Exercise 4: Reflecting on the role of photography

Is photography simply providing an authentic record of the artwork – photography as evidence – or is it part of the artwork itself?

In the last section of Project 2 which is focused on photography in relation to land art, I have been considering artworks that are indeed very different, from the majestic scale of earthworks such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) to the intimate scale of an ephemeral conceptual piece like Self-Burial (1969) by Keith Arnatt, with both artists working in the very same years and both of them using photography in their practice.

As I have been seeing throughout this part of the course, photography as a medium is very flexible and can serve many purposes, artistic, documentary, scientific, and others  – this adaptability, this ‘transparency’, seems to be a feature intrinsic to photography – and so it finds its natural place also in land art and lends itself to be used by different artists in different ways and to different effects. It seems to me though that all these artists – Smithson, Fulton, Goldsworthy, Long, Mir and Arnatt, to name just those quoted by Creative Arts Today – as different as they may be, think of photography as part of their work, not only as a documentary evidence, even if in varying degrees.

I would thus say that photography represents one facet, one possible point of view on the artwork, or an integration of it, a different way of experimenting it, and so photography belongs to the artwork, without photography every artwork would be different, would be something else altogether.

In the case of fragile, site-specific, ephemeral sculpture works like those of Goldsworthy, the photographic record may of course be the only possibility for a viewer to experience them before they get lost or deteriorate, but photographs are also a way to look at these works from changing vantage points, or to discover in them details that the artist has intentionally captured, or still to perceive them in different light and weather conditions. So I think that in Goldsworthy’s case the act of photographing is instrumental in  documenting a piece and also in widening and deepening the experience for the viewer.

A piece like Self-Burial (1969) by Arnatt, made up of a sequence of still images taken at different times, started perhaps as more conceptual in nature, and in this case the photographic sequence represents the real piece of art, while the process of gradual self-burial in the ground was necessary to create it, more than the other way round. Possibly the artist was personally less involved in physically dealing with the earth and more idea-driven.

Considering now the walking artist Hamish Fulton or an image like A Line Made by Walking (1967) by Richard Long, there is a balance between the process of walking and the photographic evidence. Walking is experienced by the artists with their bodies, as a sort of performative and meditative act, and the traces left of this process as still or moving images offer the viewers an opportunity to meditate on this act and prolong it. Perhaps there is also something unsatisfactory in a photograph such A Line Made by Walking, in its being only a trace of a process that the viewer has not seen in its doing, but I think that this is intentionally so and that it underlines the ephemerality, the impermanence of the artist’s action on nature.

Also a project like First Woman on the Moon (1999) by Aleksandra Mir, though complex and grandiose in its scope and organization, was born as ironically ephemeral, but in her case I think that the video and the photographs that were taken put the accent on the community performance that was involved in the project and on the importance of sharing and helping to get results. In this regard, Mir’s work reminds me in several ways of the re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave (2001) by Jeremy Deller.

A very large-scale earthworks sculpture such as Robert Smithson‘s Spiral Jetty (1970) can be experienced by many only through videos and photographs, not only because of its remoteness but also because to have a full view of it it is necessary to see it from the sky. In this sense aerial photography really offer a unique opportunity to consider it in its wholeness. But to walk along its physical extension, to perceive it personally piece by piece from the ground, certainly makes for a totally different way to experience it, in time and place. I am thinking here of some colossal archaeological works like the Nazca lines in Peru which can be perceived in their totality only from afar. So in my opinion also in this case the real piece and photography successfully complete and complement each other.

Artists producing ephemeral artworks documented by photographs

Creative Arts Today (page 166) introduces me to other two artists whose work is concerned in different ways with landscape and photography.

Aleksandra Mir: First Woman on the Moon (1999)

Creative Arts Today sees this work as a critique of large earthworks projects

The primary source for information on this Swedish-American artist is her own website which documents at length her projects:

https://aleksandramir.info/ (Accessed 22/05/2017)

A section of her website retells in compelling way the story of First Woman on the Moon (2009), how the event-installation was born and developed, and what it has become of it in the following years. It shows the original video, several photographs and texts:

https://aleksandramir.info/projects/first-woman-on-the-moon/

As Mir told an in interview, the meanings and interpretations of that project are open-ended:

The work is open-ended. I received both congratulatory telegrams from Australian gender studies departments, as well as hate mail from American feminists who opposed my conflation of gender issues with imperialism (The use of the American flag in Holland). I also received severe protests from the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, contesting NASA’s monopoly on space travel, and saying that my work was showing the mere impotence of regular people’s capacity for space travel, as I wasn’t really intending to ‘go anywhere’ but muck around in the sands. I get all sorts of readings and that is my point, keeping the ball in the air. If the work can serve you in any way and you can kick the ball further, it is relevant. (Accademia del Giglio, 2009)

‘The project’s scale recalls the monumental ambitions of 1960s Land Art, though the emphasis here is on the involvement of the local community and the media.

First Woman on the Moon looks back at the space race as a chauvinist power play, showing how the meaning of any event can be manipulated through media representation. The video mixes knowingly ‘cheap’ footage of the event with clips aired by Dutch TV stations, and the soundtrack features original NASA communications and excerpts from Kennedy’s 1961 speech. Mir also sent the video to figures such as astronaut Neil Armstrong and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, whose replies are reproduced here.

My work is often described as ‘feminist’’ Mir has said, ‘but … the content of my projects almost always pulls in the opposite direction, showing frailty, vulnerability and pathetic incompetence towards the status quo … I guess ambivalence is always part of a good artwork.’ (The Tate, What’s on)

 

 

Keith Arnatt (1930-2008): Self-burial (Television Interference Project) (1969)

On a much smaller scale than land art already considered, this work is made up by a sequence of nine black and white stills, showing the artist slowly disappearing into the ground. (Creative Arts Today, page 166)

Self-Burial, 1969

At: http://www.keitharnatt.com/works/w20.html (Accessed 22/05/2017)

‘This sequence of photographs was broadcast on German television in October 1969. One photo was shown each day, for about two seconds, sometimes interrupting whatever programme was being shown at peak viewing time. They were neither announced nor explained – viewers had to make what sense of them they could.’ (The Tate, Art and Artists)

 

Bibliography

Alexandra Mir’s website: https://aleksandramir.info/ (Accessed 22/05/2017)

Accademia del Giglio (2009) ‘Venice Biennale 2009: interview with Aleksandra Mir’ In: http://www.adgblog.it 28/05/2009 [online] At: http://www.adgblog.it/2009/05/28/venice-biennale-2009-interview-with-aleksandra-mir/ (Accessed 22/05/2017)

The Tate:  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/display/aleksandra-mir (Accessed 22/05/2017)

Keith Arnatt’s website: http://www.keitharnatt.com/works/w20.html (Accessed 22/05/2017)

The Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/arnatt-self-burial-television-interference-project-t01747 (Accessed 22/05/2017)

 

Research point 3: Clarrie Wallis speaking about Richard Long

Tate Britain held in 2009 the exhibition Richard Long: Heaven and Earth, and in coincidence with that show the curator Clarrie Wallis had a talk about the practice of walking and its creative, meditative and philosophical value, besides its physical and psychological benefits.

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCFVpNPOi7I (Accessed 21/05/2017)

The exhibition offered an opportunity to understand the relationship between art and landscape according to the artist’s vision. His work is born from the practice of making solitary walks through rural areas both in Britain and in remote parts of the world as in the plains of Canada, Mongolia and Bolivia.

‘Long never makes significant alterations to the landscapes he passes through. Instead he marks the ground or adjusts the natural features of a place by upending stones for example, or making simple traces. He usually works in the landscape but sometimes uses natural materials in the gallery. His work explores relationships between time, distance, geography, measurement and movement.’ (Heaven and Earth, 2009)

With more than 80 works, Heaven and Earth included sculptures, large-scale mud wall works, and new photographic and text works documenting his walks together with artists’ books, postcards and other printed matter.

The Telegraph published a review of the exhibition by Richard Dorment (2009) which underlined how sensitively Long worked with the land, showing humility, respect for nature and lightness of touch (Dorment, 2009).

‘In A Line Made by Walking we can see exactly how the path was made, approximate the time it took to make it, and guess how long it will remain visible before it is obliterated by the elements. And yet it is also mysterious. It looks as though it appeared out of nowhere, with no footprints leading up to it or away from it, at once a sign of the artist’s presence and of his absence.’ (Dorment, 2009)

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking (1967)

At: http://www.richardlong.org/Sculptures/2011sculptures/linewalking.html (Accessed 21/05/2017)

More information on Richard Long and his work can be obtained from his website.

 

Bibliography

Video for Heath and Heaven exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCFVpNPOi7I (Accessed 21/05/2017)

Richard Long: Heaven and Earth (2009) At: http://www.tate.org.uk [online]  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/richard-long-heaven-and-earth (Accessed 21/05/2017)

Dorment, R. (2009) ‘Richard Long: Heaven and Earth at Tate Britain , review’ In: http://www.telegraph.co.uk 1.06.2009 [online]  At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/5422617/Richard-Long-Heaven-and-Earth-at-Tate-Britain-review.html (Accessed 21.05.2017)

Richard Long’s website: http://www.richardlong.org/ (Accessed 21.05.2017)

 

 

 

Photography and land art

Earth Art or Land Art (from the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, 2016, page 159-60))

‘It can be seen as a part of the wider Conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Land artists began working directly in the landscape, sculpting into earthworks or making structures with rocks or twigs. Some of them used mechanical earth-moving equipment, but Richard Long simply walked up and down until he had made a mark in the earth. Land art was usually documented in artworks using photographs and maps that the artist could exhibit in a gallery. Land artists also made artworks in the gallery by bringing in material from the landscape and using it to create installations.’

Famous land artists are: Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty, 1970), Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer and Dennis Oppenheim.

As Creative Arts Today notes (page 164), photography has a special relationship with transient art forms, such as land art or performance art. In land art, the landscape itself becomes the artwork, and since many of these art forms are remote and ephemeral photographs and films are the only way they can survive and be seen also after their disappearance.

 

Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970)

Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture constructed in April 1970 that is considered to be the central work of American sculptor Robert Smithson. Smithson documented the construction of the sculpture in a 32-minute color film also titled Spiral Jetty.

Built on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah entirely of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks, Spiral Jetty forms a 1,500-foot-long (460 m), 15-foot-wide (4.6 m) counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake. (Wikipedia)

 

 

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CqDVbZdK3I (Accessed 19/05/2017)

 

Hamish Fulton

‘Hamish Fulton (born 1946) is a British walking artist. Since 1972 he has only made works based on the experience of walks. He translates his walks into a variety of media, including photography, illustrations, and wall texts. Since 1994 he has begun practicing group walks. Fulton argues that ‘walking is an artform in its own right’ and argues for wider acknowledgement of walking art. Hamish Fulton is represented in London by Maureen Paley.'(Wikipedia)

In 2002 The Tate had an exhibition about his work: ‘Hamish Fulton: Walking Journey’, consisting of texts and photographs as documents.

The Cornwall Workshop, a weeklong intensive residential workshop for artists, curators and writers, organized in 2006 communal walks in Penzance led by Hamish Fulton of which photographs and videos were taken:

 

Penzance communal walk (2006)

Penzance communal walk (2006)

 

On him also an article in The Guardian (2012).

 

Andy Goldsworthy

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)

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:

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz14M_pbzdU

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

At: http://www.abramsbooks.com/product/andy-goldsworthy-ephemeral-works_9781419717796/

 

Bibliography

Wilson, S. and Lack, J. (2008) The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms. London: Thames and Hudson

Wikipedia article on Spiral Jetty (1970): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_Jetty (accessed 19/05/2017)

Vázquez-Concepción, A. R. (2013)  ‘The Spiral Jetty, 1970, by Robert Smithson’ At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CqDVbZdK3I (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Maureen Pauly Art Gallery, London: http://www.maureenpaley.com/artists/hamish-fulton/biography (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Wikipedia article on Jamish Fulton: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamish_Fulton (Accessed 19/05/2017)

The Cornwall Workshop: http://www.thecornwallworkshop.com/ (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Cumming, L. (2012) ‘Hamish Fulton: Walk; Turner and the Elements – review’ In: www.theguardian.com 29.01.2012 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/jan/29/hamish-fulton-walk-turner-margate-review (Accessed 19/05/2017)

Wikipedia article on Andy Goldsworthy: 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)

Video on Andy Goldsworthy by xstuporman (2015) : 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)

 

 

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)

 

Exercise 3: Family photos

Family photos are often cited as being the possessions that people would most want to save from a house fire. Why do you think that photographs are such a significant part of our lives? Write down how you feel about photos – or videos – from your family’s past.

I am touched every time I see someone, and especially someone old, gently shuffle family photos around, almost caressing them as if they were real people, and at the same time remembering episodes, facts, details of their past lives. I think that photographs are very powerful tools to keep us rooted, to help us retell our own stories and make sense of them, and to help us not to forget and reframe what happened in new ways as we and our family and friends get different, grow older or die.

I find that photos have a double nature: on the one side they help us to remember how people and things were, to bring them back from our past to our present, to prevent that they fade away, to make them exist, but on the other side there is also an implicit sadness in them because of course they make us remember that that past is lost, that our present will change too and that we, our family and friends will be gone one day. And in this regard photos act as a ‘memento mori’, in a similar way to a vanitas painting.

Photographs are also certainly powerful doors to our ‘involuntary memories’, as Proust called the memories that occur when something encountered in everyday life evokes recollections of the past without our conscious effort (Wikipedia, 2017). Looking at a certain photograph may then trigger chain associations of memories, thoughts, daydreaming that pop off in our minds and establish unpredictable connections and lead us sometimes in unforeseeable directions. And in this process we make up stories, we reinterpret what happened in our own life, we make representations of what we remember. So in a certain sense photographs may help us in creating our own storytelling, I think.

Another thought is that family photos can be personally very meaningful to us but also tell other people who we are, reveal something about ourselves and our families, be socially ‘talking’, often beyond our own will and understanding. In time they can become documents of a way of life, of a period of time and of a place, thus taking on a documentary value, as shown by the very interesting Daniel Meadows’ Free Photographic Omnibus project (Meadows, ongoing).

 

Will this archiving be affected by the digital revolution? Do you have images languishing on your hard drive that you keep meaning to process? Is flicking through images on someone’s phone or digital photo frame as potent as looking through an album or sorting through a box of photos? Or is it better?

I am personally worried about what will happen to all our digitally stored images if we don’t find ways to adequately organize them or ‘save’ them in the form of good old traditional prints. Today home computers, tablets, smart phones or memory sticks have replaced the family albums as storage sites for photos and they can easily get lost or erased. It is also difficult to imagine that one day people coming after us will be really able to retrieve them, scattered as they are in all our devices.

There is also frankly an overflow of too many and often useless or redundant images of ourselves and our vacations, homes, pets, meals on social media like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etcetera, and we keep producing more and more everyday, without having the time and the possibility to keep an eye on this immense production, so presumably many of these shared images will get lost in the flood or erased when a social media ceases to exist. Furthermore as soon as we share images we lose control over them, we hand them over to others and to whatever use they might want to put them, so in a certain sense we do not possess them anymore, there are not anymore ‘personal’.

Perhaps the digital revolution marks a passage from the traditional personal and private preservation of memories by means of photographs and family albums to a sort of communal sharing and exchanging of images and life experiences that belong to everyone and that all together make up a commonly-owned gigantic visual communication network.

Given the uncertain future of digital storage, who is seriously interested in preserving individual memories for the future might give a good read to an informative article in The Guardian published in 2016 that explains how to rationally organize and safely store digital photos for future use (Schofield, 2016).

 

 

 

Bibliography

Wikipedia (2017) ‘Involuntary  memory’ [online] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involuntary_memory (Accessed 17/05/2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2015) ‘Daniel Meadows: the photographer who championed ‘the great ordinary’ In: http://www.theguardian.com 25.09.2015 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/25/daniel-meadows-photography-society-ordinary-butlins (Accessed 17/05/2017)

https://vimeo.com/57256051

http://www.photobus.co.uk/

Schofield, J. (2016)  ‘What’s the best way to organise and store my digital photos?’ In: http://www.theguardian.com 23.06.2016 [online]

At: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2016/jun/23/whats-the-best-way-to-organise-and-store-my-digital-photos (Accessed 17/05/2017)

Research point 1: Rebecca Solnit ‘Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadward Muybridge’

I was not able to find a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s book, either in English or translated, so I looked for what I could find on this subject on the Internet and I came up with two reviews of her book which I think it’s better than nothing to get a first understanding of what the book deals with.

The first is a review from The Guardian (2003): ‘Pictures of a revolution – Motion Studies, Rebecca Solnit’s attempt to put Eadweard Muybridge at the centre of 19th century perception of time and space’ by Liz Jobey.

At: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/apr/26/featuresreviews.guardianreview9

(Accessed 15/05/2017).

The book links Muybridge’s photographic studies of animal and human locomotion to other fundamental inventions of the 19th century ‘that altered human perception of time and space, in particular the railway and the telegraph’ thus placing him at the core of the technological revolution and shows how his locomotion studies have been used by scientists, anthropologists and artists as ‘an encyclopaedia of positions, both human and animal, a source-book of photographs for artists that had little or no pretension to being art’.

Then, ‘in the 1880s and early 1890s, towards the end of his life, he demonstrated his locomotion studies as moving sequences, and this placed him among the pioneers of cinema’.

The second review is from The Times Literary Supplement (2017): ‘Perpetual Motion’ by Benjamin Markovits, first published in the TLS in 2003 when the book came out.

At: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/perpetual-motion/ (Accessed 15/05/2017).

Citing directly from the book it says that Muybridge “had captured aspects of motion whose speed had made them as invisible as the moons of Jupiter before the telescope, and he had found a way to set them back in motion. It was as though he had grasped time itself, made it stand still, and then made it run again, over and over”.

According to this review ‘Muybridge played a part in what Solnit considers the three dominant technologies of our time: transport, through his connection to the railroad baron Stanford; movies, for obvious reasons; and computers, which sprang up in what became known as Silicon Valley, in the same brave new landscape that inspired Muybridge.’