Research point 2: Documenting journeys

Main introductory points

Creative Arts Today connects journeys to time, and journeys to stories: we journey through time and often a story begins with a journey.

Journeys offer opportunities for looking at familiar things from new points of view.

Journeys lend themselves to illustrating sequences, narrative, and the production of images, and are often the basis of documentary photography.

Documentary photography is photography ‘about’ something, rather than ‘of’ something.

The classic ‘road trip’ is an expression of the sequential nature of documenting a journey.

Creative Arts Today cites examples of photographic ‘road trips’ and asks to research them online.

Paul Graham’s A1 project

The main source for Paul Graham as a photographer is first of all his website:

http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/

which documents his work since 1981 when he started the series A1 – The Great North Road and shows some images from the book he published on this project in 1983 with Grey Editions, London. Here is one photo from his archive:

Paul Graham, image from his book A1- The Great North Road

 

On the website of PARIS PHOTO, a large international art fair dedicated to the photographic medium, I have listened to an interesting conversation between Paul Graham, an influential British photographer (1956) now living in New York City, and Urs Stahel.

‘In 1981, Graham completed his first acclaimed work by photographing life along England’s primary arterial road in a series of color photographs entitled A1: The Great North Road. His use of color film in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at a time when British photography was dominated by traditional black-and-white social documentary, had a revolutionizing effect on the genre.’

This is the video of the conversation:

At: http://www.parisphoto.com/paris/program/2014/the-platform/paul-graham (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Graham, a self-taught photographer, started working in colour which at the time was not considered suitable to artistic documentary photography as he explains in the video, and since the very beginning he showed interest in aspects and moments of the normal daily life, not in the extraordinary.

As he explains in an article published by The Observer, he was driven to photography while studying microbiology at university when in the social anthropology section of the college library he came across the works of American photographers Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Edward Weston and Paul Strand.

‘Suddenly, it was like this light went on,” he says. “It was the discovery that you could actually say something with photography.’ (O’Hagan, 2011).

The synopsis from the book tells how ‘Graham spent two years completing this documentary on the life and landscape of the Great North Road. Throughout 1981 and 1982 he made numerous trips along the A1, crossing and recrossing the length of the nation to record every aspect of life at the verge of this great road. The photographs reproduced in this book build not only into a significant documentary of the A1, but also provide a thread along which we can travel the Great North Road, deep into the nation’s heart, and weave a picture of England in the 1980s. (Photobookclub, 2012)

Another article from www.bbc.com makes an interesting read on Graham’s photographic work, which shows ‘how the landscape and the communities are shaped by the events around them and how stories can be told, and documents created, in new and exciting ways. You don’t have to point a camera with a 28mm lens into someone’s face to get to the truth, or even to start the conversation.’ (Coomes, 2011)

 

Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces:

As before, it’s possible to start from the artist’s website to get at the root of information:

http://stephenshore.net/index.php

which includes a good number of images from American Surfaces, a photo-diary of Stephen Shore’s experience crossing America in the 1970s, according to a definition found on the publisher’s website, http://www.phaidon.com/

The title, American Surfaces, makes reference ‘to the superficial nature of his brief encounters with places and people, and the underlying character of the images that he hoped to capture.’

The following video from the Photobook Club Barreiro from Portugal shows pages from the book:

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZWJudwyI0w (Accessed 18/05/2017)

“To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap,” Stephen Shore once said. “But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.” (O’Hagan, 2015)

These words by Stephen Shore show an attitude that has some elements in common with that of Paul Graham, included the common choice of colour over black-and-white for their photographs ‘on the road’, and very possibly that seminal work from 1972 had a huge impact on the younger photographer.

As the article recalls, what seems now a straightforward choice ’caused consternation and derision’ back then. In Shore’s words

“People just did not exhibit colour images then. I remember the great Paul Strand taking me aside and advising me in no uncertain terms that it would be a disastrous career move.” (O’Hagan, 2015)

Although his photos may look like snapshots, they are really always well considered and  ‘require intelligence, concentration, delicacy and attention.’

Gil Blank published a review of American Surfaces in Issue magazine (2006), which is now available online from Gil Blank’s website.

Blank explains how these images represented a ‘benchmark’ under many aspects and were extremely influential at the time, but also traced a  ‘roadmap’: ‘There are frequent nods to Eugene Atget and Walker Evans, as well as Warhol and Ed Ruscha, but Shore’s contemporaries are also included. The presence of Bernd and Hilla Becher is felt throughout, and in a wry mode of disclosure, Shore concludes the new book version of the series with a portrait of William Eggleston that makes plain the wider allegiance to that photographer that arises in so many other images.’ (Blank, 2006)

 

Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi

Alec Soth (1969) is an American photographer born in Minnesota (USA). He has published over twenty-five books among which Sleeping by the Mississippi in 2004. In 2008 he has established created Little Brown Mushroom, a multi-media enterprise that focuses on visual storytelling. (Soth’s website)

In a beautiful interview with Aaron Schuman, first published in 2004 in SeeSaw Magazine,  Soth speaks about his way of working, explaining that it has more to do with poetry than with documentary, that he doesn’t aim to tell whole stories, only fragments, and to put them together in meaningful sequences, even if they are not meant to be social documents, and this is why he chose the dream-like title of “Sleeping by the Mississippi”.

Have a Nice Booka non-profit platform to help promote collectible printed photography, classics and self-edited books, has on YouTube a video which presents Alec Soth’s book:

 

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwnevYAbrpQ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

 

Robert Frank’s The Americans

The Americans, a photographic book by Robert Frank first published in France in 1958 and in the United States in the 1959, was highly influential in post-war American photography. ‘The photographs were notable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society. The book as a whole created a complicated portrait of the period that was viewed as skeptical of contemporary values and evocative of ubiquitous loneliness.’ (Wikipedia)

At The National Gallery of Art in Washington it’s possible to visit the Robert Frank Collection which includes a large number of vintage and later prints, contact sheets, work prints, negatives, three bound books of original photographs, technical material, and various papers, books, and recordings.

The Americans includes a sequence of 83 images divided into four sections, each beginning with a picture of an American flag and following ‘a rhythm based on the interplay between motion and stasis, the presence and absence of people, observers and those being observed. The book as a whole explores the American people—black and white, military and civilian, urban and rural, poor and middle class—as they gather in drugstores and diners, meet on city streets, mourn at funerals, and congregate in and around cars. With piercing vision, poetic insight, and distinct photographic style, Frank reveals the politics, alienation, power, and injustice at play just beneath the surface of his adopted country.’ (The Robert Frank Collection).

 

From the Robert Frank Collection at the NGA, Washington

https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/features/robert-frank/the-americans-1955-57.html

 

 

A very informative video was produced by the Smithsonian Magazine to accompany a comprehensive exhibit of Robert Frank’s work at The National Gallery of Art in 2010 (Images courtesy of: National Gallery of Art; Produced by: Diane Bolz and Brian Wolly)

 

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHtRZBDOgag (Accessed 19/05/2017)

In 2014 The Guardian celebrated Robert Frank’s 90th birthday with an article about his work by O’Hagan, who explains how ‘The Americans challenged all the formal rules laid down by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans, whose work Frank admired but saw no reason to emulate … The Americans was shocking – and enduringly influential – because it simply showed things as they were.’

‘His Americans look furtive, lonely, suspicious. He caught what Diane Arbus called the “hollowness” at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality … The Americans portrayed a place and a people that many Americans just could not, or did not want to see: a sad, hard, divided country that seemed essentially melancholic rather than heroic. As Jack Kerouac put it in his famous introduction, Robert Frank “sucked a sad poem out of America.”’ (O’Hagan, 2014)

 

Luigi Ghirri

In 2013, while visiting the MAXXI Museum in Rome, I discovered the very fine work of  Luigi Ghirri, an Italian photographer (1943-1992) who was a pioneer in the use of colour photographs of landscape and architecture. This was the largest exhibition ever of his photographs which were also on show at the 2013 Venice Biennale. He produced sequences of images of Italian parks, beaches and urban landscapes. He is represented in the United States by The Matthew Arts Gallery, from which I have included a photo of his work. The photo below is taken from their website.

 

 

Luigi Ghirri, Tellaro, Italy (1980)

At:  http://www.matthewmarks.com/new-york/artists/luigi-ghirri/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

This is an video produced by MAXXI Museum in Rome at the time of the exhibition. I’m sorry, the video is in Italian:

 

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ABvKYgA7Bc

It exists also an official website on him, for the time being only in Italian:

http://www.archivioluigighirri.it/ (Accessed 19/5/2017)

The first book in English on this very influential and internationally still relatively unknown artist was published in 2008 by aperture.org with the title It’s beautiful here, isn’t it … 

It’s beautiful here, isnt’ it … (2008) book cover, from aperture.org

 

Bibliography

On Paul Graham’s A1:

Paul Graham’s website: http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/ (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Paris Photo video: http://www.parisphoto.com/paris/program/2014/the-platform/paul-graham (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Photobookclub website: http://photobookclub.org/2012/04/29/synopsis-paul-grahams-a1-the-great-north-road/) (Accessed 18/05/2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2011) Paul Graham: ‘The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether’ In http://www.theguardian.com 11/04/2011 [online] At: ‘https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/11/paul-graham-interview-whitechapel-ohagan (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Coomes, P. (2011) ‘Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006’ In http://www.bbc.com 20.04.2011 [online] At: http://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-13133461 (Accessed 18/05/2017)

 

On Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces:

Stephen Shore’s website:  http://stephenshore.net/index.php (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Photobook Club Barreiro video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZWJudwyI0w (Accessed 18/05/2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2015) ‘Shady character: how Stephen Shore taught America to see in living colour’ In http://www.theguardian.com 9/07/2015 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jul/09/stephen-shore-america-colour-photography-1970s (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Blank, G. (2006) ‘Stephen Shore: American Surfaces’ [online] At: http://www.gilblank.com/texts/essays/amersurf.html (Accessed 18/05/2017)

 

On Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi:

Alec Soth’s website: http://alecsoth.com/photography/ (Accessed 18/05/2017)

Schuman, A. (2004) ‘The Mississippi: An Interview with Alec Soth’ In: http://www.aaronschuman.com  [online]  At:  http://www.aaronschuman.com/sothinterview.html (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Youtube video on Alec Soth’s book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwnevYAbrpQ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

On Robert Frank’ The Americans:

Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Americans_(photography)

The Robert Frank Collection, at The National Gallery of Art, Washington: https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/features/robert-frank/the-americans-1955-57.html (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Video from the Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHtRZBDOgag (Accessed 19/05/2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) ‘Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won’t look back’ In: http://www.theguardian.com 7/11/2014 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

On Luigi Ghirri:

The Matthew Marks Gallery, New York and Los Angeles, website:    http://www.matthewmarks.com/new-york/artists/luigi-ghirri/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

2013 exhibition at MAXXI Museum, Rome: http://www.maxxi.art/events/luigi-ghirri-pensare-per-immagini/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Italian official website on Luigi Ghirri: http://www.archivioluigighirri.it/ (Accessed 19/5/2017)

 

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