Category Archives: Exercises part 3 (putting yourself in the picture)

Exercise: Nigel Shafran – Washing-up (page 87)

 

Washing-up  

Shafran has produced a self portrait series by photographing his kitchen sink and providing us with narrative to give the viewer an insight into his personal life mainly through describing food and domestic situations.

Did it surprise you that this series was taken by a man? Why?

Not really, no. I know that traditionally women have done the washing up but my personal family experience doesn’t follow the tradition so I don’t think of washing up as gendered particularly.

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

My first instinct is to say no to this question because we are all capable of taking the same images. However, on reflection I think that perhaps yes it does. We are all subject to the influences of nature and nurture and as such, whether it is right or wrong, boys and girls are likely brought up with differing approaches to life and have different life experiences from being small. I would expect life experience to affect a person’s life view and influence his/her interests, which will ultimately affect the subjects they are interested in portraying through photography.

When looking at the work of Elina Brotherus and her series documenting her experience of IVF and childlessness, I expected the photographer to be a woman. I don’t think I have ever seen or read about a man discussing this subject though he is usually just as involved as her. But, everyone is individual and to say an image will be created differently depending on gender is nonsense. I will concede to gender contributing to the creation of an image though.

What does the series achieve by not including people?

The fact that there are no people forces you to focus on the objects in the scene. Normally if there was a person then your eyes are drawn to him/her first. Without a person there is no distraction away from the objects and the viewer has to piece the items together in some way to form an insight into the absent person’s character. It is like a puzzle to be solved.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

The Tate has this to say about ‘still life’

‘the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead’ and goes on to add that it, ‘includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on’ (Tate, 2018).

So, regarding Shafran and his series ‘washing up’ the first definition applies to the inanimate subjects seen in and around the kitchen sink in that they don’t move. However, the actual items are not exactly fruit, flowers or wine, rather kettles, taps and plates. The inclusion of food and drink in the still life genre was an acknowledgement of the pleasures of life and the impermanence of those pleasures, which doesn’t really translate to the draining board.

A couple of years ago I did a lot of research into Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds to see Vanessa Bell’s still life oil painting ‘Triple Alliance’. The painting shows three domestic objects; a lamp, two glass bottles and a cheque. You can see it here on the left:

 

Bell’s image is not in keeping with the traditional subject matter of still life; there are no flowers and no fruit but it is certainly embraced within the still life genre and alludes to relationships and alliances.* Similarly, there is no traditional arrangement of fruit and flowers in Shafran’s photographs but they show interesting still life compositions that say a lot about the photographer’s lifestyle, family life and the passing of time.

Bibliography

Tate. (2018). Still life – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life [Accessed 9 Jan. 2018].

*some say Bell’s work alludes to the threesome of the relationship between Vanessa, Duncan and Bunny, or to the alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy in the First World War.

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Exercise: childhood memory (page 82)

Feeling grown up

Several of the practitioners that we have studied recently have touched on childhood and growing up, particular Sally Mann, Elinor Carucci and Tierney Gearon. Sally Mann’s image of a five year old ‘posing’ in a mature way complete with pearls and make up put me in mind of feeling grown up …. and my tea set came to mind. I would also have been around five years old and the owning of the ‘crockery’ and the action of pouring the tea was the epitome of sophistication and being a grown up.

I went and bought a child’s tea set. Luckily I have a few small nephews and nieces who may enjoy it when I have finished photographing it.

Feeling grown up (1)

My memory is of my Grandma’s house, the gift, unwrapping it and seeing the most beautiful thing; then pouring the ‘tea’, asking everyone if they would like a cup and pouring cup after cup for my ‘party guests’.

For the recreation of my memory I wanted the focus to be clearly on the crockery. I dressed in black so as not to compete visually with the cups and saucers and tea pot. I wanted a ‘party’ atmosphere so included the cups in the foreground as though I was going to fill them all. I purposely wore a watch and a ring to emphasis that I wasn’t a child in this image.

It may be interesting to show your photograph to friends or family members (perhaps someone who was there and someone who wasn’t) and see what the image conveys to them.

I showed this image to my twin sister (who was given a tea set at the same time and remembers it fondly).  She said:

  • Even though you can see only a little of my face, it gives a sense of determination and concentration. This is accurate in that I remember holding the cups very carefully, being mindful of not ‘spilling’ any of the tea from the empty cups.

I also showed this to my elder sister (who wouldn’t share the same memory as me). She said:

  • It takes me straight back to my childhood, and my mother, when tea was a very important part of life. I drink coffee now, so there are elements of nostalgia and a lost past. It also makes me think of the individuality hiding behind something which appears generic – how much tea, how long to let it mash, how much milk, sugar or not, etc. My grandmother visited my mother once and said ‘Have you forgot to put tea in, Hilda?’
  • Also, the institutionalisation of rituals from an early age – how this separates us from the ‘other’, be it gender, class, ethnicity, etc.
  • Only parts of the photograph are in focus, reflecting the ephemerality of memory. What I remember of my childhood, I know, is highly selected, processed and modified by time, which is a bit spooky, when you think about it.
  • Hope this helps – I could probably write an essay on it.
  • Really liked the photo.

Thank you very much to my sisters for their analysis of my image. I am really pleased that it has resulted in many things to think about.

Does the memory involve me directly or is it something I witnessed?

It involves me directly and when I remember it, it is from my viewpoint as though I am watching myself pour the tea. So, I have just realised that there is something wrong with the image above. The viewpoint isn’t right. In my mind I am watching myself pour the tea and not observing myself from afar. This is more like it.

Feeling grown up (2)

Will you include your adult self in the image or will you be absent?

I have experimented with both. In the top image I was trying to recreate how I ‘felt that I looked’. Rather like Trish Morrissey’s five year old daughter could see a Toothfairy in her mother’s painted face, I really thought that I was a ‘proper’ hostess. The top image therefore reflects how I saw myself at the time. The bottom image is more in keeping with how I viewed the tea set itself.

Will you try and recreate the image literally or will you represent it in a more metaphorical way?

I have tried to recreate it literally like Richard Billingham does in Ray’s a Laugh or like Elinor Carucci does in her Mother series. However, Billingham’s images show more context. We see the living room and the bathroom and we see furniture so we are in no doubt that the images are in the family home. Carucci’s images generally show less context. Where she is breastfeeding, the background is mainly black. The bottle-feeding image has a shadow in the background. The little girl crying, a blurred background. So, we don’t get the same context like we do in Billingham’s work. We assume the mother is in a room of the house but we are not ‘told’ that. In contrast Francesca Woodman had a metaphorical approach with her sense of surrealism and movement.

For my images I have not included much in the way of background. I admit, this was largely circumstantial in not having the right environment. It would have been improved with 1960’s furniture and wallpaper etc. but I feel limited in what I can improvise with. However, the close viewpoints work with my aim.

Will you accompany your image with some text?

Yes. I like the idea of referring to a feeling; that of feeling grown up. The feeling is the main memory. All children like to think they are older and bigger than they are.

Reflect on the final outcome How does the photograph resemble your memory?

Well it does and it doesn’t. I am in no doubt that if I framed this image, every time I looked at it I would remember being in my grand mother’s house and pouring the tea so yes, it has ‘worked’ in that respect. However, it isn’t the same. The viewpoint is right but I was sitting on the floor and adults were standing around so my head was probably level with their knees. I haven’t captured the feeling of people being there.

Is it different from what you expected?

In my mind everything is bright. Not bright in a sunshine sort of way but the colours are bright. I tried to increase the temperature of the image in Photoshop, to make it warmer but it wasn’t successful.

What does the image communicate to the viewer? How?

The first image more clearly communicates the juxtaposition between child and adult. The adult hand and jewelry and the childlike patterns and size of the crockery are clearly at ‘odds’ with each other and raise the question, what is going on? Is it a mum playing with her children perhaps?
The second image doesn’t show as clearly the adult hand and the message is therefore less clear. I wondered if the image could be seen as an advert for children’s toys but I don’t think so. It would need the tea set displayed in its original box or a few children playing. The setting of table and sofa looks ‘adult’ with no evidence of anything child related, so this may be sufficient to create the uncertainty about what is being portrayed.

Photographers who have worked with childhood toys

When preparing for this exercise I came across Peter Spurgeon’s photographs of toys. Below is a link to a post I wrote about his work.

https://adeleslearningblog2.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/peter-spurgeon-childhood-memories-toys/

Spurgeon says of his project:

The Childhood project documents toys and other family objects. As well as a personal record of well-loved items prior to their disposal, the project invites the viewer to consider wider themes around memory, hoarding, family relationships and consumerism.

(Spurgeon, P. 2017)

 I do feel that I have captured my memory now in a permanent way (being on this blog) and that I have recorded a well loved item … and it has made me think of memories and how correct they are and how much they get distorted over time. Regarding hoarding and consumerism, well, maybe, just maybe, I will keep the tea set for myself and not give it to the nieces and nephews!

Bibliography

Spurgeon, P. (2017). Peter Spurgeon | Axisweb. [online] Axisweb. Available at: https://www.axisweb.org/p/peterspurgeon/ [Accessed 19 Nov. 2017].

 

Exercise: Masquerades – Nikki S Lee and Trish Morrissey (page 80).

Masquerades

For detail of Lee’s work please see my post here

When researching Lee’s ‘Projects’ series, I linked it in my mind to the work of Nan Golding who also immersed herself in different cultures. Golding made herself part of the drag queen culture and reported on life within this particular culture as an insider; someone who was accepted and included. Lee however, has not ‘joined’ a group in this intimate way but rather ‘posed’ with them to raise question about her varying identities and the social codes that the group adopts.

Exercise

Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative?

Lee has had to observe members of different groups in order to learn their ‘codes’, their way of dressing, their speech, postures and gestures and has had to, necessarily, watch them. Voyeurism usually has something of a sinister meaning attached to it, and Lee’s work has no intention of this nature so I feel ‘voyeuristic’ to be the wrong word. Observational perhaps. Anthropological even, in its study of social norms. OK, maybe a little deceitful if she didn’t reveal her true identity but on the whole I find them to be a fascinating insight into the codes that stereotype different groups and how groups create a unique sense of identity and belonging.

I don’t believe Lee was exploitative either. To be exploiting the members of the group she would have had to be morally or legally unethical or improper and I don’t see this photography work as fitting this definition. The subjects may have been uninformed or misled but not exploited. None of the images show anything of the subjects that are demeaning, belittling or otherwise damaging and are merely showing ‘as is’ which fuels my belief that Lee is not taking advantage of the groups.

Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

Lee is commenting on how a person’s identity can be fluid and multi faceted. We are all ‘different’ in differing circumstances. We all adapt to different situations and behave appropriately depending on the circumstances. In this respect Lee is commenting on her own many identities; however she comments also on the group. Different groups (whether they are skateboarders, schoolgirls, seniors, punks, or tourists) are often recognisable with their own ‘look’. Lee is acknowledging this and the social codes that they adopt.

When I was thinking around Assignment 2 on ‘photographing the unseen’, I considered ‘masculinity’ and the social codes that men adopt but not women (putting their hands in hip pockets, sitting with legs crossed at the knee, etc) and having researched Lee, I now recognise that I was trying to represent the identity differences of that particular (male) group.

Lee transformed herself physically to blend in with different groups of people. By doing so, she is questioning the authenticity of the photograph and her own identity. She is also mixing fact with fiction and perhaps hinting that none of us are necessarily what we seem to be.

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

For detail of Morrissey’s work please see  my post here

If I was approached on the beach by someone wanting to swap places with me for a family photograph I hope I would say yes and allow a stranger to appear with my family for a public exhibition. However, I would want to know exactly what the project was for and where it would be seen and I would want to see the images first. There is an element of contradiction between wanting to embrace art and expression and wanting privacy. I am finding this with my own work as I progress through the course. On the one hand I want to engage with projects such as ‘putting yourself in the picture’ but there is a reluctance to be in the public view.

Morrissey uses self portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven Years and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make notes.

Seven Years

Morrissey’s series Seven Years (2001-2004) has taken the concept of traditional family snapshots and staged them again copying the conventions of the genre. The staged images were taken from 2001 but the image titles refer back to the 1970s and 1980s, complete with retro clothing and props.

September 4th, 1972

Morrissey appears with her sister in all the images but they dress up and act the part of other relatives, male and female and themselves at different ages. Her identity is, like Lee’s, ‘fluid’. Like Morrissey’s other work (where she assumes a position within family groups on the beach) and the result is an authentic family photograph, in this series the images in ‘Seven Years’ have an authenticity but are actually similarly juxtaposing fact and fiction.

Morrissey was born in 1967 so would have been the baby in ‘April 16th 1967’. She and her sister are acting the parts of proud mother and father and a doll, presumably, is representing Morrissey as a baby. So in this image not only is Morrissey the photographer, she is one of the adult subjects (her parents) but her real status as a baby in 1967 is being represented by a doll. Her presence and identity is felt three times over in this image.

April 16th, 1967

Morrissey and her sister ‘assume different characters and roles in each image, utilizing body language to reveal the subtext of psychological tensions inherent in all family relations. The resulting photographs isolate telling moments in which the unconscious leaks out from behind the façade of the face and into the minute gestures of the body’. (Trishmorrissey.com, 2018)

When considering the doorstep image and body language I can see the dominant male stance of the man who is literally stepping from the domestic sphere of the home into the public sphere, leaving mother at home with the baby. As stated above we can see the ‘subtext’ and dynamics here of these family relations.

The Failed Realist

In her artist statement, Morrissey says that ‘between the ages of four to six children are often more verbally than visually articulate. This means that what they wish to express through mark making is often beyond their physical skill. The psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) called this The Failed Realist stage – the child’s desire to represent his or her world is hampered by motor, cognitive and graphic obstacles that will be overcome with time, but for the moment, their interpretation is flawed. (Trishmorrissey.com, 2018)

I understand that the above means that children know what they want to express but are not yet able to do so.

Morrissey’s daughter, when aged about five, painted her mother’s face. Take the tooth fairy for example. The child has seen the fairy and knows what she looks like but hasn’t the skills to articulate it through drawing. An older child may respond with an image like this one below but a five year old hasn’t the motor skills or dexterity.

and so responds like this:

Image by Trish Morrissey

The Toothfairy (2011)

I think Morrissey is commenting on how a child can create an identity from an experience even if it is not realistic. To the girl her mother probably actually ‘became’ the tooth fairy for a while. Maybe the little girl took note of the colours, perhaps the white of the fairy’s dress and the yellow of her wand and red shoes and is expressing what she saw through her colour choice. The Ladybird (2011) shows evidence of this with the red and black. Bitzer (2011) is also portrayed in this way, as yellow and black.

I am reminded here of a child drawing a picture of a space ship and being convinced that it is a spaceship, even when it looks like a squiggle to you and me. 

In this interview, Morrissey says that her idea for The Failed Realist was borne out of necessity. Her baby was sick so she was staying in or around the house. It was a Sunday afternoon in a corner of the living room and she was face painting with her little girl and it became a game. Other ideas come from ‘just being’ and ‘people watching’.

Trish Morrissey interviewed by Richard West, 2012

 

Bibliography

Trishmorrissey.com. (2018). Trish Morrissey. [online] Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/statement.html [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].

 

Exercise: autobiographical self portraiture – how do these images make you feel? (page 78)

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in ‘autobiographical self-portraiture’

The course work has discussed some of the works of Keith Greenough, Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus, Sally Mann, Elinor Carucci, Richard Billingham, Tierney Gearon and Gillian Wearing. In addition, I have looked at work by Graham MacIndoe and his series depicting the realities of his heroin addiction. See my post here: Graham MacIndoe ‘Coming Clean’

I have found this section to be very informative, interesting and challenging. It has expanded my knowledge of self portraiture as a means of self expression and of having a voice to tell a story. I think it has made me more inclined to be ‘real’ in my photography and to be ‘honest’.

How do these images make you feel?

Note – in this first section, the blue text provides a link to my post relating to my research of the particular practitioner.

  • Greenough’s work depicting himself as the iron man that he is, actually made me feel a little flat.  I didn’t see how his images portrayed how hard it is to train for an iron man event. He didn’t look exhausted by his efforts and none of the images showed any of the action that I would expect if I were to be shown the physicality of the endurance.
  • I cant help but view Woodman’s images influenced by the fact that she committed suicide at a very young age. The images make me curious about her life and experiences and about how she saw the world.
  • Brotherus, in her series, Annonciation, was documenting the agony of childlessness and my feelings on viewing this work were of appreciation of her honesty, integrity and willingness to ‘speak’ about the unspeakable. Her images conveyed a sadness and despair as well as a physical and medical challenge that made me think of women suffering, largely alone.
  • Sally Mann’s images were less easy to categorise into a ‘feeling’. I appreciated the beauty of some of the images but was disturbed by the representation of the children which monopolised my thoughts about the series.
  • Elinor Carucci documented her experience as the mother of twins. I could relate to some of he images such as the one where the toddler is looking upwards and crying and the one where she is rushing along the pavement carrying one of the twins. However, the one of the boy exploring his mother’s body really repulsed me.
  • Richard Billingham’s images of his parents made me feel sad. Sad for them and sad that lives are lived like this today. 
  • I found Tierney Gearon’s images a little strange and unsettling. I couldn’t really relate to the ordinary juxtaposed with the surreal and dreamlike (the masks for instance). She has taken ordinary daily ‘snapshots’ and made them unusual in some way which I found engaging from a curiosity point of view but they left me feeling a bit disturbed.
  • Gillian Wearing’s images I found to be unusual but I could relate to the sense of family, history, continuity, allegiance and ancestry.
  • Graham MacIndoe an honest representation of his heroin addiction that made me feel a sadness for his situation but also a curiosity in a lifestyle that I am far removed from.

 

Do you think there is an element of narcissism or self indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

  • Greenough’s work is all about his identity as an iron man. My first impression when viewing the thirty very similar images was that it was a bit me, me ,me with the feel that he is seeking admiration for his achievements. The title ‘I am an Ironman’ corroborates this. So, yes, I do think there is an element of self absorption here. I much preferred his other series where he shows other ordinary people involved in iron man events; see here.
  • In Woodman’s case, I see her images as less of narcissism and more of self expression and trying to relate to the world.
  • Brotherus’s series did not convey a feeling of self indulgence. Rather, a way of coping; a cathartic release of her distress and emotions. The image of the blood in the toilet was heartbreaking. An end to her hope. I see bravery here and a final heartbreaking acceptance of what is not meant to be.
  • Sally Mann’s images I felt to be self indulgent portrayals of her strikingly beautiful children.
  • Elinor Carucci appears in all but four of her images and show her as maternal, in charge, nurturing, loving, busy, glamorous, consoling, practical and so on, so yes, there may be an element of self absorption and of seeking admiration.
  • Richard Billingham’s work was partly cathartic and partly social comment and I find this to be removed from narcissism.
  • Tierney Gearon, not particularly self absorbed but rather documentary about her family in a innocence and experience way and more an expression of imagination, make believe and surrealism.
  • Gillian Wearing’s work is not narcissistic as she is concentrating on her ancestry and how it has shaped her identity. She is not seeking admiration or approval, just an understanding of family and heritage.

 

What is the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

Brotherus is naked in some of the images in the series, Annonciation. Her nakedness shows a vulnerability and a closeness to the basics of biology that she is dependent on for her happiness. Brotherus is also ‘baring’ her soul along with her body.

 

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?

  • Greenough’s series of images of himself taken after competing require some explanation. The title ‘I am an Iron Man’ is obviously helpful and for me, the series works much better with the accompanying slideshow and ‘heartbeat’. The rhythm of the heartbeat reminds me that this feat of endurance is a lifelong commitment and echoes the pumping of the heart on physical endurance. The beat alone bring the series to life and makes it more compelling.
  • Brotherus uses Finnish calendars from her Filofax interspersed with her images as well as a few very brief accompanying texts to the images. The calendars provide a sense of the time passing.  The few words that she does use are direct and to the point;  ‘Intravenous immunoglobulins’, ‘Medication’, and ‘The End’ for example show the  bare bones of the ‘story’ so a viewer is informed of the medical distress and the finality of the unsuccessful treatment.

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

  • Greenough’s work shows an energetic, prolific, determined, fit, competitive and successful man with a specific way of identifying himself. He is older than a stereotypical sportsman and so provides a challenge to fitness being in the domain of younger people.
  • Woodman may be commenting on depression and loneliness with her use of derelict and empty settings. Mental health is a high profile subject in the news at the moment; trying to break the taboo of the subject.  Woodman may have been commenting, in a different way, on anxiety, disconnection and feelings of worthlessness.
  • Brotherus is breaking the taboo subject of failed fertility treatments and associated grief. She is highlighting a subject that is rarely spoken of or supported.
  • Sally Mann was exploring childhood and family and growing up but I feel that her images are so not representative of ordinary people that they become a little removed from real life.
  • Elinor Caucci is highlighting the realities of motherhood and not just the glorified version of it and as such she presents the hard work reality of the ‘job’ that is often overlooked and dismissed within patriarchy.
  • Richard Billingham’s series highlights issues of living with alcohol and poverty and deprivation but on a more positive note, it highlights family loyalty, companionship and the ability to see joy in adversity.
  • Tierney Gearon seem to suggest that all may not be as it seems. Is she suggesting how reality is hidden behind a façade? She may also be commenting on innocence and experience and how childhood actions may be precursors to adult behaviours. 
  • Gillian Wearing concentrates on family, its history and the relationship between family members and how they shape each other and become intertwined. I feel that this is a personal response and not necessarily a wider message.