Informing Contexts Week 1 Activity: Photography, Photographies

This week we were asked to consider what a photograph is through studying the viewpoints of Szarkowski, Shore and Squires with the two former being more traditionalist and the latter encouraging experimental approaches. I have found it challenging to place my own opinion in the contexts of theirs. When I think I am relating well to the classification systems proposed by Szarkowski (the thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point) and Shore (physical, depictive (flatness, frame, time, focus), mental) as I like structure and definition I reflect on my images and recent experimentation which, although not as extreme as some of Squires exhibition examples, veer towards a freeing up from traditional and perhaps more comfortable containment.

So in answer to where my views lie and where does my style of image taking fit I think it would be right to say that I am traditionalist in feeling safer abiding by conventions but have a yearning to be more experimental in order to see what creativity is waiting to emerge and how far I can go with this ‘breaking out’.

Sarah Newton 2017
Sarah Newton 2017

Two plastic bags one ‘as taken’ and one digitally processed. The former shows the problem with littering but seems boring and is like thousands of other seen in recent times The latter could be considered more artistic and might be preferable as a wall hanging or fabric design but does not give out messages such as ‘take your litter home’ or ‘ban single use plastics’ in the same way or to the same extent.

When I first looked at this activity I turned it around to first examine what my views of a photograph are and how the three aforementioned authors fitted into my conceptual system rather than seeing how my work fits into theirs. Some hours later I now have a working grid (my liking of structure and neat containment) and have placed their view into my squares! Several points have emerged:
1. Szarkowski and Shore are primarily focussed on the photographer’s intention to take the perspective of recipient/viewer when taking photographs to be viewed whereas Squires appears to place emphasis on the photographers inclinations and intentions and need to express themselves whether or not this accords with engaging viewers.
2. Szarkowski and Shore seem to focus on two senses, vision and emotion. In my conceptualisation I include all the senses as important in a photograph. An image can invoke experiences relation to seeing, hearing, taste, touch and feeling/emotion. Some experiences may be bound by the capability of our imaginations and will have been shaped by genetics and lived experiences, hence minimal or no effect for some viewers and intense experiences for others in relation to the same stimulus. Sensual experiences are for me also heightened according the way in which the image is presented. For example, in Unseen Amsterdam 2017 I was drawn to and intrigued by forest landscapes stretched over shaped blocks of wood (Sylvie Bonnot, 2017), the puzzling wooden images of Theis Wendt (2017) and the sculptured landscape portrayals of Michel Le Belhomme (2017).

Sylvie Bonnot 2017
Theis Wendt 2017
Michel Le Belhomme 2017

3. Squires promotes the potential inclusion of more senses (sounds and touch as well as vision and emotion) as well as evidencing the position of the photographer showing something of their memory/lived experiences, their drive to give pleasure, to challenge the status quo, to tell a truth, improve skills/creativity, freeze a moment of personal/potential shared significance and secure and actualise commercial gain.
4. Light and colour, particularly in relation to actualising and enhancing the sensory experience when viewing an image/creation are important to me. Squires opinions are perhaps most likely to accord with mine in this respect.
Shore postulates about the ways in which technological advancements have enabled frozen and stilled moments in time, this being more in accord with Squires frozen moments than Szarkowski’s visual climax.
5. Time is the feature that binds all three viewpoints and mine. Placed on a time-line there is development synchronous with technological advances and social evolution. For me this is akin to developments in the art world where traditional ways of painting and sculpting diversified over time. The ‘old’ ways are still relevant and not negated by the more extreme or recent productions and I think this is true for the continuing experimentation, growth and diversification in photography.

This is a reflective work in progress and I can ‘see’ that I will have these various and overlapping translations of what is a photograph in mind as well as continuing to have urges to with increasing confidence challenge conventions when out and about taking images.

Bonnot, Sylvie. 2017. Mues. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2018].

Le Belhomme, Michel. 2017. Les deux labyrinthes series, 2014-17. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2017].

Shore, Stephen. 1998. The Nature of Photographs. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Squires, Carol (ed.). 2014. What is a Photograph? New York, International Centre of Photography.

Szarkowski, John. 1966. The Photographers Eye. New York, Museum of Modern Art.

Wendt, Theis. 2017. Cinnnamon. Available at: [accessed 11-02-2017].

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