Category Archives: Research & Reflection

Research point – Gregory Crewdson

Research point

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the
questions below.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be

I have looked at the work of Gregory Crewdson a couple of times already; whilst I studied EYV here and also for assignment 4 on C & N here, I also recently visited his exhibition ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ at the Photographers Gallery in London. During my previous research I had already viewed the video on the link above but I watched it again today.

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Yes, absolutely. As Crewdson explains at the start of the video clip the first element or part of his photography  is to ‘make a beautiful picture’ but as he goes on to explain just having a beautiful picture isn’t enough. I can relate to this as I have found it hard to connect with some photographic work I have seen which is good only on a technical and aesthetic basis. For example if I look at some commercial photography or advertising photography, I find it is often well constructed with beautiful lighting often in beautiful locations but the overall photographic experience has left me feeling emotionally cold and disconnected. Crewdson explains in the video he feels that’ beauty needs to be undercut with an undercurrent of something psychological or dangerous or desirous or fearful’.

On a side note, its interesting to read some of the YouTube comments below the video (I acknowledge it can be dangerous to delve into the opinions of on line commentators). It would appear Crewdson’s work is a bit like Vegemite. Some suggesting he isn’t even a photographer at all now, more of an artistic director with a large crew who do all of the work for him and that he doesn’t even take the photographs himself. All art is subjective.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

I think Crewdson’s work is beautifully staged photography, using well constructed sets with considered lighting, props, locations, crews and actors. For me I find its often the actors (that add the human element) look of despair, the stare into the abyss that brings it all together. Otherwise these would just be well lit, constructed, empty spaces (both physically and emotionally). I often find when I’m sat thinking I have the same look, as if I’m staring into space, yet my brain is extremely active. To reference the wonderful Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, I am lost within my ‘Memory Warehouse’. Maybe its just something we do as humans to concentrate/focus, either way for me I think it works really well as a mechanism for expressing tension within photography.

The actors within Crewdson’s photography are primarily looking away from the camera/viewer. They often look off to the side, down at the floor or stare into the nothingness. Its as if we are peering into their world as a spectator, almost an emotional voyeurism, we can see into their world but they can’t see us and don’t know we are there.  As I have said above I don’t think the photographs would have the same psychological feel to them without the human element. So I guess we as the observers are trying to figure out ‘what is this person thinking?’, ‘what just happened to them?’, ‘what’s going on in this scene?’. I think if the actors/subjects looked directly at the camera and laughed or pulled a funny face it would entirely change the whole feel of the photographs. The lighting and composition add to the beauty and atmosphere of the shots but its the human element and staging, for me anyway, that provides a lot of that psychological tension.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong
with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

My main goal when taking a picture varies entirely based on what I am photographing and for what reason. I don’t want to tie myself down to one overall goal. Whilst taking a photograph of wildlife my goal maybe to capture it in good light to show of the animals distinct colours or I may be trying to capture a funny moment or a decisive moment, something that would make people stop to look at the photograph. If I were photographing a lion for example my goal may be to capture the majesty of the animal. If I were photographing an animal in the sea or just the oceans in general my goal maybe environmental; to highlight the pollution and rise of plastic in the oceans destroying their habitat.

I would like to the think my images do or will share the goal of being considered. By that I mean applying my learning, knowledge and experience to capture and create images that make people want to look for longer than a simple glance. I do want them to look good but I’m not sure beautiful is necessarily the word I would want to use as it implies good looking or attractive. I would much rather create photography that makes you feel something or gets a reaction from you. Beauty isn’t enough.

Its a hard question to answer, do I think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal in photography? I think in certain circumstances it would work to make beauty your main goal, commercial photography, advertising, fashion/modelling, perhaps landscape photography as well. For me personally, I want more than just beauty so I would say it isn’t my main goal but I do acknowledge it is an important element.

I think it could be more important to capture a moment but its equally important to have the right tools and skills at your disposal to capture that moment.

I guess this is all a bit different when we are specifically considering staged/tableau photography. I would like to think the light, placement of actors, props and set have all been considered and are there for a reason because you have a lot of time to think it through.

Reference:

Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame | Art in Progress | Reserve Channel

Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher on Amazon

 

Exhibition Visit 21st July 2017 Cathedral of the Pines by Gregory Crewdson, The Photographers Gallery, London

Cathedral of the Pines by Gregory Crewdson

Cathedral of the Pines by Gregory Crewdson

Today I made another visit to The Photographers Gallery in London, this time to see the Gregory Crewdson exhibition ‘Cathedral of the Pines’. As ever its a long journey/day up to London from where I live, followed by a decent walk when I get there but its good to stretch the legs after the bus journey. Having enjoyed the other work I had seen by Crewdson in the ‘Twilight’ series and others I had viewed on-line I was excited to see more of his work.

By the time I got to the gallery I was knackered. It was good to get off the street and into the quiet of the exhibition space. Far too many people.

The exhibition is spread over 3 floors and the gallery are also doing a special edition of their magazine to accompany the exhibition, so I picked up a copy. I found the work to be of an exceptional standard, stunning, captivating, dramatic and tense.

I found ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ to be fascinating because you are not presented with definitive answers or solutions, just clues and hints at a narrative. I spent a lot of time at the exhibition trying to draw out a story from the images and trying to link them together into a theme. Some of the images feel like they could be grouped into sub stories or narratives with this overarching idea of nature linking them altogether.

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There is a definite stylistic approach to all of the images that links them, the colours, tones and lighting, along with the pairing of inside and outside spaces in a number of the images. I think the work is very subjective to your own interpretation. Having viewed a number of interviews (after my visit) with Crewdson about this particular piece of work I think that was his intention. I went to the exhibition not knowing a lot about it, I was drawn to it because a) I love the outdoors and nature, I feel a deep connection with it and b) I liked Crewdson’s other work.

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Some of the images like the one below (sorry about the bad snapshot) seemed to suggest to me a murder mystery or a thriller, like frames from a movie – I have noticed this in other photography by Crewdson as well which is part of his whole style and the staged photography genre . I think this is all part of the psychological tension and atmosphere that Crewdson creates so well in his imagery. Love it.

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I noticed all of the images have a big depth of field with lots of detail, everything within the frame is considered; lighting, props, location, subject and composition. A story is suggested but not forced.  I like the idea of a suggested, rather than forced narrative.

Although the images suggest another time, like the older cars and props I can’t pinpoint the images in any exact period. They feel like they could be 1980’s or late 1970’s if I had to pin it down. Although it could also suggest a remote community. There is no sense of modern (current) technology within the images i.e. computers, smart-phones, etc.  Having watched interviews with Crewdson this would seem to be intentional to not pin the images down t any particular period, it feels familiar but off. I also noticed in the interview how Crewdson said how this work was more a reflection on painting than film and I can really see that in the final images.

After the exhibition visit I went and sat in a park in London, I had to take the time to process everything I had just viewed, get some head-space, I often find this with work that means something to me. This one was pretty special.

As I sit here a little over a week later typing up this exhibition visit I am still amazed and most importantly I am still thinking about it. I feel a connection (I actually feel something) with Crewdson’s photography and some of the ideas rattling around in my own brain artistically. I sometimes come away from exhibitions feeling disconnected and deflated but for once, its nice to have a connection and feel motivated.

I had noticed during some of my research on-line someone had said if you like Crewdson’s work to check out the photography of Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Phil Fisk. I did have a quick look, I can see the similarities, in particular the way they are lit. So, I am off to find out some more. 

Reference:

Interview with Gregory Crewdson on The Photographers Gallery website

Gregory Crewdson’s “Cathedral of the Pines” New Yorker

GREGORY CREWDSON, Cathedral of the Pines, Galerie Templon

Interview with Gregory Crewdson SCI-Arc Channel

The Gregory Crewdson Effect: #1 BBC Creative

Project 2 Reading pictures – Research Point Diane Arbus

Visit www.weareoca.com/photography/beneath-the-surface/ for a blog about Jeff Wall’s, Insomnia (1994), interpreted using some of the tools discussed above.

I read through the blog on the OCA site by Sharon which helped to give a clear example of de-constructing an image with good explanations of denotation and connotation. It was also funny as I referenced that photograph by Jeff Wall in my second assignment! Linking this back to the coursework I would summarise denotation as the meat and bones, the  facts. The connotation I could summarise as the personal taste. A bad analogy as I’m a vegetarian but I think you get the point? Maybe cheese would be a better analogy?

Denotation = the facts

Connotation = mine or the authors subjective interpretation of the above (the facts)

Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on
Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). This is out of print but you may be able to find it in your local university library: some of the chapters are available as pdfs online. You’ll find the Arbus chapter on the student website.

See below.

If you haven’t yet read any of Judith Williamson’s ‘Advertising’ articles (see Introduction), now would be a good time to do so.

See: www.ocastudent.com/content/her

Yes, I have already read these at the start of the unit.

Diane Arbus  'A Young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday Outing NYC' 1966

**Diane Arbus ‘A Young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday Outing NYC’ 1966

Having read through the chapter on Diane Arbus in ‘Singular Images: Essays on
Remarkable Photographs’ by Sophie Howarth and with reflection on this section of the unit I can see how the essay by Liz Jobey works to de-construct the image using questioning, facts, historical placement and context, denotation and subjective connotation.

To crudely and briefly breakdown the essay I would say the following:

  • Jobey starts by setting the scene in her essay by posing some questions
  • Going on to describe what she sees (denotation) within the image
  • Before applying some interpretation (connotation) to what she is seeing,
  • Then back to denotation again.
  • The essay then turns to placing the photograph within its historical, social and political context in America.
  • Before pulling information from multiple sources to provide background and an objective viewpoint referencing Susan Sontag and John Szarkowski
  • Then bringing together the concluding thoughts in the last para.

There were a couple of points where I felt a personal subjective point of view was coming across in the essay as if her point of view was absolute but overall I felt the essay was very well balanced with information and points of view pulled from a variety of sources. It was very helpful to read the essay.

When I first saw the image by Diane Arbus the immediate thing that struck me was that the father (Richard Dauria) is the only one in the photograph directly looking at me (the observer/the spectator); the mother Marylin, and the children Richard Jnr and baby Dawn are all looking in totally different directions. So my eye is drawn like an arrow straight to the target of the fathers eye and his face. His hair is a scruffy wave a bit like my own when it gets a bit longer. Then I notice is hands, he has the hands of a working man, I observe his coat is slightly frayed and half of his collar is up. From his hands I am then drawn into the father son connection, then back to the sense of protection in the fathers face. The child Richard Jnr, to me, seems happy in the moment, safe in the security of his father.

It is only after this initial engagement that I am then drawn to the mother Marylin, which I find interesting compositionally as I would traditionally read right to left, it feels off, edgy and untraditional but I like it.  I notice the mother has really, really big hair (!) a style of the 1960’s along with the fur jacket. She is good looking. She seems fed up or not interested in the photographer, she has a 1000 yard stare.  I see she is holding the baby Dawn. Looking at the image you could draw a line straight down the centre of the image and they could be two completely different images within their own right, if you cover up one half of the image vertically you can see this. I have very little sense of place except for the title of the image (perhaps the exact reason for the title?).

This was a worthwhile exercise to carry out prior to the written assignment for part four. I have also taken the time to re-read Camera Lucida again by Roland Barthes along with the relevant chapter in Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange.

I have also enjoyed discovering the work of Diane Arbus, I like her unconventional and slightly rebellious style. I think some times the composition could be better but she had a real way for capturing the off guarded essence of people.  I do agree in a way with some of the points highlighted in the essay by Susan Sontag about whether the people captured in the images are shown in their best light. Did Diane Arbus use the ‘freak’ avenue as a way to further progress her own career, are these accurate labels to associate with the people she photographed? Maybe she just shined a light, gave a voice to the forgotten elements of society and its for society to decide what to do with that information? Is it really the role of the photographer/artist to come up with all of the conclusions? I think I may be battling the answer to that one for a couple of years!

Reference:

Exhibition Visit 29th June 2017 Fractured Architecture by Thomas Kellner, Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock

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Today I visited a fascinating new exhibition at the Fox Talbot museum at Lacock by German ‘photo artist’ Thomas Kellner, the exhibition is called ‘Fractured Architecture’.

I found the images created a refreshing twist and perspective of some familiar and some not so familiar locations/landmarks. The artist Thomas Kellner constructs these new ‘fractured’ images by pulling together multiple shots in a thoroughly thought out and planned contact sheet format, to create a new unique piece of art called ‘Cubist Photographs’.    FullSizeRender

Some of the images reminded me a little of that otherworldly feel they created in the 2010 film Inception, the locations are familiar but they have a new dimension to them. Some of the images also reminded me of the strange effect you would get with different mirrors at the carnival mirror horror show, distorting perspectives.

Having recently sign up to Instagram. I have observed the reuse of the same type of image, you could probably categorise all the images into around 10 categories and styles, people just seem to recreate the same image, depending on popular styles and trends. The same is the case for seeing images of popular destinations, you end up seeing a lot of very similar images, of course you want the location to be recognisable to the observer but the challenge for the artist is to create something unique to them, say something about them and their perspective on the world, to make the viewer linger a little longer than a glance.  The idea of cubist art or cubist photography is not new and other artists have used it but I love the way Thomas restructures reality into his own personal style.

Some of my favourite images from his exhibition were of Stonehenge, London Bridge, House of Parliament and Lacock Abbey itself:

The image of the Houses of Parliament particularly interested me and my friend who attended, it almost reflects on the current state of the fractured, hung parliament that we have in the UK at the moment and the current political position we are in, although I see that as me attaching my own idea to the image rather than the artists original intention.

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What I also found interesting was the different emotional feeling/connection I had towards places I knew well and have visited verses places I haven’t been to; I had a different vibe or energy from them.  For example this image below of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. I felt a darkness from the image that was hard to quantify in words:

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Probably my favourite image out of all of those I viewed was of London Bridge. Speaking with my friend I said how the image reminded me for some reason of the trojan horse from Greek mythology but it could just be me!

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Again, a very different kind of exhibition for me to attend and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Reference:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/fractured-architecture-cubist-photographs-by-thomas-kellner

Thomas Kellner Photography in Art

I bought a Polaroid Camera…

I’ve been thinking about it for a while…should I or shouldn’t I buy a Polaroid Camera? I eventually took the plunge this week and purchased a refurbished Polaroid Sun 600 through The Impossible Project.

I like the idea of putting all of the modern technical capabilities to one side and focus on capturing moments using an instant camera.

There was a sense of excitement and anticipation waiting for that first Polaroid image to develop, it was wonderful to see it come to life. Looking at the image my wife and I both said its like being transported back in time to our childhoods or looking at old family photo albums, its strange and slightly enlightening to me as a photographer; new but old possibilities. I’m looking forward to getting out to experiment and to be honest, have some fun with it!

First Polaroid, testing it out. A rather plain shot of part of our back garden and house. Interesting how it gives a different feel and sense of time and place.

 

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Recognition from the ones that matter most – Randomness May 2017

Its been a tough week and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, probably too much. Watching far too much news coverage here in the UK.

I was sad to read recently of the death of Chris Cornell, RIP. I love Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave. Soundgarden are one of my all time favourite bands. So many memories, good and bad. The ‘grunge’ scene (and heavy metal) was my scene growing up in the 90’s.

I used to play music in bands. I used to love playing in bands but it never really worked out, band members move on, some people are more committed than others or views on style directions change. I got overwhelmed in the end with a back injury and an unbearable level of stage freight and anxiety which I think I’m only really understanding now in my 30’s for what it really was. I still have some old photos of the band taken by a friend of the band who sadly passed away. Some photos below. He had a real knack of capturing action and was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, despite everything he was going through. Its nice to look back at the old band photos and remember some of the good times we had.

Minion Race. I'm on the far left.

Minion Race, I’m on the far left. 2001. Copyright Rowland Boys

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Minion Race. Copyright Rowland Boys

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Minion Race. Copyright Rowland Boys

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Minion Race. Copyright Rowland Boys

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Minion Race. Copyright Rowland Boys

I re-watched the documentary McCullin again this week. Almost all of his life photographing the human condition, war and famine. It must change you, unrepairable change/damage. Hearing Don McCullin speak now in reflection looking back at his photographic career, its hard to see him relive some of the experiences he photographed. Its made me really think about photography and I don’t know how else to say or phrase it but photography is not about photography, it can sometimes feel strange reading so much about photography and thinking so much about it….its about life and every single thing that encapsulates. What I love the most about photography, is being out there taking photographs, connections with nature and the world, its nice to recentre yourself sometimes on your core values and the reason you are doing it.

I finished reading a short book about Dorothea Lange this week, some really thought provoking work.

I got out for a nice stomp in nature this week with a good friend. Good to reconnect and take the time to take in the view.

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I had some awesome news from two of my nieces this week. They had to do a project on a photographer for school, so they picked me. It was so lovely to get some recognition from the people who matter the most, your family. I feel they speak from their hearts when they say which photos they like or don’t like! A little boost is sometimes just what you need.

Laura with her photography presentation

Laura with her photography presentation

Sophie with her photography presentation

Sophie with her photography presentation

 

 

 

Exhibition Visit – Gillian Wearing 4th May 2017 National Portrait Gallery, London

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Rain on the window from our hotel room

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We also went to see Les Mis on the Wednesday. It was amazing!

We arrived at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday afternoon. I was excited to visit, I had never been before. We didn’t have lots of time on this visit so decided to check in our bags and go straight to the Gillian Wearing expedition, we paid for our tickets and headed to the exhibition.

In the entrance we saw the newly acquired portrait of Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson. I’m not a big fan personally, I don’t particularity dislike him either but my wife likes his music. I must admit the portrait is incredible.

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Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson

As we entered the exhibition I was in high spirits, ready to document my visit for the learning blog on C & N. Unfortunately as I started to take some snapshots as a record for my blog I was rudely approached by a member of staff and told something along the lines of ‘there is no photography in the photography exhibition’ I must admit I was taken aback initially and also contemplated the irony of the statement. I tried to explain I was a student but before I could say anything else, I was told it didn’t matter and I wasn’t allowed to take shots on my i-Phone. For the entire remainder of our visit around the Gillian Wearing exhibition we were followed and observed by staff from the gallery, making us both feel really uncomfortable. I’m not that great socially at the best of times and it took a lot of effort and courage for me just to get to the exhibition in London with so many people but it just made me feel horrible and not welcome in the slightest. I also find when I get anxious I struggle to remember things so the snapshots usually help. The whole experience left me with a bit of a foul taste in my mouth but I tried to take in some of the photographs on display as best I could.

The bad experience had me contemplating what the artist would have thought, what her position would have been and also what my own thoughts would be if I were displaying my work in an exhibition and someone was taking snapshots. I mean, I wasn’t looking to steal the artists work….all of the images are available to view on line anyway if I really wanted to, there are countless images of the exhibition online elsewhere under the hash-tag #wearingcahun. I only wanted to document my visit visually.  Was I asked permission to be filmed whilst I was attending the gallery? No, however I was…should I have protested being filmed without my consent? I have now visited a number of exhibitions and I’ve never had a problem with taking shots for my learning log. Some probably think I am making a big deal about this but I feel it’s a really important issue.

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I have no other images to support the visit. I viewed the work by Claude Cahun but I was more interested in the images by Gillian Wearing, I was interested to see some of her work as it has been covered in this unit of my degree, ‘Context and Narrative‘.

I enjoyed seeing the Family portraits series Album in large scale print, they just make more sense in person seeing them so big on a wall rather than in my study books. I find the use of masks quite creepy and unsettling but its a really inventive way of doing self portraits. It’s amazing how she takes on the role of the other family members. It questions identity, gender and roles within families but also the links that connect the family chain. My wife observed how the faces looked different yet you can see the link of the same person through the eyes (my wife didn’t initially know about the masks but she spotted the eyes) she said ‘these eyes look like a younger persons eyes’ when looking at the image of Wearings father. There was also a fascinating series of Polaroid shots of Wearing taken over a number of years starting from the 1980’s up to 2005, all compiled together in one display, I found it was good to see the visual development of the artist over a long period of time, they are essentially all ‘selfies’. There were also images Wearing had ‘recreated’ of some of her ‘idols’ again using masks.

I must admit I went into the gallery not really being a fan of the artists work but I left feeling I had a better understanding, appreciation and respect for her work.

There were also some great portrait images on display at the gallery by David Gwinnutt ‘Before we were Men’.

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Trying to collect my thoughts after the gallery visit

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Experimenting with the 360 panoramic feature on the i-Phone

Its definitely worth a visit to see this exhibition, its on until 29th May 2017. I hope next time its a more enjoyable experience.

Reference:

http://www.colindavidson.com/

http://www.davidgwinnutt.com/

National Portrait Gallery London

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/wearing-cahun/home/