Showcased in The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, I was inspired to read more about this man. In summary, Eadweard Muybridge is known for changing names several times, suffering a significant head injury in 1860, murdering his wife’s alleged lover in 1874 (and being found ‘not guilty’ due to justifiable homicide), moving from England to San Fransisco repeatedly with a brief time in Central America and developing a mechanical system to capture motion that has influenced the development of moving film images on the back of a whimsical and expensive bet by Leland Stanford.
Following the successful capturing of images of a running horse with 12 cameras Muybridge proved that a horse does leave the ground with all 4 legs at once. Completing this task in 1878 had taken 5 years and the result was significant not only because of the evidence in relation to running horses but particularly because Muybridge had, through his developments of camera mechanisms for the bet, taken photography to another level. Whereas motion was always a blur as an image could take a long time to complete during which all subjects and items needed to be still, with Muybridge’s adaptations the image could be taken in a fraction of a second.
Following his development of camera technology, Muybridge developed a mechanism to display moving images called a Zoopraxiscope (e.g. Chocolate Films, 2014). According to Bergen (2012), this influenced the invention of the Kinetoscope by Thomas A. Edison and William Dickson for showing motion pictures (e.g. racetocinema, 2013).
In addition to the details already mentioned he obtained two patents one for print processes and one for a machine for washing clothes and other fabrics. As well as taking thousands of photographs of animals and humans moving he also photographed landscapes in Yosemite and the growing city of San Fransisco. His work has influenced paintings, films and an opera, The Photographer, by Philip Glass.
A free museum at the University of Exeter, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, is delightful, educational and inspirational. It brought back memories for me of cinemas of the like I attended as a child on Saturday mornings as well as developments in film from the later half of last century. Named after the film-maker Bill Douglas (1934-1991) who put together the collection with Peter Jewell, the collection goes right back to the beginnings from the 17th century. Additional items have been collected and donated in recent times. There is even an online catalogue where you can indicate what you want to see, the items being ready for you to look at, via a booked appointment, in the reading room.
An excellent and thoroughly detailed guided tour provided a tsunami of historical information which was fascinating and illuminating. I wish I could have recorded what was said as there was so much of interest to suit all ages and tastes. For me, seeing beautiful shadow puppets, intricately made magic lanterns, stereoscopes, and a camera (Moy-Bastie cinematograph camera, patent no. 4534 of 1909; serial no. 376) thought to have been used by J.B McDowell to record battlefield images in the first world war (http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/podcasts-on-our-collections/) and the use of light with conical polyorama panoptiques to radically change what the eye was seeing (e.g. from day to night, calm to disaster, neutral to political) as well as the photographs of the old cinema brands and buildings (Astoria, Gaumont and Odeon), was exciting. The architecture of these cinema houses, the grand and sumptuous interiors the fabulously smart uniforms of the staff were all designed to make film goers feel special and aspire to greater things in life.
Learning how the first panoramas and dioramas were made, the transition from silent movies to sound and colour, the production of record discs to be played alongside the running of the films were all worthy of extended periods of study in their own right. Seeing an original Mickey Mouse puppet and learning why his image was altered to look less rat-like and fearsome, becoming aware that films initially were targeted at female audiences who had time on their hands (accompanied by a plethora or female oriented film magazines adorned by the glamorous female stars of the time) with the advent of modern appliances in the home and why this focus has had to switch to a male and female younger generation were fascinating facts. The switch was made initially to compete with television and more recently current personally owned digital technology to combat the effects of a dwindling cinema audiences. Cinematic films are now marketed as having special sound and visual effects that cannot be experienced in the same way on television or hand held devices.
I apologise in advance for the poor quality of my snaps mainly taken through glass and encourage you to visit the site, view the beautifully photographed objects and listen to the podcasts about the collection. Do not miss out on applying for the available stipends to study specific aspects of cinematic history (deadline 04-05-2018).
This week we were invited to upload a video of 10 minutes duration focussing on our work in the context of that of past and current photographers with links to the wider art world and other approaches and considerations such as philosophy and ethics. I had been building up to this exercise with some trepidation. It was an opportunity to give some time to the preparation of the Critical Review assignment due in on 30th April and to gain feedback from colleagues on the course as to the value of the piece as a draft for the written critical review. I knew it was not going to be an assessed piece and that apparently only those who submitted themselves could comment on the films of others. In the end I decided to complete the task although apprehensive about my slow internet upload speed (it took 3 days before the previous film was successfully uploaded!).
I used the draft of the critical review I had been working on which was still very rough but at least it was a start. Using Camtasia again I soon found out that my written voice is not the spoken voice needed for film! Several re scripts later I had the narrative and had started to have images and text slides in mind to accompany it. First attempt was over 14 minutes …oops! The final version was still just over 11.5 minutes but I was running out of time knowing that uploading could take days so decided that was it. I chose to only use my images despite referring to the work of others. Assuming that the Critical Review would be text only which I have now found out is not true (I am glad I realised from comments received on the film and then checked with staff). I usually put a reference list at the end of my films but as this was not an assessed piece and the film was already long decided not to. Thankfully uploading went smoothly although it took about 10 hours.
Despite the pressure of completing a task when assessed pieces needed attending to I am glad I managed to submit. It has been a great opportunity to learn about the work of others and how they have approached a reflective critical review. The exchanges we have had about each others project work as well as film content and presentation have been constructive, insightful, informative, supportive and helpful in thinking about the final critical review. I summarised the points made in relation to my film for discussion in the webinar where I received additional comments from the tutor and colleagues. Re my photographs
Helicopter view of found items interesting
Add people as signifiers to the signs (i.e. rubbish)
Aesthetic or content focus or both?
Beautifully composed images
Conflict of my practice and my views on reality versus staged imagery
Show examples of the work of others
Do not use the title Re-Cycle for my second collection
Market locally near beaches
Market to commercial enterprises associated with waste management Re my film as a precursor to my written critical review
Compliments received: research and linking topics of module to my work, systematic presentation of motivation, influences and progress
Suggestions made: needs more critical depth and lateral references, explain the work of those referenced (e.g. Squires and Burtynsky), contextualise, investigate still life and surrealism, consider how digital has facilitated manipulation more than analogue.
Overall I was pleased with the reception of my film despite my omissions and running over time. The comments are all being digested (I agree with the majority of points made) and hopefully the final written and illustrated piece will address these. Now to cut it down from 4,500 words to 2,500 to comply with the assignment criteria.
I have thought long and hard about this title. This is for my second collection. It continues the theme of Beauty and the Beach… and is linked to the beach finds in the first collection Dis-Integration in so far as it illustrates what should happen to our waste.
I wanted a hyphenated title that suggested having another look and doing something about waste. My first working title for it was Re-View and then I replaced this with Re-Cycle. Neither worked for me and this judgement was reinforced by comments received from colleagues in response to my Critical Review film shared in week 9. I have played with other prefixes and second words wanting each to stand in their own right as well as have a combined meaning that could apply to my topic and suggest an alternative way as well as link and contrast with Dis-Integration (which I and others seem quite happy with).
Here are a few I thought about:
Titles and text used with an image can be vital for the viewer to be able to read and understand the intended meaning. Some photographers name images individually while having an overall title for the collection while other stick to numbers in a series. As explained in my post on Dis-Integration I wanted a way of naming and labelling my images that suggests the intended interpretation and in this way provides a ‘dominant’ reading (Frith and Cheng, 2006) and a strengthened meaning across the collection (Gestalt. I needed to avoid an oppositional interpretation. For example, in a worse case scenario I could inadvertently present the waste management images in a less favourable light and with a less enticing descriptor than the beach debris, which could encourage leaving debris anywhere rather than disposing of it appropriately.
An additional error to be avoided is to be patronising, condescending and/or dictatorial. I find some health messages, while they have good intentions, make you turn away and ignore them either because of the way the subject of the image is presented or the accompanying text or both (Sischy, 1991). Just visiting a GP surgery can make me angry when already feeling unwell because of the blu tacked posters insisting on things I must do or not do ‘or else’ (Ludwig, 2015; Montes-Armenteros, 2015; Williams, 2009). Teach personal health and wellbeing care in schools and at home so that people grow up well versed in the messages and know what to do and what to avoid rather than trying to impose ways of behaving once people have reached adulthood by addressing them as if they were children.
Back to Re-Integration. I do not yet know what others think of this choice and look forward to comments. For me Re calls us to attention and alerts us to something to follow that will need us to focus. Integration means to become part of something, to fit in. With Dis-Integration my point is to show that the beach debris is becoming (and to a significant extent has become) part of the natural environment. So integration can mean something bad has or is occurring as well as good. With Re-Integration my thinking takes me to the concept of Gaia, specifically the Gaia Hypothesis or Theory as it is more recently referred to: a more positive understanding that reflects science and philosophy (Lovelock, 2015). However, now somewhat criticised the Gaia Hypothesis has been useful in our questioning and understanding of our planetary system. Earth is all we have. While Gaia suggests the interactions of inorganic and organic matter intertwine and recycle to sustain the planet it is clear that human behaviours in producing inorganic matter are resulting in declines in earth’s environments and climate (i.e. carbon and water cycle changes). Self-regulation is being interfered with by humans (Aitkenhead, 2016). Deforestation, air pollution and as in my project water pollution, are all upsetting the balance or homeostasis of the earth’s ecosystems.
Producing and using items that become waste is a major issue but to my mind having ways to manage it is less harmful than leaving it anywhere. So for me Re-Integration appears to link with a cycle of taking resources within the earth to make things, then returning them to the earth in one form or another, preferably one that does limited or no harm (Vinas, 2012). As research by NASA and the study of earth system science tells us this cannot go on forever as natural resources will run out.
My second choice is Re-Solution but for me solution suggests something final and complete (more so than Re-Integration) and we are far from that at this time and this may not be fully realisable anyway. So although my intention is to encourage appropriate waste disposal and management I remain despondent about the bigger picture, looking into the the future, when in the present we continue to fight amongst ourselves rather than taking the significant steps needed to modify or change behaviours as a world-wide community in order to maximise life on earth.
Frith, Katherine T. & Cheng, Hong. 2006. Symbolic Meanings of Advertisements in China. In Hong Chen and Kara Chan (Eds.), Advertising and Chinese Society: Impacts and Issues. Copenhagen Business School Press: Copenhagen.
Lovelock, James. 2015. A Rough Ride to the Future. London: Penguin Random House.
Ludwig, Michael, J. 2015. The Cultural Politics of Prevention: Reading Anti-Drug Public Service Announcements. Chapter 8, pp151-174 in Katherine Toland Frith, Undressing The Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. Peter Lang: New York.
Montes-Armenteros, Chemi. 2015. Ideology in Public Service Advertisements. Chapter 7, pp131-149, in Katherine Toland Frith, Undressing The Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. Peter Lang: New York.
I have created a collection (see Dis-integration Work in Progress). I have not used the descriptors series or typology (Mike Perry, 2018) as the images are not in an order of significance or of one type. They are, however, of the same genus, beach debris. I chose the title and simply numbered each one as they are linked by the descriptor genus. For me, combing the two parts with a hyphen shows that there are two processes at work as evidenced in my images.
In a world where integration and equality are important I see what we are making becoming one with what has naturally occurred regardless of what it is. Anthony Hernandez found traces of human habitation with his series Landscapes for the Homeless (Smithson, 2017). Mandy Barker has also shown found manmade items, as is, but from oceans and beaches across the world. She also photographed the finds transformed, in a way that appears to ‘integrate’ them with nature and be described as new found forms (Barker, 2017).
By adding ‘dis’ to integration I am making a statement about deterioration, not dismissal, and showing the stages that some items are going through naturally, over time. In contrast, Matt Collishaw (Jones, 2013) deliberately takes apart naturally occurring creatures and poisons living plants and photographs their disintegration. Jonathan Jones described Collishaw’s art as both ”….lovely and vile. It is an art of our time and it hits true, like a bullet in the head.”. (Jones, 26 April 2013). This view resonates with me as some of my images are items that induce disgust as well as guilt and embarrassment at belonging to the human race that discards such things. However, whereas his images are beautiful and need close inspection or accompanying descriptions to explain them, mine are more obvious from the beginning and seem to be more similar to images made by Keith Arnett, including in some cases, their colours (Goldschmidt, 2014; O’Hagan, 2015; Laing, 2016). His pictures from a rubbish tip were items placed on plastic with the camera focussed on the closest edge. I plan to try his techniques and in doing so make more of the reflected diffused natural light as he has done.
My titling this group of images has opened a way forward for me. Immediately I thought of the concept I was able to select images that fitted the theme, both seeming to be on a road to integration while showing evidence of disintegration. A secondary effect has been to focus my attention in taking new images, thus I have shifted from taking as many items as I see, and thinking about them afterwards, to concentrating on finding and taking those that fit the theme. Of course the downside of this concentrated effort will always be that I might have overlooked potential images that could take me to a better place with the project.
Barker, Mandy. 2017. Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Recent and Unique Species Discovered in the Cove of Cork. Overlapse: United Kingdom.
This week we were asked to identify a practitioner who interests us and informs our practice. I chose Mandy Barker whose work I have been impressed by and also curious about for a few months.
There are several audio and film recordings of Mandy Barker available at various events since her work on plastic pollution in our oceans caught the headlines with her work on ‘Soup’ from her time in Honk Kong and through to this year following the launch of her book ‘Beyond Drifting’ based on her time in residence in Cork, Ireland.
“The motivation for her work is to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans while highlighting its harmful affect on marine life and ultimately ourselves.” (Lensculture)
Mandy Barker’s images are creations made from plastic found across the world. Some are photographed using old cameras, out of date film, deliberately creating movement and using slow shutter speeds. The resultant effect is of new types of plankton, named in a latin style often with letters of the word plastic embedded within them. Each one is presented in a sphere against a black background as if a biological specimen. For example:
Specimen collected from Glounthaune shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland
(Pram wheel)”. (Photoworks, 2017).
Her inspiration links back to John Vaughan Thompson (1779-1847) who amongst his many discoveries identified planktons and realised their importance in the food chain. Her book Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals (published by Overlapse in 2017) is presented in a Victorian style echoing the publications of John Vaughan Thompson other scientific researchers from the past.
In addition to her book Mandy has exhibited large scale installations depicting collections of themed items (such as lighters shown as a pod of dolphins and fishing debris as birds nests against black backgrounds) in public spaces outdoors as well as in galleries (e.g. San Fransisco Airport in 2017). What comes across in her interviews is a passion and commitment to use her talents to raise awareness and inspire others in order to make a difference.
I am certainly inspired, but in awe of her creative abilities that at this stage seem beyond my capabilities. I would like to try out the ways she has created apparent living creatures out of inanimate plastics, not to directly copy her approach for my project but rather to extend my experiences and hopefully skill set. In addition, I collect images of all sorts of debris on beaches not just plastics and am including research on waste recycling and processing so there are fundamental differences between us. Her dedication to research, not only relating to her finds and their locations, details of which she kept meticulously in notebooks, but also to the way in which the book has been imagined, collated and presented is unique, intriguing, beautiful and impactful.
‘The way we see things is affected by what we know, or what we believe’ (Berger, 1972: 8)
Task: With your peers, you should now discuss: • The nature of the development of Trilogy. • How successful you think the edit was in each of the intent of the 3 components: Woodland, Underwater and Mountain, as contributing to this larger portfolio of work. • Any additional contextual/critical ideas you could apply to this work. • Any ideas which might contribute to the development of your own practice/critical evaluation.
“The curious truth about his pictures is that they are neither landscapes nor German……And yet this rain–soaked wood was in Scotland, that sea floor off the coast of Cyprus, this mountain in California.”. (Darwent, 2007).
Darwent suggests that the best way to consider Cramer’s ‘landscape’ photographs is as abstracts. I assume there is truth in Darwent’s revealing the locations they were taken in and that they were not constructed sets. On that basis I would argue that they are of the natural environment, of features of nature that can be identified and examined, and therefore do not fall into the genre of ‘abstract’. They are evocative in the sense that they invite enquiry creating a context that is both puzzling and enlightening.
I think of the Trilogy as attempting to show the bottom, middle and top of the earth. This interpretation is reinforced by the trees in the ‘middle’ often not showing the bases of their trunks or their tops. In addition the underwater images , through showing peaks and troughs that extend downwards and the mountains with sky above represent the bottom and top respectively. Perhaps this is too simplistic? Alternatively, Cramer appears to like photographing things relating to vertical structures, particularly this that convert a sense of height.
By not including recognisable reference points, objects, people or animals he encourages a focus on what is there; inviting a naked or raw analysis untainted by semantic knowledge of descriptors which would skew interpretation. We are then gleaning meaning from fictitious imagining of what is not there in order to see and feel what is there.
In considering the impact of the images and which could be excluded or should be included from the three sets I would either have arranged them in a developing sequence or removed the one(s) that were tangibly different. For example, in the underwater display of 8 images in two rows of four there is one that stands out (no 5) with a pool of light illuminating the scene (as compared to others with a rather misty appearance). I would place this at the beginning or end and then show a sequence becoming murkier or lighter depending on its position. However I can see why it is in 5th position to balance the second most lit image on the top row No. 3 and thereby make a presentable set rather than try to convey meaning and a possible story.
In looking at the images I do feel invited to speculate on what lies through and beyond each image and outside of it. By virtue of not being fully clear there is a mysticism, an untold story that maybe harks back to tales including Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel as Eva Wiseman (March, 2006) observed (cited by Clarke, 2007, p87). I also see resonance with sets and scenes in films such as Robin Hood, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I wonder whether Cramer was influenced by the German fairy tales in his decision to make these images and the way he has photographed the locations?
Three things struck me while thinking about Cramer’s work in relation to my own. Firstly, since starting to take images as a teenager I have taken landscape scenes with a near reference point and a depth effect, looking into and through the image. I noted this in a previous module exercise.
Secondly, I have recently taken some images where lighting and air pollution, for me, have resulted in adding an atmosphere to the images.
Thirdly, I have more recently in the last module, tried putting images together as a tryptics with a common subject or theme (https://sarah-newton-77zw.squarespace.com/new-gallery-3). Whilst not in sets that form a trilogy as Cramer presented I am encouraged to experiment further with ways of presenting that may convey greater meaning than individual images alone.
In conclusion, although not instantly ‘taken’ by these images the more I look at and into them the more I construct my own narrative for each one and all (i.e. the whole set) at once, as if I am piecing together a sequence in a film where there is a search for light and clarity. Absorbing nature and time in one go.
Berger, John. 1972. Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books: London.
Clarke, Michael. 2007. Verbalising the Visual: Translating Art and Design Into Words. Worthing, Sussex: AVA Publishing.
To represent is to aestheticise, that is, to transform. It involves a vast field of choices but it does not include not to transform, not to change or alter whatever is being represented’ (Levi Strauss, 2003: 9). Task: • Research and share on this forum, a particular body of work / exhibition / advertising campaign / coverage of a news event etc. which aims to convey a particular message. Ideally, this should be relevant to your own practice. • Identify the message the work aims to promote and who you think its intended audience might be. • Post to this forum a short critical outline of your own response to the relative success of this work in achieving its intent. • Consider, highlight and respond to any key ideas raised by Sischy (1991) that you particularly agreed or disagreed with. • Define and evaluate how these practitioners achieve this? (or not?)
“It is work that is sloppy with symbolism….it feels as if the artist’s work is being worshipped instead of examined.” (Sischy, 1991, p90).
In speaking about the intentions of photojournalists Sischy (1991, p91) notes how few have succeeded in calling people to action “Others have simply been naive-even deluded-about what they were doing. Still others are complicated mixtures of high aspirations and presumptions. It seems to me that Salgado is one of these.” I think I am one of the former with my project work.
Referring to Salgado’s quest for beauty and respect in his image composition Sischy (1991, p92) notes “And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal. To aestheticize tragedy is the fastest way to anaestheitize the feelings of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action.”.
In contrast Walker Evans photojournalism is “straight” and “naked” as noted by Lincoln Kirstein and quoted by Sischy (1991, p93). Perhaps like my in situ images, showing the subject as it is in its raw found state. Whereas my more creative compositions and manipulations in front of the camera and in the digital darkroom are possibly more in the style of Salgado. One example which illustrates this split approach is to be found in an image I took of a dead seagull. Either I could post this as is and perhaps upset some on instagram or I could make it into a creative image that retains the curious sight of the viewer for longer and is less likely to garner upset or angry comments from those who found the alternative distasteful. However as I do not know how it died and whether it was natural causes it may not be appropriate to post it on a site focussed on the damage to creatures from our waste.
Speaking of the challenges of using photographs to draw attention to suffering in the world Kimmelman noted:
“Photographers deal with this problem differently, but above all by struggling to make beautiful pictures: what causes any image to stick in the mind, aside from shock content, whose impact tends to be brief, are qualities like pictorial integrity and compositional originality, which are fancy terms for beauty. If your subject happens to be the dislocation of people and their suffering, then those people and that suffering become your compositional devices.” (Kimmelman, 2001).
I would suggest that both Salgado and Brandt have similarities in approach in that they take beautiful images, both with haunting qualities that remain in your consciousness, both in black and white, both to do with making the earth a better place to live on for all future generations. The differ, however, in how the images were composed and contextualised with Salgado’s images suggesting ‘this is how it was found’ and Brandt openly making available how he constructed his images and decided on the locations for them. He photographs animals whose habitats have been disappearing through the actions of mankind, transports and positions them in the transformed landscapes, to be taken as a final image for his collection Inherit the Dust.
My emotional responses to the images of both Salgado and Brandt differ when thinking about their impact in raising awareness which both photographers are reported to have intended with Genesis and Inherit the Dust. Maybe that has something to do with the plight of the subjects in the images: people (Salgado) versus animals (Brandt). Maybe is is to do with time, Salgado’s images come at a time when we are subjected to many images and films of people in very poor health in far off places and we may have become anaesthetised to such images.
I think Brandt’s images are more powerful for me because they directly confront the changes that we have made to environments, many of which will have dreadful consequences for life on earth unless action is taken. While Brandt’s images are to be applauded for their compositional arrangements (e.g. such as the giraffes being juxtaposed against a background of cranes, the zebras being confronted by a train with stripes on the front and the hills lined up with those in the original images) there are interpretations possible that he might not have intended. Most, if not all, the images repeat the story of lives in poverty, possibly ad hoc/chaotic industrial and domestic building and an inability to manage waste. Thus Brandt seems to be delivering several messages which could place his venture at risk of overwhelming the viewers as there is so much to accomplish or because his ‘point’ or ‘purpose’ is missed and viewers are not tempted to ask why the work has been presented in this way.
In discussing environmental activism through photography has made me reflect not only on my work to raise awareness of debris in the sea and on beaches but also that of others who have made films about the waste problem we have across the world. Lay (2016) presents an easy to understand film about the Pacific Garbage Gyre and mentions Boyan Slat (2017) at the end as the person to clean up for us. For me this suggests that this is the only solution to the complex problem. While Slat and his Dutch company will be starting work on one gyre this year, there is much more to be done than collecting waste that has already been inappropriately discarded. Unless I have missed some information, The National Geographic 2016 film on the same topic also stops short suggesting that good farming practice is an answer to improving health and the environment. Both A Plastic Ocean and Plastic Ocean have more ‘punch’ in that they are at times shocking, films but also clearly present facts as well as potential solutions. The former being made by Plastic Oceans Foundation and endorsed by David Attenborough (Heaver, 2016). and the latter produced by the United Nations.
What have I learned with this brief sojourn into aesthetics and impact in relation to addressing environmental issues? I am agreeing with Sischy (1991, p92). Beautiful images depicting concerns and plights have a place and can go so far with raising awareness but greater impact may be achieved with showing ‘it’ as it is and adding a visual narrative such a the contrast of background and subject in Brandt’s images and the two Plastic Ocean films. The use of text and speech in these films is more effective than either gentle or abrasive music which either minimises the problems or confronts the viewer head on in a challenging and potentially alienating way.
In relation to my work I will need to think about impact, not just for the course but also for the cause. Taking Brandt’s idea I wonder what response I would get placing huge billboards of my images of rubbish found on beaches on the beaches…?
‘So accustomed to being addressed by these images, we scarcely notice their impact’ (Berger, 1972: 130). Are we really so desensitised? If so, as Ritchin (2013: 74) asks, ‘How can we, in the best circumstance, strive to make images that might even help to diminish, or avoid, a conflict in the making?’
Task: With your peers, you should now discuss the following questions: • Can photography provoke change? • How might it achieve this? • Should we censor shocking subject material? • What is the role of aesthetics? • Are we desensitised today? Illustrate your discussion with visual examples to justify your points.
A colleague responded to this task remembering the disaster in Aberfan when a colliery spoil tip engulfed the school killing 116 children and 28adults on 21st October 1966. I too remember Aberfan and wondering what would it be like if it happened at my school with my younger siblings there with me and being horrified at the thought. I am always concerned about things being precarious and maybe slipping such as cliff edges and although these concerns may not have been a direct consequence of my upset that this had happened to children like me and my siblings and friends, I think it did raise my awareness of being mindful of potential dangers and taught me how fragile life can be.
Another event that is etched in my mind was the massacre of children and a teacher at Dunblane on 13 March 1996. Again at a school and involving children, but this time raising my concerns for my own children when they were out of my care at school. Unfortunately not only has gun crime involving children and young adults featured with regularity in our world news since then, survivors have had to live with chasing by the media and the publication of untruths at risk of damaging them and the memories of that event (Luft, 2009). I think we are becoming anaesthetised to such events because of their frequency and our seeming inability or unwillingness to take preventative courses of action even if this upsets the political gun cart.
Yesterday’s news included a moving speech by a young person at the school in Florida where his friends have been massacred recently, rallying other young people in the world to take control and sort it out as the adults do not seem to be able to. Families from Dunblane have reached out with support to them (Ochagavia, 2018). As long as there is a willingness and a strength in joining together we can come round from the anaesthetic to bring about change. In order to be awakened we do need to see and hear the truth about what happened in order to make the right decisions.
The walk out protests on Wednesday this week by schools and colleges across the USA are showing the world as well as their government that change must come in relation to gun laws. As well as professional news footage there is a plethora of amateur footage by students and families that is being used to show how powerful this lobby has become and that it cannot be ignored any longer (Yee and Blinder, 2018). With young people highly versed in modern day technology they have found a photographic and cinematic voice to show their concerns and state their demands.
In relation to my work on my project Beauty and the Beach… I am finding through Instagram (@sarahnewtonphotography) that images I post of potentially distasteful finds on beaches (depending on your sensibilities) are not as well liked as more aesthetically pleasing images. In turn some more abstract presentations of rubbish are even more popular.
What does this tell me? I am not sure as I do not know exactly who has been looking and liking or ignoring the images, but I am getting a sense of trend. People may access instagram for pleasure, to while away the time, to search for things of interest and perhaps do not want to be reminded of unpleasant things and thereby consciously avoid the call to action and feelings of guilt. Perhaps they are anaesthecised to such images as there are thousands available now the awareness of the problem is reaching governments and legislative stages? Perhaps they think it is all going to be dealt with now those in power have to make decisions about our waste on land and in the sea? Maybe it is the labels that I give the images and not the images themselves that influences likes. I think I will continue to post a range of more unpleasant to abstract images as looking at the latter people may also note the former and take the concerns for the environment and ourselves on board almost subliminally.
And I have known the eyes already, known them all, The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, And I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin? T S Eliot (1915) The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Susan Sontag (1977: 155) accuses photography of being ‘acquisition’ and the ‘surrogate’ possession of the object. One that ‘means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge and therefore, like power’ (ibid: 4).
Task: Post a short message that outlines your own ethical position regarding the inherent power relations involved in photographs. • Outline the key ideas raised by Grundberg (1988) that you particularly agreed or disagreed with. • Provide visual illustrations – including both negative and positive stereotypes. • Evaluate how these practitioners do or do not achieve their goals.
Grunberg’s article was interesting to read. Grundberg presented the history of the publication and the journey it has taken from being “a dry, scholarly 19th century journal for geographers into a popular magazine” (Grundberg,1988). I do agree, though not having seen it myself, that the exhibition “Odyssey: The Art of Photography at National Geographic”, might have been better received (at least by Grundberg) had the images been curated to show the development of the magazine over time.
It is clear that the images are deliberately aesthetic and appealing in style and that this is the foundation on which it has expanded readership and made commercial gains over time. I have enjoyed growing up seeing the images of far flung places, peoples and creatures of the world and learning about events and dilemmas such as volcanic eruptions and near extinctions raising awareness for campaigns to save whatever it is from disappearing from earth. Indeed such images from this and other publications stimulated my interests in geography and anthropology, and my choosing to study the latter at college.
I do agree with Grundberg that constructed and staged images which do not portray the actuality of a scene or situation and therefore mislead the reader are to be deplored. I think there are degrees of misleading with an extreme being brainwashing the result of which is to totally convince others of a supposed “truth”. There is evidence that this continues to occur today. Our dynasties, empires, colonies and commonwealths of the world may change shape and size over time but there remains a core of patriotism and loyalty that drives the tenor of information fed back and recycled within that specific and unique culture. To that extent I think that all publications written and broadcast require careful consideration and reflection by the reader and viewer in order to be able to have an ‘own culture’ as well as ‘our world’ balanced understanding and respect for differences.
One example of many is to be found in the way in which Yosemeti National Park was portrayed in the 1920s and 1930s, with displays of might and power evident from the huge mountains and vistas within the images, little or no human or animal life included and widespread promotion as a place to visit being representative of white mans conquering power of this landscape. Ansel Adams made his name as a photographer with his images of Yosemite (e.g. Cain, 2017; Schama, 2018; Turnage, 2016). The indigenous populations having been cleared submissively to other locations. To that extent I agree with the statement made by Sontag (1977, p155) above and the following:
“The photographic exploration and duplication of the world fragments continuities and feeds the pieces into an interminable dossier, thereby providing possibilities of control that could not even be dreamed of under the earlier system of recording information: writing.” (Sontag, 1977, p156).
Together writing and photographs in National Geographic and other illustrated media about the world create significant power and influence over readers and viewers understanding and consequent opinions.
By coincidence with this course activity National Geographic has published its April 2018 edition focussed specifically on racism to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Susan Goldberg, Editor, said ”…It ignored non-white Americans and showed different groups as exotic or savage, propagating “every type of cliché”…”. (BBC News, 2018). She commissioned Associate Professor at the University of Virginia John Edwin Mason to examine past issues and concluded “National Geographic had served only to reinforce racist attitudes in a magazine with “tremendous authority”. He showed that until the 1970s the magazine ignored non-white Americans, only showing them as labourers or domestic staff.” (Mason, 2018, p….). Greenberg (2018) also commented on this work noting Mason’s finding that non-white people were exotic and savage. Thus Grundberg’s 1988 analysis 30 years ago of the racism and the image of white supremacy conveyed in the photographs has been vindicated. It will be interesting to see what changes are made to the specifications given to commissioned writers and photographers and what is published following the April 2018 edition.
Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin Books.
Turnage, William. 2016. Ansel Adams, Photographer.This biography was published by Oxford University Press for its American National Biography. Available at: http://anseladams.com/ansel-adams-bio/. [accessed 16-03-2018].