ASSIGNMENT 4: REFLECTIVE COMMENTARY

This short introductory section on Photography has certainly been for me another voyage of discovery into the unknown as it had already happened for Visual Communications before. Like everybody else I live surrounded by photographic images of every kind and have often found certain photographs beautiful or artistic for various reasons, or some photography exhibitions particularly interesting and compelling but never before I had truly had a chance to focus my attention on photographs as objects in their own right, having their own specific unique features, or on photography as a genre.

Being exposed to a series of very different images and artists in a structured way has greatly raised my level of awareness both when I look at a photograph and when I take one. I know that my knowledges are still really limited but a process has started. Also reading for the first time books on photography has been important, especially Shore’s The Nature of Photographs (2010) and Edward’s Photography: A Very Short Introduction (2006) because both of them have in different ways prompted my curiosity and answered some first questions on this medium that may seem deceptively easy and approachable but also elusive and difficult to define.

I have been particularly attracted by the narrative use of photography that some artists make, by the capacity to tell stories with photographs that could not perhaps be told as effectively and poignantly in other media, like for instance by Robert Frank’s photographic diary The Americans or by Alec Soth’s poetic series Sleeping by the Mississippi, or by the skillful juxtaposition of industrial sites and daily life made by Mitch Epstein with his ongoing project American Power. I had never really thought about the possibility of successfully narrating stories through a sequence of still images, instead of choosing perhaps more obviously moving images to do so or a fiction, or that the choice of the photographic medium produces a totally different impact.

Another feature of photography that has strongly interested me is its very intimate and unavoidable relationship with time and as I said in the exercise about family photos (Project 2 – It’s about time) especially the double nature of photographs: they frieze moments of the past making them present and preventing them to fade into oblivion and so act in this regard as ‘memento vitae’ but they are also intrinsically sad because of course they make us remember that that past is lost forever, that our present will change too and vanish and so act also as ‘memento mori’ like a vanitas painting.

A last short note: as I was writing my essay on David Hockney’s ‘joiners’ I happened to think how this artist, who has repeatedly criticized photography for what he sees as its limitations – its special capacity to capture that ‘tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now, with which reality has so to speak seared the subject’ (Benjamin: 510) – has dismissed the very elements of photography that other artists have chosen instead to give voice to their artistic visions.

(500 words)

 

Benjamin, W. (1931-1934) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Harvard: Harvard University Press [online] At: https://books.google.com/?hl=it (Accessed 27/06/2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASSIGNMENT 4: DAVID HOCKNEY’S ‘PHOTOGRAPHIC DRAWINGS’ AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH PHOTOGRAPHY

‘There are thousands of perspectives – not just one – everywhere you look. Perspective doesn’t exist in nature. It is just a convention’, says David Hockney in a recent conversation with Lita Barrie (Barrie, 2015) speaking about his latest ‘photographic drawings’ exhibited in Los Angeles at the L.A. Louver Gallery in 2015.

They consist in digital collages of hundreds of photographs arranged in compositions that show every detail in close-up views, from multiple vantage points, in ever-shifting perspectives and taken at different moments of time, and though for these works he has been using new digital tools – an iPad and Photoshop, the artistic vision and concerns behind them are along the same line of his early experiments with the ‘joiners’ which were made up of hundreds of at first Polaroid and later 35mm prints back in the Eighties, like My mother, Bolton Abbey (1982) and Pearl Blossom Highway 2 (1986) (Wikipedia, 2016).

As Hockney charmingly recounts in his autobiography That’s the Way I See it (Hockney, 1993), in 1981 he had rather casually started to play with the Polaroid camera and was soon exploring its creative potential in a rich series of photocollages. He explains how his deep involvement with photography at that stage was strongly associated with his long-held interest in Picasso’s explorations of multiple points of view in his Cubist paintings and revolved around the concept of perspective and the nature of realism in art.

Hockney had long felt dissatisfied with ‘naturalism and the depiction of naturalistic fixed-point perspective space’ and on carefully studying Picasso’s works he had in time come ‘to realize fully that, contrary to what some people may think, there is no actual distortion in Picasso … that Picasso’s way was far more real than anything else’, and not only far more real, but also ‘far more vivid’. And this is so because in looking at Picasso’s Cubist paintings the viewer feels to be ‘inside the picture’ since he or she can see ‘the back and the front at the same time’ and ‘slowly [the picture] then begins to look more and more real. In fact it is naturalism [based on the single-point perspective] that begins to look less and less real’  (Hockney, 1993: 101-2), and so unsatisfactorily limited.

From reading his autobiography it seems that Hockney’s engagement with the problems of realism in art and his dedication to create works that are truer than ‘reality’ as it is commonly understood have actually been at the very heart of his painting practice for decades now and that his use of photographs has been mostly instrumental to his painting, rather than born out of an authentic interest in photography as a self-sufficient, autonomous medium.

To the contrary, Hockney’s photocollages have their artistic roots in his wish to overcome what he considers ‘the limitations of photography’, seen by him as the ultimate product of the Renaissance invention of the single vanishing point perspective theories and consequently as ‘the end of something old, not the beginning of something new’ (Hockney, 1993: 124-5). According to this view, rather than being a faithful reproduction of life, a photograph, exactly as Western pictures based on single-point perspective, is a conventional construction and not a natural category (Edwards, 2006:91), and so basically an abstraction of reality.

In this regard it may be enlightening to read Hockney’s words about the last of his photocollages Pearl Blossom Highway 2 (1986) that he considers ‘as a panoramic assault on Renaissance one-point perspective’ (Hockney, 1993:112).

In this like in other photocollages he wants to go beyond the frozen moment as fixed by the single photographic image and through the assemblage of hundreds of photographs taken at different times and from changing vantage points to create works that reproduce reality in a way that seems to him much closer to the human natural vision, which is binocular and not monocular as the ‘mechanical eye’ of the camera: ‘take one step and something hidden comes into view; take another and an object in the front now presses up against one in the distance’ (Shore, 2007:48).

In so doing Hockney brings the viewer inside the picture, in a way that elaborates on Picasso’s Cubist vision, makes the viewer’s eyes move along it, slowly and sequentially absorb its many elements, one by one, as the eyes naturally focus on and off the different details of the picture, almost as if the viewer were physically walking or driving along the road represented in the picture. Speaking about Pearl Blossom Highway 2 in a video, Hockey interestingly says: ‘You’re looking down on the road, you’re looking up, you’re looking every direction … You are actually, literally close to something. You’re moving around in it’ (Khan Academy).

The effect the artist is after is an enhanced and sharper sense of reality, a reality that is truer than that offered by photography, with a touchable, immersive character that assimilates and develops the Cubist lesson. Besides being exercises in the exploration of the deep nature of place, Hockney’s photocollages can also be viewed as explorations of how a place changes in time since they are made up of hundreds of images taken in different days, and so they create together very complex narratives as the artist himself notices: ‘I was using narrative for the first time, using a new dimension of time’ (Hockney, 1993:97).

There is a certain implicit irony in the fact that a photocollage like Pearl Blossom Highway 2, developed out of the artist’s dissatisfaction with the very distinctive features of photography as a medium – the capacity to freeze an instant in time and to obtain a ‘slice through the world’ among others (Shore, 2007:64) – makes since 1997 part of the photography collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (Getty Museum).

To Hockney what matters is painting, not photography, which to him is a tool among others to give voice to his vision of reality: he has repeatedly insisted that his photocollages are drawings, not photographs, which he thinks can show only artificial fractions of reality – single moments, single frames – while he is interested in complexity, in the innumerable changing positions in time and space that the human eye and brain can perceive (Gayford, 2011; Cashdan, 2010) in search of a deeper, vibrating human presence within the pictures.
(1017 words)

 

Bibliography:

 

Barrie, Lita (2015) ‘David Hockney Interview: Review of Painting and Photography at L. A. Louver’ In: http://www.huffingtonpost [online] At: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lita-barrie/david-hockney-painting-an_b_7853808.html (Accessed 6/06/2017)

Wikipedia. (2016). Article ‘David Hockney’. [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hockney (Accessed 6/06/2016)

Hockney, David (1993) That’s the Way I See It. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Edwards, Steve (2006) Photography: A Very Short Introduction. [Kindle edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed 06/06/2017)

Shore, Stephen (2007) The Nature of Photographs. London, New York: Phaidon Press Ltd. Phaidon Press Inc.

Khan Academy. (n.d.). ‘David Hockney’s “Pearblossom Hwy”’. [online] In: http://www.khanacademy.org At: https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/getty-museum/getty-photographs-films/getty-photographs-photographers/v/david-hockney-pearblossom-hwy (Accessed 6/06/2017)

The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. (n.d.). ‘Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2’ [online] At: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/105374/david-hockney-pearblossom-hwy-11-18th-april-1986-2-british-april-11-18-1986/ (Accessed 06/06/2017)

Gayford, Martin (2011) ‘The Many Layers of David Hockney’ In: The Telegraph 23.09.2011 [online] At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/8782275/The-many-layers-of-David-Hockney.html (Accessed 06/06/2017)

Cashdan, Marina (2010) ‘Into the Woods’ In: Blouinartinfo 31.03.2010 [online] At: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/276547/into-the-woods (Accessed 06/06/2017)

 

 

Assignment 4 – Preliminary research

Assignment 4 asks to look at some of the ways in which artists have integrated photography into their practice, makes six suggestions at possible options in this respect and invites to choose one and write a short essay on the relationship between the artworks, their artistic message and the use of photography within the art process, with particular regard to the main themes of time and place. Having done a preliminary research online, I shall be focusing my essay on David Hockney‘s photocollages such as Pearl Blossom Highway 2 (1986) and My Mother, Bolton Abbey (1982).

Suggested topics (Creative Arts Today, page 177)
  • Photography combined with text to produce combined narratives, such as those by Duane Michals (1932),  an American photographer who is known for using sequences of photographs that often incorporate texts, as in his book Sequences (1970) in which text was handwritten beside the images to enrich and integrate photographic information (Wikipedia, Duane Michals)

I think photographs should be provocative and not tell you what you already know. It takes no great powers or magic to reproduce somebody’s face in a photograph. The magic is in seeing people in new ways.

—Duane Michals (www.lensculture.com)

The sequences make use of a cinematic frame-by-frame format. The texts do not so much explain what we see in the photographs, as they add ‘another dimension to the images’ meaning and give voice to Michals’s singular musings, which are poetic, tragic, and humorous, often all at once.’ (DCMoore Gallery)

  • Accumulating photographs together as a way of producing a hybrid between film and still. La Jetée, a 1962 French science fiction short film by Chris Marker, is constructed almost entirely from still photographs and tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. The 1995 science-fiction film 12 Monkeys was inspired by and borrows several concepts directly from La Jetée.

 

A prisoner in the aftermath of World War III in post-apocalyptic Paris is obsessed by a memory from his pre-war childhood of a woman he had seen on the observation platform (“the jetty”) at Orly airport, hence the title. (Wikipedia, La Jetée)

 

  • Andy Warhol‘s screen prints generated from photographs

The screenprinting process – an evolution from simple stenciling – and how it was successfully and efficiently used by Andy Warhol to make serial art is well explained on this page by revolverwarholgallery.com.

 

This act of undermining any translation or evidence of the artist’s hand in favor of a mass-produced, machine-like look appealed to Warhol. Once he discovered the process and implications of working with silk screens, the content of Warhol’s output as a painter became inextricably linked to the process by which he created his art. (Sotheby, 2013).

 

  • Andy Goldsworthy‘s ephemeral sculptures which had been already briefly touched upon in Project 2.

Andy Goldsworthy (1956) is a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist producing site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings. He lives and works in Scotland. (Wikipedia, Andy Godsworthy)

He keeps an artist website: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/ and within it a section dedicated to his photography: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/photography/ in which he explains why and how he uses photographs.

Here is a video about Goldsworthy’s work:

There are several books on Goldsworthy’s work, one of the latest is: Andy Goldsworthy – Ephemeral Works 2004-2014, Abrams, New York

Book cover by Abrams, New York

  • The political collages of Peter Kennard, for example Santa’s Ghetto (2006), Union Mask (1981), Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980).

 

‘That sense of ripping into an image, unveiling a surface, going through that surface into an unrevealed truth, is at the core of photomontage …The photojournalist goes out and takes the pictures; I sit in a room with the tools of my trade and try to pummel these pictures into revealing invisible connections, disconnecting them from direct representation into statement and argument … The point of my work is to use easily recognisable iconic images, but to render them unacceptable … After breaking them, to show new possibilities emerging in the cracks and splintered fragments of the old reality.’

from Peter Kennard’s website

 

With a career spanning almost 50 years, Peter Kennard is without doubt Britain’s most important political artist and its leading practitioner of photomontage. His adoption of the medium in the late 1960s restored an association with radical politics, and drew inspiration from the anti-Nazi montages of John Heartfield in the 1930s.

Kerley, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

  • On Duane Michals:

Wikipedia(2016). ‘Article Duane Michals’ [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duane_Michals (Accessed 5/06/2017)

Lensculture.com (2015) ‘Book Review/Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ [online] At: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/duane-michals-storyteller-the-photographs-of-duane-michals-2 (Accessed 5/06/2017)

Dcmooregallery.com. (2016), ‘Duane Michals – Artists – DC Moore Gallery’ [online] At:  http://www.dcmooregallery.com/artists/duane-michals/series/sequences (Accessed 5/06/2017)

 

  •  On La Jetée by Chris Marker:

Wikipedia (2016). Article La Jetée. [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Jet%C3%A9e (Accessed 5/06/2017)

Vimeo (2016) https://vimeo.com/191131906 (Accessed 5/06/2017)

Chris Marker.org (2016). ‘Chris Marker – Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory.’ [online] At: http://chrismarker.org/ (Accessed 5/06/2017)

 

  • On Andy Warhol‘s screen prints:

http://www.revolverwarholgallery (2016) ‘Andy Warhol Screenprints – The process and History’ [online] At: http://revolverwarholgallery.com/warhol-originals-andy-warhol-collection/ (Accessed 5/06/2017)

Youtube (2011) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzrPmfaYcMM (Accessed 5/06/2017)

http://www.sothebys.com (2013) ‘Andy Warhol and His Process’ [online] At: http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/blogs/all-blogs/21-days-of-andy-warhol/2013/11/andy-warhol-and-his-process.html (Accessed 5/06/2017)

 

  • On Andy Goldsworthy‘s ephemeral sculptures:

Wikipedia (2017) article on Andy Goldsworthy [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Goldsworthy (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Andy Goldsworthy’s website: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Youtube (2015) Video on Andy Goldsworthy by xstuporman [online] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz14M_pbzdU (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Abrams, New York: http://www.abramsbooks.com/product/andy-goldsworthy-ephemeral-works_9781419717796/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

  • On Peter Kennard‘s political collages:

Peter Kennard’s website at: http://www.peterkennard.com/main/home_set.htm (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Slocombe, R. (2015) ‘Protest and survive: why Peter Kennard is political dynamite’ In http://www.theguardian.com 1.05.2015 [online] At:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/01/blair-selfie-peter-kennard-political-dynamite (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Kerley, P. (2015) ‘Peter Kennard: A very unofficial war artist’ In: BBC News Magazine 14.05.2015 [online] At: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32706845 (Accessed 19/05/2017)