Thursday, 13 December 2012

Seduced by Art: photography past and present - The National Gallery Study visit

I attended the OCA study day at the National Gallery last week. The show was, "Seduced by Art: Photography, Past and Present." The aim of the exhibition was to show how the tradition and culture of painting has affected the development of a photographic aesthetic in photography since its invention in 1839. The day began with a lecture that really helped to put the exhibition into context and allowed for discussion on some of the work that we were to see exhibited later in the day.

Eugene Delacroix, "Death of Sardanapulas."

Historical works of art were hung side by side with photography to illustrate the flow of ideas and in one of the examples a Delacroix painting, "Death of Sardanapulas," was hung with the work of contemporary photographers, Jeff Wall and Sarah Jones. Both of them have used the Delacroix painting as their reference point. In the case of Jeff Wall, it is his, "The Destroyed Room," and for Sarah Jones, her work, "The Drawing Studio (I)." It was an eye opener to be made aware of these connections. I would never have worked it out alone. For one, I am not familiar enough with traditional Western art painting. I've not seen the Delacroix painting before and the tale of the impending destruction about to happen to the king and his harem was not an obvious one for me. Also the content of the painting and the two photographs are vastly different but I could see the connection once I spent enough time analysing the works.

How many of us have been brought up with a deep knowledge of classical history, myths and painting though? I can see how Post Modernism evolved and gained a foothold now. Our own experiences in a modern society through television, film and the media, seem much more relevant to me. I'm not dismissing the referencing of art in photography. I still enjoy it. I'm just making an acknowledgement that more work is required to understand it.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Tony Ray-Jones

Another photographer that my tutor suggested for my final assignment was Tony Ray-Jones. He was British and had worked for a number of years in the USA. When he returned to the UK he brought back with him a new dynamism in photography that had spread amongst his contemporaries there.

Tony Ray-Jones take on the British at the seaside is a quirky piece of work filled with characters and surreal compositions. The dated clothes and headgear worn by many of the people also add a comic element to some of the images. Ray-Jones's work could be considered a forerunner of later works by Martin Parr that show the British off their guard in a place where the accepted societal norms are relaxed.

The images are all in Black and White and are mostly high contrast giving them depth. He is a photographer I had not come across before and I'm glad that I did.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mark Power - The Shipping Forecast

For my final assignment I had a look at Mark Power's, The Shipping Forecast. The black and white images taken mostly around the coastal areas of Britain seeks to photograph people and their environment in relation to the strange sounding names from the BBC Radio shipping forecast. These ethereal sounding names read out over the airwaves conjure up magical places to the ears of most listeners. Powers has attempted to put images to these words.

Quite a few of his compositions are often on the diagonal with sometimes madly tilted horizons. This gives a dynamism to his work especially when people are involved. This is a technique that I do not use enough and looking back at my own work it can look staid after viewing images such as these. When I see it in other photographers work I have to remind myself to experiment more.

The images are also mostly dark in tonal range - almost low key. I think a fair bit of processing has been done to dodge and burn highlights and lowlights - in some images the sky is almost black. The areas highlighted certainly do justice to the compositions. Again, I need to remind myself that processing an image with a particular tonal range in mind that is quite different from what has been captured can bring it to life.

There is also a gentle humour in many of the images that is in contrast to the dark tones. I found this book very interesting to look through and food for thought.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Martin Parr - The Last Resort

Martin Parr's, The Last Resort is an amazing insight into a place and people enjoying their leisure time in the coastal town of New Brighton during 1985/86. The first few images are a gentle lead-in with a smartly dressed old couple waiting for their meal in a tired but respectable looking cafe that looks as if it hasn't changed since the 40s. Then, an image of a seafront shelter with a pane of broken glass - hinting at the usual decline that can be seen in British seaside towns. But as I began to turn the pages the full on grossness of holiday makers trying to enjoy their day, surrounded by discarded chip packets and overflowing waste bins, is a bit of a shock. I found it difficult not to be repulsed - at first.

The images are full of saturated primary colours. This means that anything plastic or commercially produced, such as colourful wrappers, bathing costumes, lipstick, seems to stand out from the page. The amount of litter is extreme. The images of children or people with their feet in water that has a floating scum of garbage are revolting but fascinating. In his introduction to the book, Gerry Badger states that, "all the children in the images appear happy". I didn't see this myself. Some of them are crying and they and most of the other people in bathing costumes look like uncooked meat that is about to get a roasting from a relentless sun. I'm sure flash photography of some sort has enhanced this effect. The mass of exposed skin in many of the images to me looks designed to be unflattering. The images portray a marked amount of consumption of crisps, cans of coke, chocolate and chips. Is this intentional? Are we supposed to be appalled at the constant chewing and chomping? I guess the answer would be that the photographer is just recording what he sees. Of course, by now, we all know the falseness of this statement.

Once over the shock though, and after a read of the foreword by Gerry Badger, I can see beyond the awfulness to notice that the people are making the best of the situation that they find themselves in. It is not their fault that the rubbish bins are over flowing with refuse. They just haven't been emptied frequently enough for the amount of visitors that day. It has been stated in the introduction that the book is more a comment about the growth of mass consumerism under the Thatcher years than a criticism of a people that are forced to live in that society. It's true. The people in the images didn't make that society - they just had to live in it. A fake dream of a better life, consisting of cheap goods sold to us by advertisers working for big corporations - wanting us to consume to excess for their profit. A society that we are all now too familiar with.