On Bryan Schutmaat

Figure 1: Bryan Schutmaat (2014) Image
Figure 2: Ansel Adams (1949) Cathedral Rocks.

Bryan Schutmaat became well known for his series ‘Grays The Mountain Sends’ (Badger, 2017), which is a series of portraits and landscape based on mountain and mining communities in the American West (Fig: 1). The images are quite striking and completely with visual impact. They also seem to me as being quite classic in the style of Ansel Adams (Fig: 2), albeit in colour and they really stand alone in their own right even before you begin to consider the portraiture that Schutmaat presents in this series (Fig: 3).  Together though, these images paint a picture of a rugged land and it impact on the people who live there. This series is cinematic, which I always feel is another way of saying that this is typical of American culture and the way that we are used to seeing it delivered through popular culture and learned knowledge of places that we have never been. Schutmaat’s images depict an aesthetic quality of an American dream that does not exist yet people are still compelled to seek it, as argued by Suzanne Keller: “the dream of community, ambiguous and ambivalent  though it is, permeates the national past and is an undertone of the present” (Keller, 1988: 173). And this is what I sense Schutmaat is aiming for with ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ he is effectively questioning how we understand the US, as Gerry Badger points out, he is part of an emerging group pf American photographers who “have been examining America’s interior myth and realities for a number of years” (2017), moving on to compare the work of Schutmaat to that of Walker Evans by stating that he, as Evans before him are searching for “America profound” (2017), and this again places a clear link back to the FSA.

Figure 3: Bryan Schutmaat (2014) from ‘Grays the Mountain Sends’

I really enjoy the grandeur set up by the landscape supported by quite intimate portraits. It is as if the mountain range in Schutmaat’s images is also one of the rugged characters that he is inviting us to study. These images really resonate with me in what I am aiming to achieve with my project. A clear takeaway for my work is Schutmaat’s considered approach to both his portraits and landscapes. He has carefully selected these scenes, which play a strong role in grounding, context, and a clear sense of where this is. Currently, my own landscapes have been far too quick and have been considered filling the gap that moves you from one portrait to another. A clear area of development for me.

Note:

According to Schutmaat, this work was inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo (2014). When listening to Alec Soth taking with Gem Fletcher (2020) he considered that poetry and photography are far too similar to coincide together. Although there are some aspects of his that ring true, however not in the case of ‘Grays the Mountain Sends,’ which comfortably work in unison; this of course is always subjective.

Figure 4: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 5: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 6: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’

Schutmaat also works effectively with black and white. For his series ‘Good God Damn’ (2017) he created a short series on a character by the name of Kris, during his last days of freedom before going to prison (Fig: 4). Again, Schutmaat beautifully juxtaposes portraits with landscape and details to create a deep and meaningful connection to Kris, even though we understand very little about him or what he has done to warrant incarceration. The images in this series are technically looser (Fig: 5 & 6) than this in ‘Grays’ yet suit the narrative of a man living his last days of freedom. And once again, the landscape images really provide a sense of place, in this case a wintry Texas, and also key insights into the kind of life that Kris leads. Badger notes the crucial role that the Texan landscape plays in this series. As I discussed above, and as Badger also points out, this landscape is one of the characters of this narrative (2017). This is how I must also start to consider place moving forward. I am interested in photographing people, yet it is in the landscape that is the common denominator when focusing in on a community, it is the thing that connects everyone. It is crucial to analyse in greater detail the characteristics of this space that makes it unique to here. That said, the idea of the cinematic in my own work is also quite attractive as I have been gravitating towards a particular aesthetic that has been informed by the quintessential documentary work of the FSA and consumption of the community ideal as a localised ‘American Dream,’ steeped in myth and its unattainable qualities. It is important to consider the constructed nature of all photographs, even those of a documentary nature. To cast the landscape as a character, it is because there is an understanding of the subjective. Knowing which characteristics to accentuate. Moving forward, I aim to also consider which characteristics best suit the way that I am portraying the space to show the character of this community.

Figure 7: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’
Figure 8: Bryan Schutmaat (2017) From ‘Good God Damn’

Schutmaat also draws attention to his photography in this series, which is something that I have discussed during the module. There is a distinct use of motion blur and grain and a perceived low tech approach in the images, which exposes the means of production in the photographs. When Badger discusses the cast of characters he also included the truck and the rifle (Fig: 7 & 8). I would also argue that Schutmaat is also one of the characters cast in the series, which is plainly shown in the way that he is openly displaying the means in which he is creating his images; Schutmaat is clearly an accomplished technical photographer as seen in his ‘Grays’ series; here he is showing you the strings.

Bibliography

Badger, G., 2017. Bryan Schutmaat Good Goddamn Book review by Gerry Badger. [Online]
Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/bryan-schutmaat/ [Accessed 01 August 2020].

Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.

Schutmaat, B., 2014. Grays the Mountain Send. [Online] Available at: http://www.bryanschutmaat.com/grays [Accessed 1 August 2020].

Schutmaat, B., 2017. Good God Damn. 1 ed. s.l.:Schutmaat.

Soth, A., 2020. The Messy Truth: Alec Soth – On Portraiture [Interview] (23 July 2020).

Work in Progress Development

I came into this module wanting to experiment with my approach to taking images. This was inspired in part during the break between modules when I started to take out a 35mm camera to pass the time. The images from that time are what I used for the week one Ed Rucha task.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May-June, 2020) Early module images for Work in Progress portfolio submission [Click to Enlarge].

I was unsure if I was going to be able to make my pictures with people again, so I started to create images based on the banal and build up a portrait of the spaces that I encounter during my walks to see if there was a unique vernacular to the area around where I live (Fig: 1). I was keen to explore the ways that I could use black and white film working with a 35mm camera. What I found from the outcomes of these images is that I was drawn to the signs of the pandemic, which populate the landscape, such as gloves, masks, demarcation tape, and chalk signs. All things that are significant under the current circumstances however are quite ubiquitous in many of the projects that contemporary photographers are undertaking. Spencer Murphy, for example has been documenting the ongoing pandemic based in East London and has quite a few images of discarded PPE together with a central focus on people wearing masks (Fig: 2). Peter Dench has also spent a great deal of time looking at the impact of events (Fig: 3). Ultimately, I was not really interested in focusing my project on the impact of Covid-19, finding the images that I was producing were not really exploring the key concepts in my research project – community, connection, and identity.

Figure 2: Spencer Murphy (2020) Portrait from ‘Our Bullet Lives Blossom as the Race Towards the Wall’
Figure 3: Peter Dench (2020) Demarcation tape across London.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Image from iso 100 film push processed at iso 3200.

Moving into the first few weeks of the module, I started my exploration into abstracting the image by push processing the film that I was shooting beyond its normal working range (Fig: 4). I had mixed results from this, ranging from very high contrast images, to kind of grey and not what I was looking for, which was something more like Masahisa Fukase (Fig: 5). I made a fundamental connection in the medium in the way that I approached its use during this time, deciding that there is already a significant level of abstraction inherent in the photograph that is pushed further by the use of black and white (View post). The main challenge was the limiting size of the 35mm negative, which was not producing an effective scan.

Figure 5: Masahisa Fukase (1975 -1986) Image from ‘Ravens’

I decided to borrow a medium format 6×7 format camera as I wanted to achieve more of a visual impact in my images. Additionally, I was finding it challenging to approach and photograph people again outside of the usual way that I approached making portraits. The theater of the apparatus actually created a means to approach people and engage them in conversation, and ultimately ask for a portrait. Essentially, I was looking for a tool to create the portraits that I wanted to make and found that this was the best method. Even though I spend the majority of my photography seeking out portraits, they do not come naturally to me.

My focus for this module was to start engaging with people coming back together after the strict rules of lock down have been eased, in that sense the project is about covid-19, yet I wanted to focus my attention away from the leftover evidence and objects of covid-19 as mentioned above, fully aware that a project created during the time period would always have connotations and a pathos linked to current events. The spaces that surround where I live became of interest to me as they have been quite empty during the last few months, it was really nice to see them in use again. Photographing people in these spaces felt like a good place to start re-engaging with my community too (Fig: 6). What I found is that I could engage with people and collect portraits for my project.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (June – July, 2020) Portraits taken during Surfaces and Strategies for Work in Progress Portfolio. [Click to Enlarge]

I have been pleased with the portraits that I have so far, the new direction and exploration into black and white, and a documentary aesthetic have been really valuable in focusing in on how I wanted my images to look. As discussed before (see post), my intention is to draw attention to the act of photography, which I feel creates a significance of the images, it also places me into the project, albeit subtly. This I hope starts to consider my own connection to community.

Figure 7: Phil Hill (June-July, 2020) Images showing Watford as a commuting town into London [Click to Enlarge]

What was missing is a sense of place, which provides the context for the project. What connected all of the portraits is something that I have found a challenge. This actually, is the core of my project. I have tried to look at Watford as a place and consider what it is about the place that makes it what it is. Watford is closely tied to its position just outside of London, commuting is part of this character. It is also the border between the city and the country. I have been exploring this through landscapes by considering the things that identify the town as a transport link, such as the railway, and the major highways (Fig: 7). This alone felt superficial as I have become more and more drawn to the green spaces. I am also still working out how t approach the idea of my own connection to this place. After reading Suzanne Keller discuss the idea of community as it relates to the American Dream (Keller, 1988), which was inspired by the way that Vanessa Winship argued that the concept is what most societies aspire to. Keller notes that American society is fundamentally individualistic, which is at odds with how a community functions, noting that there has been a shift away from Gemeinschaft – closer bonds linked to emotion and family, and on to Gesellschaft – impersonal and built on individual gain. Where I see this fitting into my project is the geography of Watford between country and city, is a space where this shift from the personal to the impersonal start to happen (Fig: 8).


Figure 8: Phil Hill (July, 2020) Discussing Community ideals and aesthetics.

Additionally, I have been quite drawn by constructing a cinematic feel to the landscape and the portrait images that play with this idea of connection, by acknowledging Keller’s crucial point, The idealistic community is essentially a myth, yet it does not stop us continuing to seek it. By constructing a landscape set of images, I can then explore identity of the place – potentially you can view my work and not be quite sure if you are actually looking at the UK landscape (Fig: 9). I have specifically worked to photograph my project at set times of the day to create an emotive sense of the cinematic; aiming to present a constructed vision of an ideal that might not exist. As one of my initial ideas was to explore how people within my community are coming back together as the restrictions start to lift, this construction is particularly prescient knowing that we are not out of the woods yet.

Figure 9: Phil Hill (June – July) Landscapes selected to be more ambiguous, cinematic and idealistic. [Click to Enlarge]

Where I believe my WIPP is going is to show an idea of community of my construction. Created by utilising black and white to denote a sense of what it was like before current events, and selected portraits and landscapes, some of which aim to provide a sense of an ideal, some to create context and ground to where I am creating this work in Watford.

Bibliography

Keller, S., 1988. The American Dream of Community: An unfinished Agenda. Sociological Forum, 3(2), pp. 167-183.

Vanessa Winship

Vanessa Winship (2008) Schoolgirls from the Borderlands  of Eastern Anatolia
Vanessa Winship (2013) Colleen, Lexington, Kentucky

I am familiar with the imagery that she produced for ‘Sweet Nothings’ (Fig: 1) and also with some of the individual images from ‘She Dances in Jackson’ (Fig: 2) however not the complete series, which I am finding a really interesting place to look and research. Winship’s use of Black and White is a conscious choice and a method, as she puts it ‘showing that the world is, in fact, in colour’ (2015) and I am very drawn to that concept having become interested in the photograph as an object as it feels very much as though the black and white is a method of highlighting not only that our world is colour (at least our perception of it), it is also a way of showing that the world has been photographed. This also ties in quite well with how Vilem Flusser discusses the use of black and white photography as a way of logically analysing the world (Flusser, 2000). Winship’s approach really resonated with me when looking at her work. Her consideration to the subject and the use of a medium specifically designed to slow down the process of taking images, which was something that Alys Tomlinson mentioned when also making the switch to black and white film for her series ‘Ex-Voto’ and cited Winship as influential in taking this approach to her project. Roughly two thirds of the book ‘She Dances on Jackson’ are landscapes, which is interesting for someone who is primarily associated for her portraits. However, when speaking with Ben Smith, Winship notes that the landscapes are as much about people as her portraits are, meaning that these images are a Significant part of any body of work that Winship is creating.  And she goes on to discuss more about this relationship between people and landscapes for an interview with the British Journal of Photography:

“I would like to convey something about fragility, about how both the landscape and the human beings who inhabit it are marked by their history and their place within in it, here and now”

(Winship, 2014)

Winship is also aware of the photograph as a subjective act and considers what she does as a junction between chronicle and fiction, which is a significant acknowledgment of how her works exists with elements of the documentary aesthetic but also constructed in its narrative. I find this the most interesting about her work as she is also making reference to the act of photography and the object of the photograph in her work.

My Project

It feels that any image made during this time, which considers people and community will inevitably be compared to how we are coping and living with covid-19 and the ‘new normal.’ During the last module this was thrust upon my project and I had to react to it. During the period between modules I was still continuing to take images, albeit not really to do with my research project but very much looking at what we all were seeing at the time and what I have since see a number of photographers focus projects on – discarded items of PPE that seem to occupy the landscape around us (Fig: 3). Now that I am back creating work for my research project, I wanted to actively avoid these objects, knowing that as people come to view my work it will be read as being about these concepts and ideas naturally. I can hint at this however, through the title of the work, for example, which considers the power of how image and text work together, as Barthes points out: “Formally, there was a reduction from text to image; today there is amplification from the one to the other” (1977:26).

Figure 3: Spencer Murphy (2020) Discarded glove from ‘Our Bullet Lives Blossom as They Race Towards the Wall’ taken during the recent lock down.

My intention is to call this body of work ‘I hope this finds you safe and well,’ which is a phrase that I have adopted to open correspondence such as emails. This was to adapt the common phrase ‘I hope that this email finds you well,’ the emphasis is on the word ‘safe’ that should resonate with the audience, as the word has come to symbolise this period.

Alec Soth (2004) Venice, Louisiana, 2003, from ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’

Even though I may not be looking for the artifacts of the pandemic to include in my work, I believe that there is still an anxiety in the people and the landscape, which I am aiming to include in the images. My project has inevitably evolved as a result into a kind of post lock down exploration and journey through the landscape, which is starting to consider Watford one of the characters in the narrative as much as any of the portraits might be. It is important to start considering this and had been a key point of my feedback received for the project so far. Essentially, I really need to ground the narrative in the place, much like Alec Soth does with his work ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ (Fig: 4). Soth considers the river a metaphor for the kind of wandering that is present within the book (Soth in Schuman, 2004). Soth also is considering the mythology inherent in this part of the US, connected to the perception of ‘America’ through the culture that we consume, which strikes an interest for me me as there are elements of this through the research into documentary photography and the way that we expect that kind of photography to look based on the documentary canon of images that exist already.

What is a Watford then?

For me Watford has always felt like a place without a clear identity. Its proximity to London means that a vast majority of people who live here, do so to commute into the city. This same proximity also means that the shear size of London and its cultural content dwarfs anything that might happen within Watford itself. The town is inside the M25 roadway that surrounds Greater London but it is not part of the capital, though it is considers an Urban district. As well as the M25, there are a great number of other significant transport links in the town: Heathrow, Luton, the M1 and the A1 are nearby; the high speed rail link that goes to Euston, the Metropolitan underground station, and the Overground all run from Watford. All of these are designed to speed people away.

Historically, there is also the Grand Union canal running from London to Birmingham and it was the introduction of the canal as well as the railway that led to Watford’s initial rapid growth leading to its establishment of a major printing town (Moorhead, 2014), where the place that I work was once called the Watford college of printing, responsible for training typesetters and printers for the newspaper industry in the UK and also the world and also the production of all government propaganda during WW2. If Watford was to have had an identity it would have potentially been tied to the now defunct printing industry here and also the impact that the education of printers will have had on the printed word. This could of course be an area to consider when creating my own publications.

“Rotary photogravure was a technique which was first used in Watford to reproduce very fine, high quality fine art prints and then it went on to be used to produce colour magazines. All the ladies’ colour magazines, like Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Own, were all printed in Watford, as well as most of the colour supplements for the Sunday newspapers.“

(2014)

From a transport perspective Watford appears to lack its own agency as to get anywhere outside of London or Birmingham for example, you must travel into London first. It is a significant commuter town and has evolved to nurture this as it is one of the main reasons for its success as a town. It is also one of the last places that you could encounter before it is London, between London and Countryside. Surrounding Watford, there are a number of really beautiful parks and natural landscapes, which I have started to really take an interest in. I was struck when reviewing my first images that some of them almost look like they could be North America, a particular resonance for me and my Canadian wife.

Linking back to my use of black and white, its use by Winship and other photographers is a way of drawing attention to the fact that something is being photographed. It could also be that this acknowledgment of the medium in the image is a way to place myself into the narrative, albeit subtly. I am there through the act of photography without having to be in any of the images as a subject. There needs to be a further development in the landscape and really placing Watford as one of the central characters of the project together with the portraits and the use of black and white, which places me as another character.

Bibliography

Barthes, R., 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translation ed. New York: Fontana.

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Moorhead, R., 2014. At one time nearly everyone living in Watford had a job connected to the print industry. Now Dr Caroline Archer has put together an exhibition – 100 Years of Printing Education. She talks to Rosy Moorhead. [Online]
Available at: https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/leisure/localexhibitions/10962647.at-one-time-nearly-everyone-living-in-watford-had-a-job-connected-to-the-print-industry-now-dr-caroline-archer-has-put-together-an-exhibition-100-years-of-printing-education-she-talks-to-
[Accessed 8 July 2020].

Schuman, A. & Soth, A., 2004. The Mississippi: An Interview with Alec Soth. [Online]
Available at: http://seesawmagazine.com/soth_pages/soth_interview.html
[Accessed 8 July 2020].

Winship, V., 2014. Still dancing: Vanessa Winship discusses her work [Interview] (6 August 2014).

Winship, V., 2015. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – 03 – Vanessa Winship: [Interview] (11 September 2015).

Abstracting the Image: Apparatus to Apparatus

Figure 1: Richard Mosse (2012) Image from Infra, which utilised an infrared film and camera.
Figure 2: Linda Alterwitz (2013) Image from ‘Signature of Heat’

Black and white, photographically, could be considered a method of De-privileging human perception from how we perceive the world around us. We do not see the world in black and white, we see in colour, yet this perception of the world is still limited in the wider spectrum that exists. Richard Mosse as an example, utilises infrared camera technology and film to show the world outside our human range of perception (Fig: 1), additionally, Linda Alterwitz created her series ‘signatures of Heat’ by utilising a thermal imaging camera, which seems to have particular resonance now we are living in the ‘new normal’ (Fig: 2). Although I have used film photography a fair amount in my time as a photographer, being old enough to have studied the subject without digital technology having the kind of impact that it does now, I would not comfortably use the medium to produce work that I was invested in as much as the MA. This is very much tied into the ability to check and recheck on the spot until I was able to achieve the result I needed. The more I am shooting with the medium format camera however, the more careful I have become in the setting up and creating of my images, not to say that I still do not make mistakes – some of the images have come back soft, or in the extreme, technical issues have led to losing images.

Figure 3: Dorothea Lange (1939) ‘Migrant Mother’ before and after retouching.

In terms of viewing the world outside how we perceive it however, Black and white is a more common way of showing us this. Aesthetically we as humans find its look quite pleasing and our collective learned knowledge creates the perception of black and white as ‘art,’ or for more ‘serious’ work, which is born from the collective experience of a history of images presented in black and white; the ubiquity and fame of ‘Migrant Mother’ is a notable example of this, as Sally Stein points out: “often circulated as the centrepiece of the documentary canon” (2020, p. 62), which is despite its problematic approach to the facts surrounding the story and the notorious retouching of the thumb from the frame (Fig: 3). Human perception has in part been shaped by this view of the world even though we do not process the objects within it in this way, these images stay with us and create a collective memory of them.

As I have started to consider the photograph as a kind of object, shooting film creates this in a way that digital does not. The negative is a tangible object and shooting in a 6X7 format also attributes a preciousness to it. I am now acutely aware of each frame shot; each one must be carefully considered as each one costs money to produce. A roll of 120 film cost me between £4.50 – £5 allowing 10 frames per roll of film equaling 50 pence per frame, however factoring in processing and time, this would easily be over a £1 per image. As a process existing outside of my usual comfort zone, it is also an apparatus that I am not used to using either, which links to this week’s consideration of de-privileging the lens. Although I am not rejecting the lens completely, I am moving away from an easier approach to my photography and making it more of a precious object once again; more of a de-privileging the digital sensor and the ease in which I can make my images. These parameters can support a more focused approach to the creation of the work.

Figure 4: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Portrait affected by light leaking into RB67 Film back.

Technically, as mentioned earlier, this is not without its challenges. I had a glitch with an early roll of film that resulted in a serious light leak that ruined the majority of that film (Fig: 4). The portraits that I have been seeking in the public space are hard work for me to approach and shoot as it takes a fair amount of pushing myself to approach people, usually a good couple of weeks in each of the modules spent talking myself into taking these pictures to the point where it might just be easier to do something else, which makes any issues with the results doubly frustrating. However, this does create a more personal connection to the work as I become much more invested in all of the steps of the process in order to achieve a good result. People are at the heart of what I am trying to achieve.

Reality as we perceive it, has qualities and characteristics, which are tangible to us, to our senses, and some qualities, which are not tangible but nether-the-less fundamental to our understanding. By de-privileging the human there is an acknowledgment that the object continues to exist regardless of whether the human perceives it or not, Graham Harmon notes: “the infamous claim that the Pharaoh Ramses II cannot have died of tuberculosis, since in ancient Egypt that disease was not yet discovered”  (2020, p. 33), which points out to us that it is easy to forget that our human perception is just part of the spectrum of representation and things exist outside of our awareness.

When photographing this reality, I am transferring some of these qualities onto the surface of the digital sensor, or the emulsion of the film. Qualities are transferred into an impression of this concrete world yet, there are also the qualities of the medium that are important to consider, which also have an effect on the way that the object based in the reality is perceived. Black and white seem the most obvious because it strips out information that we as humans are used to using to understand the world. However the object exists in multiple ways it can be perceived, outside the human range of perception, as the examples of Mosse and Alterwitz show. Black and white in these terms is an equally valid representation in that it is equally limited.

Figure 5: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May, 2020) Negative re-photographed

It occurred to me that even though I am shooting film, I am still reliant on my DSLR to digitise the negative (mainly because of the lock down it is my only means of scanning, yet the point would remain for other forms of digitisation). The qualities transferred from reality onto the film emulsion are once again transferred onto another apparatus, the digital camera; One apparatus transferring to another apparatus. I made reference to this in an earlier exploration, where I took a negative I invited a friend to shoot for me and I copied it onto another roll of film, which appropriates that image and creates an object that is mine even though I have never been to Barcelona (Fig: 5). The reality of the image that I copied becomes even further removed from the reality that my friend Seb originally photographed.

Flusser notes that: “Aparatuses are black boxes that simulate thinking” (2000, p. 32), so what is the thinking that I am trying to simulate? The first black box is the film camera, which is being used to create a sense of the documentary aesthetic, a sense of the nostalgia, to a connection to a past that is perceived to be in decline. I have aimed to start making this palpable in the current idea of the ‘new normal,’ there might be a longing for the time before the pandemic. Aesthetically, I know that the images will be pleasing to look at, as if they could be from ‘another time’ as was noted of Alys Tomlinson’s Ex-Voto series (Molloy, 2019). There is a pathos in our collective understanding of images made during this time.

If reality has qualities that transfer and become in part replaced by the qualities of the film camera and emulsion, then both of these have certain agency over the representation of the object of that image – this agency then takes a role in shaping how we perceive. Those transferred qualities are then transferred and changed again when the negative becomes digitised and the reality recorded is another step removed. This digital image is a copy of a copy and many of the qualities of the black and white negative have been changed, and in some cases limited by the use of the digital camera. Ironically, some of my choices for using film are because of its opposition to the look of digital imagery but needs to be turned into a digital image in order for it to be useful online.

The second black box is the digital camera I am using to ‘scan’ the negative and has become a necessary part of the process to get my work in front of an audience. This black box is used as a means of translating the simulated thinking of the 1st black box into a usable form, yet it is important to consider the process and chain of qualities that have taken place having been fundamentally changed from the recorded reality, apparatus to apparatus.

Bibliography

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Harmon, G., 2020. Art and Objects. 1st Paperback ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lamarque, P. & Olsen, S. H., 2004. Aesthetics and thne Philosophy of Art. 2 ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Molloy, C., 2019. Alys Tomlinson. [Online] Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/alys-tomlinson/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Stein, S., 2020. Migrant Mother Migrant Gender. 1 ed. London: Mack.

PHO703 First Shots

This week’s webinar, I put together a contact sheet of images from my recent medium format film shoots, primarily the portraits that I have begun to collect again (Fig: 1). All of the people in these images are taking very locally to where I live on the recreation ground and playing fields nearby. As the lock down is starting to be lifted, I am seeing many more people come together in these spaces and start to enjoy the outdoors and meet up with people they might not have seen for many weeks.

I have been very pleased with how many of these images are starting to come together. After some initial technical challenges with the equipment and getting used to shooting in this way again, I feel that I have managed to take some string images to move forward with my project and it has been quite a nice validation for my new approach, after having to really work up the courage to engage with people and take their photograph.

This was echoed by Cemre during my feedback, who noted that I have some really good portraits to work with when it comes to the next wipp edit and submission. What I am lacking at the moment is the images, which link all of these people together in terms to the space and connection between them. This is fundamental to the work that I am trying to produce. It was also noted that for this kind of work that is completed in the place where the photographer lives is almost always about the photographer as much as it is about the place, which is something that really resonates with me as my intention for the work has always been to explore the idea of my connection to the place that I live. Although Cemre made reference to this as an idea to explore for the idea of community, it is yet to show effectively in my research project; a series of portraits is not enough for a resolved strong submission.

To develop this, I am considering a number of approaches. I made a comment on Andy’s images from this week that he might want to consider keeping a journal to record his thoughts and feelings whilst taking his images so that he could use the text to support the visual. It occurred to me as I was saying this, that this is something that I should also do as a way of showing my personal narrative in the work via my own reflections before, during and after I take my pictures. Additionally, it is something that I could write when I take my daughter to the same spaces; ultimately, I use these places in a similar way to the people that I am photographing so I should be in there somewhere.

Figure 2: Alec Soth (2010) From ‘Broken Manual’ on Soth’s website

It was suggested that I also take a look at Alec Soth’s ‘Broken Manual’ series (Fig: 2). I have been getting quite familiar with his work ‘Songbook’ in relation to this idea of the documentary aesthetic and how it was employed overtly for this series, however I have not taken a wider look at Soth’s other work (during the MA anyway), so this would be useful to start really considering the way that portrait and landscape images can work together and the potential to re-introduce colour at some point. Another really valuable suggestion was to look at Vanessa Winship’s series ‘She Dances on Jackson’ which is a really beautiful blend of portraiture and landscape images that creates a really strong contextualisation of the work (Fig: 3). I aim to read some more into both of these bodies of work and create a reflection on them.

Figure 3: Vanessa Winship (2013) From She Dances on Jackson

The key takeaway from the webinar was that I need to really start asking the question of what is drawing me to these people, and what is my place within this community? Should I be taking a step back and question why I took this image. Once I have an answer to these questions, I can really start to focus on it.

Why Black and White?

Vilem Flusser notes that black and white are concepts, which are theoretical and exist only as states of things, although we consider some things in terms of black and white, this does not exist in the real world, only as hypothetical lines in which we draw for certain topics (2000: 42):

“Black and White do not exist, but they ought to exist since, if we could see then world in black and white it would be accessible to logical analysis”

(Flusser, 2000: 42).

The use of black and white in the documentary aesthetic might be a means in which photographers can attempt to answer questions about their subjects, or at least aim to create the space that these subjects might be more readily analysed. The paradox is that when creating work using black and white you are removing a lot of the information from that subject, which can be argued is part of the representation of them. One possible understanding of what Flusser is stating above is that the black and white image simplifies the process of conveying its message as it can be read in terms of its formal qualities other than colour.

Figure 1: Alec Soth (2014) From ‘Songbook’

I have discussed before that black and white has been used by other contemporary photographer purposefully to convey a sense of nostalgia in the work, and this is a key reason to explore its use during this module. The idea of how we connect to the community is closely tied to the perception, or reality of its decline. Alec Soth has stated that he made the decision to utilise black and white for the book ‘Songbook’ (Fig: 1) owing to how similar images from the 50s, 60s, and 70s all have a particular look and feel owing to the technology that was employed during these decades. Soth notes a post-war sense of wonder of the 1950s which creates “a deeply romanticised version of the past” (Soth in Fuerhelm, 2015). People believe that there is a decline of the community because of their own selective histories today. This tied in quite well to research on the decline of social capital, which also cited the 50s as this coincided with the mass introduction of the television (Putnam, 2000), spending more and more time indoors.

This rose-tinting of a past community that is now lost is partly created because of the images that we consumed in our youth, which is part of a significant shaping of the way that we nostalgically view lots of culture, that was ‘better in my day’ is linked to how our brains develop during the ages of 12 – 22 and the emotional maturing that happens during the same time (Stern, 2014). If you grew up during a time of black and white imagery, some of which have cone to define how we assume documentary and photography to look, then this aesthetic will instantly transport you back to that time: “It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.” (2014).

In the beginning of the medium, all photographs were black and white due to its technical limitations, now this can be a creative choice, as Flusser also argues that colour is even more of an abstraction as it is merely a chemical representation of a colour and not the actual existent one within the concrete world. I wrote about this for an essay I created between the modules, stating ‘what about the choice of different film stocks? What about the nostalgic Kodachrome versus its Fuji equivalent? Each of the constituent ingredients in the film creates an aesthetic synonymous with the brand’ (Hill, 2020: 3), which essentially considers the way that an emulsion of a film, and even that of a camera’s digital sensor is just another interpretation of the world created by a human actor on it; colour according to its design and manufactured values that Flusser then attributes as a kind of concealment of the origin of then subject.

My choice to use black and white is intentional to create a link to a nostalgia perhaps of a life that we had before the outbreak of Covid-19, when we are all being asked to consider a ‘new normal’ as opposed to the life that we were used to before. The sense of longing for the past, especially within the community setting is quite tangible for all of us as we are talking about a time that was only a few months ago. My images, paradoxically, are all taken in our present as to acknowledge a sense of the past that we might learn to go back to.

Alys Tomlinson
Alys Tomlinson (2019) Untitled from ‘Ex Voto’
Figure 3: Alys Tomlinson (2019) From ‘Lourdes’

I recently listened to Alys Tomlinson discuss her ‘Ex-Voto’ series (2020). It was interesting to understand that Tomlinson started her study on the religious site of Lourdes by shooting the series in colour for the first three years of visiting the site. The colour work in itself feels like a well resolved piece of work, however it clearly has a different look and feel to the body of work Ex-Voto even though it was created in the same location (Fig: 3). Tomlinson herself understood the difference as this colour study of Lourdes has its own gallery on her website and is well placed to promote her commercial practice (Fig: 4).

Figure 4: Alys Tomlinson (2019) Screen shot of Tomlinson’s ‘Lourdes’ series on her website

Caroline Molloy also notes the referencing of August Sander in Tomlinson’s portrait work, which something which I have been suggested to consider reviewing in my feedback for the last module and also during my first webinar with Cemre. Molloy makes particular note of the process in which Tomlinson’s work is created, which is in direct opposition to the hustle of what Lourdes is in many ways and seen through Tomlinson’s other work on the site, the portraits of Ex-Voto are considered, and as Molloy points out ‘Not of this time’ (2019), which is another intertextual use of black and white within a project. Tomlinson also utilises a 5X4 camera to slow down the image making and turn the act of photography into a ritual. I found that this resonated with me as I could benefit from slowing my process of images making down, which would ultimately lead to better engagement with my subjects. There is a particular theatre to the way that a photographer uses apparatus to differentiate themselves from a general understanding of photographers. It is worth noting that although a black and white aesthetic gives a sense of the familiar in the visual, when out taking the images, cameras such as 5X4 large format and even medium format film cameras are relatively rare with the assumption that a professional photographer will have some kind of modern DSLR. For me, this provides a talking point and metaphorical ‘foot in the door’ when approaching people to take their photograph. Since I started using a medium format 6X7 camera for example, people have been quite intrigued as to what it is that I have. It is the theatre, which attracts people to be photographed and shows that I can be taken seriously, Joel Meyerowitz also made a note of this when discussing his 8X10 large format portraits shot in Provincetown, where he makes particular reference to this as a kind of performance (Meyerowitz in Perello, 2020).

Bibliography

Flusser, V., 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 2018 Reprint ed. London: Reaktion Books.

Hill, P., 2020. Gettier and the Pyramids. [Online] Available at: https://philhillphotography.com/sketchbook/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Gettier-and-the-Pyramids_Phil_Hill.pdf [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Meyerowitz, J., 2020. The Candid Frame – Episode 500 [Interview] (27 January 2020).

Molloy, C., 2019. Alys Tomlinson. [Online] Available at: https://www.1000wordsmag.com/alys-tomlinson/ [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Putnam, R., 2000. Bowling Alone. 1 ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Soth, A., 2015. Brad Feuerhelm of ASX in conversation with Alec Soth [Interview] (4 November 2015).

Stern, M. J., 2014. Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?. [Online] Available at: https://slate.com/technology/2014/08/musical-nostalgia-the-psychology-and-neuroscience-for-song-preference-and-the-reminiscence-bump.html [Accessed 15 June 2020].

Tomlinson, A., 2020. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers – Episode 123: Alys Tomlinson [Interview] (5 February 2020).