Category Archives: Project 2 – Layered, Complex

Part 4 Project 2 – Layered, Complex, Mysterious

Again this section does not call for written work, rather it points to some photographers for reference.  I looked at the ASX Sally Mann (USA 1951-) interview too.  I have long admired her photography and her working ethos, the latter having being challenged for her depiction of her children – or rather of her unclothed children.  She has been accused of ‘abusing’ her offspring by portraying them in this way, the suggestion being that she caused them harm in later life, particularly as they grew through their teenage years.  When her ‘Immediate Family’ show opened in New York (1992) some reviewing publications refused to include images they considered ‘innapropriate’.

” When The Wall Street Journal ran a photograph of then-4-year-old Virginia, it censored her eyes, breasts and genitals with black bars. Artforum, traditionally the most radical magazine in the New York art world, refused to publish a picture of a nude Jessie swinging on a hay hook”

The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann – Retrieved Apr. 30, 2017, from

1984-1991     1984-1991    1984-1991

Mann claimed that it never bothered her children and they themselves concurred. This is a difficult area because I know from working in child protection myself that children will often dismiss any suggestion that they were treated inappropriately and in any case abuse does not rest on acknowledgement by its victims.  But I look at the matter in an artistic and photographic context and find myself wholly in favour of Mann’s approach.  She endured continuing criticism but persisted, going on to produce further significant work including ‘At Twelve’.  Sally Mann was a founder member of the Continuum Group, a photographic alliance which included Ted Orland and David Bayles, co-authors of the inspirational book  “Art and Fear”.

But anyway…. on to the quality of light aspect – Mann at this time preferred to work at certain times of day and also in certain seasons – all the work was photographed in summer, while the winter months were reserved for printing and finishing.  Her daylight preferences are clear from the images she has made – the light is subtle, shady and most evocative of the family farmland where the pictures were made. She uses atmospheric haze to emphasise foreground subject matter and shallow depth of field to further differentiate the background.  In her Southern Landscapes series it’s not clear whether the vignetting is a result of a printing technique or the covering power of the lens.

                      1992-1996  1992-1996

Southern Landscapes  Sally Mann 1992-1996

If Sally Mann seeks out the moody contrasts, Michael Schmidt (Germany 1945-2014), on the other hand,  isn’t at all keen on shadows.  He wants a flat light so that the components of the image are able to express themselves without interference.

“His photographs are remarkable for their near complete absence of chiaroscuro – their colour schemes always seem to float in between the two extremes of black and white, caught in the grey and ambivalent middle, just like Berlin was caught between the political poles of East and West.”

Remembering Michael Schmidt | AnOther. Retrieved Apr. 30, 2017, from Web site:

He was also considered exceptionally talented in his sequencing of images:

“Mr. Schmidt expressed his goal in arranging pictures as “1 + 1 = 3,” a coinage illustrating his belief that juxtaposing a series of photographs greatly increases their emotional power.”

Douglas Martin  on Michael Schmidt, 68, Maker of Photographic Narratives, Dies – The New York Times. Retrieved Apr. 30, 2017, from Web site:

  Michael Schmidt, Untitled, 1980  Michael Schmidt, Irgendwo, 2001-2004

All images – Michael Schmidt

Michael Collins (India 1961-) seeks the same flat, shadowless lighting for his work, which he considers to be ‘record photography’. I saw him present and talk about his work at The White House in Sherborne a few years ago and he won’t entertain the idea of shooting in sunlight, preferring to allow the drama to emerge of its own volition without the emphasis of contrasty light.

    M6 1 

All images: Michael Collins

The rightmost image above is titled “Derelict Houses, Stoke”, which I find deeply evocative of my teenage years spent in the Potteries.  The properties are more than derelict, they are abandoned, hopeless and without purpose like much of the Stoke-on-Trent of my youth.