternfeld makes very large prints and the images in the book were too small to easily pick out the quite small details on which they turn.  Again, like Sander, there is a visual tension – the viewer senses that the people in the images do not really belong.  Angier refers to this as ‘a sympathetic dissonance, provided by the tension between pose and surroundings’.  Angier also usefully places Sternfeld into context as:

“less detached than Evans, and less jarring than Frank…..Instead of focusing on socially marginalised people, he worked at the margins of the landscape itself.”

Jeff Wall’s work, an example of which I recently saw at the V&A, is presented as very large back-lit transparencies.  The figures in the images appear to be on about the same scale as the viewer – which makes the viewer feel present in the image. Wall’s images are carefully constructed, the figures are posed and placed, the location carefully researched and, as Angier points out, elements in the image cross reference important paintings.

Angier then considers the work of Tina Barney – whose work is new to me.  Barney uses a view camera to re-enact family snapshots.  Again these are printed very large and present a public manifestation of private lives. The text raises interesting questions about whether Barney can maintain critical distance from her subjects in the context of photographing friends and family, (a witness v a participant).

The next photographer, Barbara Norfleet, apparently succeeds at maintaining this critical distance.  Although I have not experienced the type of project she undertakes I can relate to some of the points she makes:

‘If you’re going to make it successful, you have to interact with the people tremendously while not interacting with them at all’

‘..but yet they’re used to my being there, they will behave as though I’m not there”.

Finally, the chapter concludes with the work of Larry Sultan, with which I have some familiarity.  However, I have only seen individual images in isolation and so hadn’t made the connection of how the images interrelate and ‘encapsulate an entire career’.

“Imagine then, the difficulty of undertaking a portrait project with your own parents as subjects, in which the exercise of critical awareness and compassion alike, become part of a collaborative enterprise.”

Text plays an important role in this project and the iterative ‘conversation’ between father and son about how they feel about the project is key to understanding it.  Clearly a book I will have to borrow.

Chapter 12: ‘Commentary: Digital Personae’

Chapter 12 links in nicely with the work I did on Barthes, by initially considering the studium and the punctum.  The text moves on to consider the way in which some digital artists contradict the perfection achievable through post production by using manipulation to create entirely fabricated life forms, (for want of a better descriptor) and chimera.  The example used is work by Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher.

The chapter moves on to consider the work of Nancy Burson, responsible for developing software that simulates ageing, who has also created images using ‘electronic averaging’ software.  Her work culminated in the development of ‘The Human Race Machine’ which enabled viewers to digitally alter their ages, ethnicities and facial features.  Angier contrasts this nicely with the work of August Sander.  The latter makes thousand of discrete portraits whilst Burson uses thousands of source images to create the single image output from the software.

Jeff Wall is the photographer given the most prominence in this chapter.  I have seen his well known ‘Mimic, 1982’ in galleries and in the press but it remains a striking example of a staged tableaux.  Similarly, I have seen ‘Dead Troops Talk’ but had been unaware of how ie was put together – a similar approach to that used by Red Saunders whose exhibition I reviewed.  Unfortunately, the printed version of this image has much less impact and is considerably more difficult to view than the 4m plus backlit transparency in a gallery.  One of Angier’s paragraphs on this image is worth quoting in full:

“As a photographic object, “Dead Troops Talk” has a peculiar relationship to the physical reality that it depicts.  Not only is it an enactment of the aftermath of a fictional event, it is also an image that has been constructed out of many images.  Although, it may be said to represent a single scene, it does not represent a single instant.  It is a montage of different moments.  This spreading out of time, across the whole field of view, might seem to constitute a challenge to the basic nature of photography, breaking the customary link between the picture and its single temporal reference point.  Wall does not think so.

“I don’t think it’s really broken, because everything in [it] is a photograph.  The montage is composed of acts of photography, even if there is no simple photographed moment.  I don’t think any photographic qualities are eliminated except the single moment in which the entire image was made.  I admit that that may be the decisive absence, but I like to make a picture that derives from that absence and contemplates it””

Angier then links the image back to art historical reference points and then, most elegantly of all in my opinion, takes the chapter as a whole full circle by cross referencing Wall’s work from the 1980s to Oscar Rejlander’s composite print from 1858, “The Two Ways of Life”.

It is of course worth noting that digital imaging has moved on hugely from the examples used in this chapter. The CGI technologies available today make some of the earlier examples used look fairly primitive.  I wonder what an update version of the book would have to say about todays 3D imaging?