Assignment 4: Reflections on feedback

As my tutor Dr. Belshaw said in his email accompanying feedback on Assignment 4 there is a bit of a challenge in his response: he correctly perceived in my essay some doubts about David Hockney’s account on the limitations of photography as an autonomous medium and actually as I was writing the essay I thought that somehow this consummate painter missed the special point of photography – its unique capability of capturing a slide of reality in an instant of time – or else that he deliberately chose to ignore it because he is interested in making a point about painting, not photography. And on noticing my hesitation I think that Dr. Belshaw rightly encouraged me to muster up some courage and pursue my ideas a bit further thus adding critical thinking to my essay.

This was the first time that my tutor raised the question of critical thinking as such and it certainly rang a bell with me. It made me realize that I have always used my critical thinking intuitively, I would say without too much speculation, and that now, almost at the end of my first course with OCA, the moment has come to examine this issue in a more structured, intentional, less casual way. So I am taking his notes as a short lesson in critical thinking.

‘This means taking issue with something in the material you gathered for the assignment. The easy way to overcome this is to consider what the artist says with some scepticism’: it is a first general suggestion from my tutor about how to tackle the task and this is what I shall try to do on critically rereading my essay before assessment.

Then Dr. Belshaw goes into details and offers some critical perspectives among others that might be raised in the specific case of Hockney’s photocollages or photographic drawings. These are not meant to be as prescriptive, but by way of examples. Other questions could be asked, the point being here how to learn to recognise possible issues and hint at rational speculative directions. And he continues suggesting two possible questions: What does it mean to say some kinds of pictures are truer to experience than others? Or else: What do we mean by a “way of seeing”?

I must also especially thank my tutor for suggesting me Neill and Ridley, Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, which is a really useful read and an eye-opener in connection with the topic of critical thinking. It just arrived in the mail and I am reading the chapters about photography debates as a start.

(429 words)

Advertisements

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 in their artistic visions.

(501 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 his idea of 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.

From reading his autobiography it seems in fact 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 also that his use of photographs has been mostly instrumental to his painting, rather than born out of an authentic interest in photography as an autonomous medium to explore. What always mattered to him is painting, not photography.

Hockney’s long-felt dissatisfaction with ‘naturalism and the depiction of naturalistic fixed-point perspective space’ had led him to concentrate on Picasso’s works early in his career and made him ‘realize fully that … there is no actual distortion in Picasso … that Picasso’s way [is] far more real than anything else’, and not only far more real, but also ‘far more vivid’. This is because in looking at Picasso’s Cubist paintings the viewer feels to be ‘inside the picture’ and 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.

But in his photocollages Hockney does not limit himself to use photography as a tool among others to obtain an enhanced and sharper sense of reality, in the wake of the Cubist lesson: in creating them, he wishes also 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. Speaking about Pearl Blossom Highway 2 (1986), Hockney said once that it is ‘a panoramic assault on Renaissance one-point perspective’ (Hockney, 1993:112).

Hockney aims 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 looks 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). From Hockney’s approach, it would seem that he considers the distinctive features or ‘nature’ of photography as a medium – to use Shore’s words, the capacity to freeze an instant in time and to obtain a ‘slice through the world’ among others (Shore, 2007:64) – as a limitation, not as an opportunity to explore for what it offers, like other artists have done.

The effect Hockney is after is to build a reality that is truer than that offered by photography, with a touchable, immersive character. Besides being exercises in the exploration of the deep nature of place, his photocollages wish also to be viewed as explorations of how a place changes in time since being made up of hundreds of images taken in a succession of days they are able to create a narrative of that place as remarked by the artist: ‘I was using narrative for the first time, using a new dimension of time’ (Hockney, 1993:97).

I think that there is a certain implicit irony in the fact that Hockney, notwithstanding his views on photography dismissed as a useful but limited tool and not valued as a medium in its own right, creates a work as compelling as Pearl Blossom Highway 2 which could never have seen the light if not for photography: it is exactly by being a photographer almost against his will – he insists that his photocollages or ‘joiners’ are to be viewed as drawings, not photographs – that he brings the viewer inside the picture, makes his or her 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, almost as if the viewer were physically walking or driving along the road represented in it.

Hockney’s position on photography seems to be part of the old and never resolved debate if photography can or cannot claim to be an independent form of art and, more specifically, in which relationship it stands to painting. His ‘way of seeing’ is that photography is born old, being the last expression of the single-point perspective of the Renaissance, and as such cannot be considered really innovative. To Hockney photographs can show only artificial fractions of reality – single moments, single frames – and not offer the complex vision that he is after of the innumerable changing positions in time and space perceivable by the human eye and brain (Gayford, 2011; Cashdan, 2010).
(1066 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)

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)

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

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

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)

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

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)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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

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

 

  •  On La Jetée by Chris Marker:

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

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

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

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)

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

 

  • On Andy Goldsworthy‘s ephemeral sculptures:

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

Goldsworthy, A. website at: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

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

 

  • On Peter Kennard‘s political collages:

Kennard, P. website at: http://www.peterkennard.com/main/home_set.htm (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)

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)