Category Archives: Reading, Research

NPG workshop with Kate Peters–8/9 April 2017

 

I attended a weekend workshop at the National Portrait Gallery, led by Kate Peters around the theme of ‘mask’ and ‘disguise’, in conjunction with an exhibition called Gillian Wearing & Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask.

Gillian Wearing makes extensive use of prosthetic masks to produce images which show an real person –  herself – presenting as a different person, usually a family member or an acquaintance.  The masks she uses have developed over time from simple and somewhat primitive to very expensive and sophisticated.  In each image, the only real visible facial feature are the eyes.

Wearing has made this approach her own and has produced a wide range of work using the technique.  She has always used herself as the subject, for example in a large series of polaroids taken over a period covering her late teens.  They are the printed version of the modern ‘selfie’ but with less face-pulling.

My personal response to the majority of her later work is mixed.  While the early work was innovative and fresh I feel that the continued use of the mask device does little to advance and explore her photography.  Her earlier self portraits seem to have more authenticity and less artifice, perhaps because they were the work of a younger, less well-formed artist. The connection between Wearing and Cahun is rather more tenuous than might first appear; I bow to the curatorial experience of the NPG but having put some time into reading about Cahun and Wearing I think that apart from the superficial similarity of some aspects of their work they have little in common. Perhaps that was never the purpose of the exhibition.

Claude Cahun (her birth name was Lucy Schwob) met her lifelong partner and artistic collaborator Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe) at age 15;  Moore was three years older and they were together until Cahun’s death in 1954 at the age of 64.  Virtually all of Cahun’s photographic output featured just Cahun herself, though Moore is occasionally in shot either as a figure or a shadow. It seems reasonable to suppose, given their shared artistic interests, that Moore was actively involved in contriving the images, indeed many appear to require an assistant to make the actual exposure.  Wearing’s collaborations seem to extend only to engaging the professional services of prosthetic mask makers.

Both Cahun and Moore were deeply influenced by their personal, artistic and social circumstances.  It is generally accepted that they had a lesbian relationship and it is known that Cahun rejected the wealthy Jewish background into which she had been born.  She was associated with the nascent Surrealist movement but was not accepted into their circle until her first and only exhibition in 1932.  Their departure from Paris to Jersey was precipitated by the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism, ideologies to which they were both vehemently opposed.  They continued their passionate resistance to the German occupation of Jersey by placing subversive notes into soldiers’ pockets and vehicles, a scheme which resulted in capture and imprisonment until the liberation of the island in May 1945. Incarceration took a heavy toll on Cahun’s health and she never fully recovered.

Cahun explored her ideas about gender representation through her work, a theme which I suspect was underpinned by her own sexual orientation.  Although she is now known as a photographer she was recognised in her time as an author; her photographs were, in the main, never intended for public consumption and although captioned in books and exhibitions as ‘self portraits’ she herself did not title her work.  In these, as in so many respects, her artistic processes and influences share very little with those of Gillian Wearing.

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Work of Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore

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Work of Gillian Wearing

In the NPG exhibition one is confronted with the substantial differences in the scale of the prints.  Cahun’s work is tiny, no more than half postcard size and seems to be contact prints from roll film negatives.  There is an intimacy of scale here, the images are all monochrome and because of their size it is necessary to view them up close – they invite near examination and as a result they establish a proximal relationship with the viewer.  Wearing’s work, on the other hand, is many times larger and lacks the modesty implicit in Cahun’s prints and it is necessary to stand a good distance off to see them comfortably.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The two-day workshop comprised eleven attendees of mixed ages and experience.  I was pleased to meet another OCA BA Photography student there!  Following introductions and a tour of the exhibition we set about constructing and photographing our own ‘masks and disguises’.  We used Fuji instant film to produce prints, then bleaching the backing part of the peel-away to obtain a scannable negative. We also made digital photographs of the work, printed instantly on a little Canon Selphy printer.

 

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The following day we were assigned the task of making digital street portraits with a ‘film’ limitation – LCD viewfinder turned off or blanked (no chimping) and only twenty shots allowed.  The challenge of approaching strangers was made somewhat easier by working in mixed M/F pairs although the sunny warm weather and the words ‘for the National Portrait Gallery’ probably helped.  Those we approached were happy to be photographed.  My co-photographer had the foresight to bring some business cards which helped with the interactions.  I must get some made myself.

 

 

In the afternoon we were able to use Kate’s own equipment and lighting to photograph each other and a model provided by the gallery.  This was a good opportunity to observe how an accomplished practitioner approaches portraiture in natural and artificial light. I learned a great deal from the workshop:

  • Cahun and Moore’s lives as collaborative photographers
  • Wearing’s career path and development
  • Interacting with other workshop attendees and learning from their varied experience and approaches
  • Studio techniques with natural and artificial light
  • Alternative instant film processes
  • Tethered photography with medium format cameras and digital back
  • Approaching strangers for portraits in the street

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On Looking at Photographs; Bill Jay & David Hurn, Lenswork Publishing 2000

This isn’t a book review.  It’s a collection of thoughts, observations and reflections which I noted whilst reading it.  As such, it wanders around a bit and sometimes lurches from one point to another; in this way it reflects process as much as learning.

I read this book straight after How To Read A Photograph (Ian Jeffrey, Thames & Hudson 2008).  It was just a coincidence that it adopts a diametrically opposed view to that of Jeffrey and so is rather more in line with my own at this stage of learning.  I say at this stage because I acknowledge that it’s quite possible, even likely, that my view will change over the duration of this course.  In the meantime here are my observations on the Jay/Hurn volume.

The book takes the form of a conversation between the authors, which reflects the nature of their photographic discussions during their long association.  It’s an effective literary device in this context and permits differences of opinion to be expressed. For a book about photographs it has the unusual distinction of being completely without images of any kind, save for the author photographs at the end of the book!

It is divided into six sections:

Four Fundamental Principles of Photography;
Meaning And Why It Is So Slippery;
Merit, And Why It Is So Rare;
Art, And Why It Is So Different;
Morality, And Why It Is So Important
Looking At Photographs

The authors define the four fundamentals as the stages of actually making a photographic exposure, to the point of rendering a latent image or digital file. First the selection stage is characterised by the relationship between the photographer and the subject – the authors maintain that a ‘head or heart’ reaction is invoked, a neccessary precursor to the exposure. The second step involves securing the maximum clarity of the image in terms of definition and detail.  The third involves the optimal arrangement of shapes within the viewfinder; and the last is a matter of timing.  Once these requirements are adequately satisfied, the result, the authors maintain ‘…is a good photograph’.  Seems pretty straightforward, then… only this is a book about looking at photographs so that by no means wraps it up.  The notion of what makes a good photograph is discussed at length in the later chapters.

imageAt the Cafe, Chez Fraysse, Rue de Seine, Paris, 1958 Robert Doisneau

In the meantime the authors turn their attention to Meaning.  Citing an image by Robert Doisneau (above) they quote a paragraph from John Szarkowski thus:

It has already been pointed out that photographs often appear to mean something quite different from what the event itself would have meant had we been there. It is conceivable that the gentleman in the picture below [above] is simply telling the girl that he no longer needs her at the shop, due to business being slow. Regardless of historic fact, however, a picture is about what it appears to be about, and this picture is about a potential seduction.

One is tempted to believe that even the painters of the eighteenth century never did the subject so well.

The girl’s secret opinion of the proceedings so far is hidden in her splendid self-containment; for the moment she enjoys the security of absolute power. One arm shields her body, her hand touches her glass as tentatively as if it were the first apple. The man for the moment is defenseless and vulnerable; impaled on the hook of his own desire, he has committed all his resources, and no satisfactory line of retreat remains. Worse yet, he is older than he should be, and knows that one way or another the adventure is certain to end badly. To keep this presentiment at bay, he is drinking his wine more rapidly than he should.

The picture however precludes questions of the future. This pair, if less romantically conceived than the lovers on John Keats’s urn, are equally safe, here in the picture, from the consequences of real life.

from John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1 Jan. 1984

It appears that Szarkowski was right when he mentioned painters applying themselves to similar subjects;  this, by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (although from the nineteenth century) seems to contain a number of similar elements to Doisneau’s photograph.  So much so that Szarkowski’s reading might apply to the painting as well as the photograph.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – At the Café La Mie c 1891

Hurn and Jay do not name Szarkowski, referring to him simply as ‘the critic’, which seems a little odd, but then they are quite dismissive in their assessment of his reading:

“This might be a fine example of creative writing but it has little to do with
the actual photograph. As I understand the circumstances, Robert Doisneau
arranged and set up the scene with model friends. But the image, of these
particular people at this particular location, at this particular time, is about
whatever the viewer believes. This is what the fancy term semiotics is all
about.”

These authors may be closer to agreement than it first appears, with Szarkowski claiming  “a picture is about what it appears to be about” and Hurn/Jay saying that “the image….. is about what ever the viewer believes”.  Both viewpoints acknowledge the inseparable relationship between the viewer’s interpretive proclivities and the image, but Szarkowski seems to insist that a correct reading can be formed.   

Knowing that the photograph was ‘set-up’ and noting similarities in the content I wonder whether Doisneau had the Lautrec painting in mind all along.

The authors then proceed to dismantle another commonly held belief about the functioning of a photograph, that of its narrative capabilities.  Using the example of war photography, they suggest that the reader inspect such an anthology at random and attempt to discover a narrative; this, they maintain, cannot be done and declare:

“…photographs do not tell stories and they are not narrative in function.”

and:

“For exactly the same reason that photographs are not ideally suited to communicating a narrative, they are not suited to communicating ideas. A great deal of pseudo-intellectual jargon has been written about photographs in an effort to prove that they impart moral messages, philosophical lessons or otherwise carry heavy intellectual weight. The usual result is to make both the text and the photographs unintelligible. Herbert Read has noted that the visual arts operate through the eyes, “expressing and conveying a sense of feeling.”He continues that “if we have ideas to express, the proper medium is language.” This fact, says Read,“cannot be too strongly emphasized.”

[They are referring to ‘The Meaning of Art’ by Herbert Read  (Faber and Faber; New Ed edition, 8 April 1974).  I’ve secured a copy of this and will study it in due course.]

It seems to me that all photographs have an inherent level of ambivalence which varies from image to image.  I tried to conjure one which had the absolute minimum ambivalence and could only come up with this:

image

It is a true photograph, made with a digital camera and without any manipulation. It doesn’t communicate anything of itself other than simply ‘egg’.  It would be meaningful to a friend of mine who is allergic to egg products and who may well have an emotional reaction to it.  A farmer close to retirement who, having invested heavily in egg production, finds his future undermined by an outbreak of salmonella may have a powerful response.  But these reactions are viewer-generated and the image acts only as a catalyst.

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Paul Martin, Lambeth 1892

A good deal further along the ambiguity scale is this photograph by Paul Martin, which I believe is the one referred to here by Hurn/Jay:

“Assumptions concerning the story of the picture would be even more tentative.
It is likely that the children are waiting for (not actually watching) an event,
because the attention of the faces is scattered. The boys in the background
seem to be trying to reach a higher vantage point which probably confirms
this assumption. The policeman is, perhaps, controlling the crowd. But
why does the crowd comprise only children? No assumptions can be made.
Is the event a happy or tragic one? No assumptions can be made — some
children appear unhappy, others are smiling.”

The photograph presents some information which many people (Western, English, with some historical awareness) would consider reliable. They would acknowledge the historical period, the approximate ages of the people, the policeman doing his assigned duty and the varied facial expressions.  It may be reasonable to infer information from the children and young peoples’ clothing since it appears to be somewhat disheveled; perhaps they are all from poor families, spending much of their time in the streets.   But this would be moving further along the ‘ambiguity scale’, perhaps too far for confidence. Indeed, Jay/Hurn consider that no assumptions can be made.  In fact the event for which they had all assembled was to see the funeral cortege of a much despised local policeman, a bully and persecutor of children, who had met his end by swallowing his false teeth whilst in pursuit of a felon.  Once in possession of this information we can place the image and its content in context.

To be continued…

Review: How To Read a Photograph, Ian Jeffrey

How to read a photograph:
Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers

Ian Jeffrey, Thames & Hudson 2008

All italicized text is quoted from the book directly.

I had high hopes for this book because it semed it would address a significant aspect of the photography coursework but even at the start something seemed odd – the first piece of authored text reads:

Technical note: The question of dimensions
Certain of the pictures in this anthology, specifically those from the World Wars, come with measurements added. This is in part because they are previously unpublished and do not yet belong to any historical consensus.  As few have seen the pictures, measurements act as a guarantee that they really exist.

I wonder why Jeffrey feels I would need such a guarantee and how supplying dimensions might allay my concerns.  Does he think that I suspect he has concocted the images artificially, that they are manufactured by him and where not in fact made during either World War?  And if I am so untrusting of his methods, how does supplying dimensions help, since I am not in a position to verify them?  If he has published fake images then surely the dimensions are equally suspect.  But I’m happy to accept that the images have impeccable provenance and that his assurances simply indicate academic rigour.
The book may be more appropriately titled ‘How I (Might) Read a Photograph’ or ‘How I Speculate About a Photograph’ because there is no ‘How To…’ element in the book.  It comprises an anthology of photographers from the early protagonists to the more recent practitioners with a very short biographical note on each, the detail of which is terse and clinical with precious little, if any, attempt made to relate the photographer’s life experience to the nature of his or her work. The text accompanying examples of the photographer’s work concentrates mainly on describing what is plain to see; where readings are made they are often fanciful, nebulous and poorly supported.  There’s nothing wrong with interpreting an image in any way one chooses, but this is meant to be a textbook and I expected more in the way of ‘worked examples’ in order to help me to understand the process.

Some examples taken from the book:

imageDoris Ulmann “James Duff, Fiddler & John Jacob Niles in Hazard, Kentucky 1933”

“James Duff leans against a wall.  JJ Niles nortes details of their conversation
in a notebook. Duff, a middle aged to elderly man, may have dressed for the event
with a jacket, necktie and a pair of decent trousers. The picture is a record of an event;
an encounter during which Duff played snatches of tunes and Niles relighted his pipe.”

Jeffrey observes that Duff is leaning against a wall, approximates his age and identifies several items of his clothing.  The image discloses these facts without the need for reading or interpretation. He expands his view by proposing that Duff played snatches of tunes and Niles relighted his pipe, that Duff had given some thought to his appearance and chosen decent trousers.  All of this is possible but it is mainly conjecture. It would be equally plausible, possibly more so given the condition of Duff’s pants, that his wife had his best pair in the wash and on expressing his dismay she responded ‘Well you’re only chinwagging with that JJ, what does it matter, it’s not church’.  JJ may well have attended to his pipe after the exposure but it seems to have gone out in the photograph… perhaps he was so intent on his note taking he didn’t notice.  It is conceivable that Jeffrey had access to documentary evidence of the precise nature of this encounter and that his observations are factual but if this were so there would be little point in including the image in a book which concerns itself with how to read a photograph.

Jeffrey maintains that “Ulmann’s gift was to get people to act themselves, to be aspiring young people or esteemed elders”  I have looked at numerous examples of Ulmanns work and though I found much of it captivating and pleasing I wasn’t struck by an overall feeling of aspiration from any of the young people depicted. As for getting people to act themselves, that’s pretty much what people did anyway in the those early days of photography.  The idea of acting as someone else or putting on affectation for the camera was a comfortable fifty years away.

I consider her skill as a photographic chronicler lay in her fascination with portraits and particularly those of older people:

” …the face of an older person, perhaps not beautiful in the strictest sense, is usually more appealing than the face of a younger person who has scarcely been touched by life”

(“Doris Ulmann: Photographer-in-waiting,” Bookman, 72, 129-144.)

And she was a prolific photographer, making around 2000 glass plate negatives during her expedition in the Appalachians for Allen Eaton’s book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands between 1932-4 during which her health began to fail, leading to her death in 1934 aged fifty-two.

I will consider a couple of further images which Jeffreys has selected for inclusion in the book and look at his commentary, first this by Henri Cartier-Bresson entitled Mexico, 1934

image

I would agree that his relaxed posture could be a result of tiredness or intoxication but to infer prudence as a character trait on the basis of his belt’n’braces I feel is absurd.  A prudent individual is unlikely to succumb to intoxication, nor select the open street as a suitable place for a nap. In the image we see another person’s legs from the knees down, from which Jeffreys confidently predicts the attitude of the rest of the body, particularly the eyes. It is tricky enough to read the actual content of the image without speculating on what might be occurring outside the frame.  We may use our knowledge of other factors – the place, date, photographer’s predispositions, the prevailing socio-political climate – to inform our reading of the image, but to assign a very specific interaction to an essentially invisible individual is specious.

Lewis Baltz, “Sand Dunes, 1972”

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Jeffreys says:

“The SAND DUNES in question were probably close by and the name had been taken quite naturally – for whatever kind of establishment this was.  In the conceptual era name transfers like this were often remarked on. Somewhere in the mental distance an idea of the coast might survive – but greatly weakened. The scene itself looks like an inventory of what might happen to any cemented wall daubed, smeared, streaked and cracked – and the pavement spotted.”

In attempting to understand this commentary I’ve searched ‘conceptual era’ and come up with nothing relevant – I can only assume that it is one of the author’s pieces of shorthand which he doesn’t expand upon.  What might he mean by a ‘name transfer’ and who would be making the frequent remarks?  In the larger panel under the image he speaks of ‘Ratios and proportional systems’ claiming that:

“If you can deploy the correct mathematics and use your intuition, you will be able to identify the golden section.  But all rectangles within rectangles look promising in this respect even if they are no more than doors and windows on the facades of industrial buildings”

Here’s an ideal opportunity for Jeffreys to enlighten us on how a combination of mathematical precision and a lack of conscious reasoning may assist us in recognising inherent harmony in the image but sadly he remains silent on the matter.

This is not reading a photograph – it is attaching a manufactured narrative which too often appears based on the flimsiest of notions.

My reading of this image settles on its inherent irony… we know that sand dunes are generally soft, curved, sweeping forms which are natural products, the result of wind and wave action.  The surfaces we see here are hard, angular, unnatural and grubby – quite the opposite.

In summary, I have been disappointed with the content of this book because I feel that it fails to deliver what it so clearly promises.  It has some value as a simple anthology and some of Jeffrey’s flights of fancy are amusing but it has not demonstrated ‘how’ to read anything. There’s something a little odd about the grammar and sentence construction too, almost as if it has been composed in English, translated by Google into French then translated back again.

 

 

 

“Who’s afraid of Conceptual Art?”

Me for a start, so this program on BBC4 (19th September 2016) was appealing.  Anyone thinking that this would be an explanatory guide, along the lines of ‘this is, this isn’t and here’s why’ was going to be disappointed.  The presenter Dr James Fox, an genial individual who seemed comfortable disclosing his bafflement with the viewer, traced its origins and development from the times of Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, through Carl Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’ to current exponents of the art such as Martin Creed with his crumpled paper balls.

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Martin Creed, Work No. 88, A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball, 1995

He met with several quite entertaining conceptual artists and throughout the interviews one theme seemed to emerge: they were all rather pleased with themselves. Being a successful conceptual artist brings considerable rewards. A common response to some of this work must surely be ‘My Five Year Old Could Do That’,  so bearing in mind the retail cost of a Creed Crumpled Ball (£180 inc delivery & VAT), and having half a ream of A4 copier to hand I thought I’d have a go myself.

This work consists of a short live-action video piece and three images:

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Untitled; Andy Webster 2016

It’s a lot harder than it looks.  Creed’s balls are far more artistic than mine, even though conceptually their artistic merit is secondary to the idea behind them.  My work is that of a complete amateur, in both thought and execution and it shows.  But probing deeper, perhaps that in itself is what imbues this work of mine with value – as my very first attempt it can never be repeated; all my subsequent conceptual work will be that of an experienced artist, now matter how limited the experience. It is my index work, against which all that follows may be compared and now I hear a subversive internal monologue:  “Can you see what’s happening now?’  I ask myself…. ‘you started with your tongue quite firmly in your cheek and now it’s merrily wagging away along with all the other critics”

Conceptual art is a broad church and opinions vary wildly.  The Andre work “Equivalent VIII” was bought by The Tate in 1972 for £2,297 and presumably they considered it a fair price; Jonathan Jones writing in The Guardian recently[2] called it

“The most boring controversial artwork ever …”

and presumably wouldn’t give it house-room (though he might usefully rework it as a room for his house).  Two experts, two opinions.  If you added a further three, seven, twenty experts you’d probably get as many opinions again, but that’s one of the values of conceptual art; the artist having given his idea or notion form and substance, the work takes on a life of its own, provoking thought, discussion and multiple viewpoints.  A work of conceptual art might be thought of as the distilled essence of an idea, which expressed in words would take on a far  lengthier and more cumbersome form.

In an earlier post I wrote about my encounters with the work of art critic Terry Barrett and his assertion that art “needs interpretation”.  I think it’s often possible to mount a fairly plausible counterclaim to this in the case of photographs but for conceptual art I’d say he’s right on the money.

As for my own career as a Conceptual Artist I feel I would be unwise to give up the day job, even if I had one.

 

[1].Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? BBC Documentary 2016. 2016. Autumnwatch 2014 Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y1Mc3YxjRY&gt; [Accessed 22 Sep. 2016].

[2].  Jonathan Jones: Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII: the most boring controversial artwork ever. The Guardian. [online] 20 Sep. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2016/sep/20/carl-andre-equivalent-viii-bricks> [Accessed 22 Sep. 2016].

Keith Arnatt

Keith Arnatt (1930-2008)

Arnatt was already a well known conceptual artist before his adoption of photography as a fundamental part of his work. His meeting with David Hurn in 1973 marked a turning point in his career when, after a lecture delivered by Hurn, Arnatt asked if he would help him become a photographer. He joined the student body at Newport College of Higher Education on the course which Hurn had recently set up. Arnatt would have been around 43 years old at this time, but enthusiastically immersed himself in student life and the history of photography.

He began “Trouser –Word Piece” in 1972, a project with several underlying themes. Arnatt had become concerned over the temporary nature of his art, that a viewer had to be present with the original to experience it.  Photographic records went some way to overcoming this difficulty.  He was also experiencing some conflict about what it meant to be an artist and how the work itself was overly concerned about the difficulty of being one.

Additionally he was making a statement about comments made twenty-five years earlier by the then Director of The Tate Gallery, Alan Bowness, who insisted that the gallery would only collect photographs made by artists, not photographs produced by photographers.  The implication was clear:  photographers are not real artists, a viewpoint which attracts controversy to this day.

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Untitled (Study for Trouser-Word Piece, I’m a Real Artist)
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Untitled (Study for Trouser-Word Piece, I’m a Real Artist) 

Through 1974-79 Arnatt worked on three projects: The Visitors, Walking the Dog and The Gardeners.    Each of these employed a similar aesthetic, that of the ‘straight’ or ‘deadpan’ photograph. 

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The Visitors, 1974-76

In his “The Visitors” series, Arnatt produced images of visitors to Tinterne Abbey,  not far from his home in Monmouthshire.  Each photograph is in square format black and white.  The figures depicted look directly at the camera but are seemingly unposed and each image shows two individuals, often similarly dressed. The viewpoint is perpendicular to the figures and appears to be at the photographers standing eye-height.  There is no intervening foreground and the subjects’ feet are not visible – they appear to grow from the lower edge of the frame. This has the effect of making the people much more tangible to the viewer.

 

Arnat worked on the project “Walking the Dog” from 1976-9.  Again these images were made in black and white, square format but printed on a slightly larger portrait paper.  In contrast to the previous series, the feet of the dogs and owners are visible but there is still little or no foreground in any of the images.

photo by keith arnatt, walking the dog series,1976-79:

Walking the Dog, 1976-79

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Walking the Dog, 1976-79

It appears that the figures are unposed, save for the possible instuction to “stand over there”.  Arnatt did, however, direct both the dogs and the people;  he asked the name of the animal and called its name at the point of exposure in order to attract the glance of both dog and owner.  Exposures which failed to achieve this – there were many of them – were not included in the final series.  Questions may arise as a result of this simple ploy.  What first appears to be a series of artless renditions is in fact a selected sequence.

 

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The Gardeners, 1978-79

Towards the end of this most productive period, Arnatt turned his attention to a series depicting individuals whom we are told are The Gardeners, shown in each square format, black and white image, in a domestic garden setting.  The full length figures are mostly placed centrally in the frame with equal space all around, looking directly at the camera and surrounded by the evidence of their horticultural endeavor.  Many appear somewhat self-conscious, as if aware that documenting their personal space would expose them to judgement or criticism; gardening can be a competitive pastime.

Keith Arnatt produced innovative, personal work during this period, requiring considerable ongoing commitment and for which there can have been (I speculate here) little financial reward;  his official bibliography 1 cites the publication of  Walking the Dog (Omega Books, London 1979),  participation in two European group exhibitions and a couple of broadsheet newspaper reviews.  From a personal point of view I find this an inspirational example of deep engagement and artistic persistance.  Although I have studied the work of several other photographers for the OCA Square Mile course segment I have found considerable affinity with this Artist.

 

Image result for The Gardeners arnatt Keith Arnatt, Tintern, Monmouthshire, 1976 

All images are copyright of the Keith Arnatt Estate

1.  Keith Arnatt Bibliography. [online] Available at: <http://www.keitharnatt.com/kasite/keith_arnatt_bibliography.html&gt; [Accessed 16 Sep. 2016]

Doug DuBois

My Last Day at Seventeen 

“Photographs, at best, can create fictions that point toward the truth of experience and memory,” DuBois said. “I hope that these images do honor to the idea of being young, and to the people who welcomed me into their lives.”

Doug DuBois

<i>Russell Heights</i>

DuBois is an American photographer who for four years was artist-in-residence at the Sirius Arts Center, Cobh, County Cork on the southwest coast of Ireland.  This series was photographed in the Russel Heights area. 

<i>East Hill</i>

I was intrigued by his comment, above, concerning the capacity of photography to ‘create fictions’.  This sentiment echoes the approach I adopted in producing my Square Mile series.  DuBois is not concerned about introducing a little artifice to his work – the image of the teenagers on the wall in front of the house was a recreation of a photograph he had made in similar circumstances the previous year.  His subjects were glad to cooperate in setting the shot up, happy to be ‘directed’ in arranging themselves about the brickwork. I liked it when I first saw it, then I had to reconsider when I learned that it had been set-up; then I decided it didn’t matter, in fact the knowledge of the youngsters’ enthusiastic participation added another dimension to the reading of the image.

 

<i>Russell Heights</i>
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American photographer Doug DuBois has spent the past four summers documenting the lives of teenagers in Cobh County, Ireland, looking "at the bravado and adventure of childhood with an eye towards its fragility and inevitable loss."

All images Copyright Dou DuBois