Category Archives: Practitioners

Anna Fox (cockroach diary)

Cockroach Diary

Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary includes photographs taken when there was an infestation of cockroaches in her home. The photographs are of the cockroaches themselves and of extracts from her diary, forming a self absented autobiographical portrait series.

The diary is handwritten and not only does it reflect on the state of the infestation but also reveals much about family life at the same time. The extract below has an authenticity about it, the pages are messy with crossings out which compliments the personal and frantic nature of the situation.

Sharon Boothroyd states that the Cockroach Diary became symbolic of the fractured environment, social structures and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships’ in Fox’s life (Boothroyd, S. 2014). We learn of many people in the household which gives us an insight into a busy environment with family and lodgers.

Ostensibly this diary is about an insect infestation but we learn more about the family dynamics. Fox is melodramatic, ‘I am absolutely frantic and threatening to leave home if somebody doesn’t do something about them’ and Kilt a little unsympathetic ‘he likes the roaches anyway’.

Anna Fox Cockroach Diary

Bibliography

Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

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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.

Maria Kapajeva (a portrait of the artist as a young woman)

Maria Kapajeva

Maria Kapajeva’s series, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman, is an example of self portraiture where the subject is absent. Kapajeva has adopted this ‘self-absented’ approach by capturing images of her peers, those women that she admires and identifies with as having similar identities, opinions and values. Maria is a feminist who is not afraid to break with tradition; she has found a way to say something about herself by photographing like minded women with whom she associates.

As someone who is interested in literature I was curious as to why Kapajeva chose to identify with James Joyce’s title for her series. The novel is an example of Bildungsroman in literature and I can see this in Kapajeva’s statement; showing her formative years and awakening, questioning and rebellion against patriarchy. (like Joyce’s character questioned and rebelled against the Irish religious and cultural conventions he was born in to).

Kapajeva says that it ‘was very important for me to photograph these women in their own environment; studios, homes etc as I believe their own spaces add to the story’ (photoparley, 2018). I do think that the spaces represent each of the women and their individual circumstances and choices and from the setting we can consider them to be unique and realising their own potential in whatever field they chose.

A Portrait of the artist as a young woman can be seen here.

 

Bibliography

photoparley. (2018). Maria Kapajeva. [online] Available at: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/maria-kapajeva/ [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].

Endia Beal (Am I what you’re looking for?)

Endia Beal

I have just been reading the May 2017 issue of the British Journal of Photography and was very interested in the work of Endia Beal.

In light of recently researching Nikki S Lee and her work (Projects 1997-2001) where she adopts the persona of different sub cultures and ‘transforms’ herself into a ‘punk’ , a’ schoolgirl’  a ‘senior’, a ‘tourist’ or ‘skateboarder’. To do this she observed the groups’ appearance, dress, gestures and mannerisms in order to blend in with them and effectively change her identity to fit with theirs. Here is a link to my post on Nikki S Lee.

https://adeleslearningblog2.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/nikki-s-lee-sub-cultures-and-transformations/

Beal in her work, ‘Am I what you are looking for’, approaches identity in the opposite way. Specifically highlighting women of colour and the prejudices they face in the work environment she asks her subjects to dress as they would for an interview. Instead of asking them to ‘transform’ themselves appropriately to fit into the corporate stereotype ‘box’ she is asking ‘which ‘box’ do I fit in to? Do I fit into the corporate image sufficiently for you to employ me? She is highlighting the effects of workplace discrimination against black women.

Photograph by Endia Beal

Am I what you are looking for?

The message from both these photographers is around stereotyping and, fitting in to different cultures; how, to be accepted (into the workplace, or the punk group) a person has to adopt the ‘appropriate’ appearance and codes (whether corporate or, or anti establishment, say).

Beale has also mixed things up a bit by asking two white women to dress in plain corporate clothes and asking them to attend a ‘black’ salon to have their hair styled. Beal is challenging what you are ‘supposed to look like in the workspace’ and is giving these white women an idea of the experience that she, as a black woman has encountered. (Slate Magazine, 2018)

 

Photograph by Endia Beal

Can I touch it?

It made me think again of the ‘boxes’ that I fit into personally. Sometimes I am in my ‘work box’ where I dress ‘for the office’ smartly, not revealing, freshly washed hair, perfume, handbag and so on and I speak and act in a professional way using accepted jargon that an outsider wouldn’t understand. Sometimes I am in my ‘gym box’. Casual tight clothes, gym bag, trainers (couldn’t wear these in the office despite their comfort), hair in a pony tail.

I am inspired to consider this further as a potential subject for assignment 3 Putting yourself in the picture.

Bibliography

Slate Magazine. (2018). Corporate Portraits of White Women With Black Hairstyles. [online] Available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2013/10/15/endia_beal_can_i_touch_it_explores_gender_race_and_generational_gaps_in.html [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018].

 

Trish Morrissey (beach fronts and fake family units)

Trish Morrissey 

Sharon Boothroyd says of Trish Morrissey that she

found groups of family and friends  – strangers to her – on beachfronts in Britain and Melbourne, swapped clothing with one of the women and adopted their position with the family unit’

Morrissey’s images, which show a family group where one member of the group is a stranger (the photographer), highlights the photograph’s ability to blur fact from fiction. Morrissey has become a fictional member of a family group by inviting herself into a friends/family situation and taking the place of the matriarch. In effect she has created realistic ‘fake’ family snapshots.

‘Front’ pretending to be part of the gang

Bibliography

Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Mutantspace. (2017). Trish Morrissey Photographs: Front On The Beach | mutantspace. [online] Available at: http://www.mutantspace.com/trish-morrissey-photographs-front-on-the-beach/ [Accessed 29 Dec. 2017].

Nikki S Lee (sub cultures and transformations)

Nikki S Lee

Sharon Boothroyd says of Lee that she

finds subcultures, transforms herself physically and includes herself in the picture so that she blends in with the group and becomes one of them … for example she has ‘become’ a Chinese tourist, a Puerto Rican woman, a hip hop fan, a runner, a bride ….

Lee is questioning the authenticity of the photograph and just because she is portrayed as a hip hop fan or a bride doesn’t mean that she is one. It is just a photograph after all.

Projects (1997 – 2001) shows Lee immersed in different American sub cultures, taking on a different identity with each group she is with. This involved adopting the ‘codes’ of the group.

I remember being in a classroom as a teenager and the tutor explaining about society’s expectations of behaviour and the ‘social codes’ of certain situations. She asked how we would we feel and respond if we went to see a doctor and the doctor started dealing a pack of cards. It is something I remember years later and has reinforced the notion of how we are expected to behave depending on the situation we are in. Similarly, during my English degree we considered spoken codes and how we change our speech (style shifting) to be appropriate to the situation we are in.

In Lee’s image below, she has adopted an iconic punk style through her clothing and hair. I have no reason to suspect that she is not ‘genuine’ from this image; she certainly looks the part, which poses the question of the reliability of a photograph to portray the ‘truth’.

 

Nikki S. Lee The Punk Project (7), 1997

(Tonkonow.com, 2017)

 

Bibliography

Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative. Open College of the Arts.

Tonkonow.com. (2017). Nikki S. Lee. [online] Available at: http://www.tonkonow.com/lee_projects_9.html [Accessed 29 Dec. 2017].

Peter Spurgeon (childhood memories, toys)

Peter Spurgeon

While researching the work of Jodie Taylor and her Memories of Childhood I came across the photographer Peter Spurgeon and his work on childhood toys and was interested in his work especially in light of an upcoming exercise on childhood memories. His work ‘Childhood’ can be seen here.

When thinking about how to approach this exercise to ‘recreate a childhood memory in a photograph‘ I repeatedly came back to a tea-set that I had as a four or five year old. This memory is very keen in my mind. Unwrapping the present, people watching, a happy atmosphere and the most beautiful tea set I had ever seen. I was grown up and  sophisticated. The perfect cups and saucers, tea plates and tray.

Spurgeon’s image of small wooden buildings (see link above) are set against a black background. The focus is on the toys themselves with nothing to distract the viewer’s attention. I have presented my tea set in a similar way, with a plain background and close up of the toy. I also chose to present the toy from my viewpoint, pouring the tea.

I purposely bought this child’s tea set for this exercise, and just looking at it brings me pleasure. As an adult I have a love of small tea plates that I am sure must come from my love of my first tea set. I can’t remember if it was a birthday gift or a Christmas present; I can just remember it, or rather I can remember having it. I was therefore very interested to research Peter Spurgeon who 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)

Like Spurgeon’s images, I do think my tea-set provides a personal record of a well loved item and considers wider themes of memory and family relationships (my mother or grandmother choosing a gift carefully because they loved me and wanted me to be delighted) as well as how consumer items, rightly or wrongly, make people happy.

Bibliography

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

Sally Mann (Family Pictures)

When looking at the work of Sally Mann I decided to concentrate on her series ‘Family Pictures’ in light of the subject of family portraits that we are researching at this point in the course.

To her, they were little more than tender, maternal photographs of her children. Yet to others, they were child pornography, and the mark of an irresponsible mother.

(American Suburb, 2017)

Sally Mann – Family Pictures

Popsicle Drips

Mann is another practitioner who has taken images of her three children, naked. Like Gearon, some of her images were criticised for being indecent. Opinion is divided. Some find the images disturbing, some find them to represent childhood in a realistic and honest way. I cannot say that I have ever struck a ballet pose while standing on the table in front of people without my clothes but perhaps other people do.

I feel that Mann’s image of her three young children standing next to each other in a line has a modelling photo shoot look about it, not a tender representation of childhood. These are very attractive children. Their poses and expressions are mature, not childlike.

I am also unconvinced about the maternal nature of ‘Popsicle Drips’. This is a young boy with liquid smeared from his waist to his knees. The image concentrates on this part of his body, no face, no arms, nothing else. I am not sure I can relate to a mother taking this image.

I have taken a look at a few other images and I will need a lot of persuading to see them as ‘tender, maternal photographs of her children’.

Dirty Jesse here

Jessie at five here complete with necklace, earrings and make up. Yes, the girl may have been dressing up and Mann may be exploring growing up. I assume the other two girls are also five.

 

Bibliography

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). SALLY MANN:. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/11/theory-sally-manns-immediate-family.html [Accessed 27 Dec. 2017].

Tierney Gearon (I am a camera)

I am a Camera

Gearon’s work, Like Billingham’s, often considers her family and in particular her children and also, like Billingham, she takes snapshots of everyday life.

In her contribution to the ‘I am a Camera’ exhibition, Gearon included several photographs of her two children, naked. Her images were displayed at the Saatchi Gallery in 2001 and were criticised for their content. Some said that they were indecent but she defended them saying that they were showing nothing but ‘the purity of childhood’ (the Guardian, 2017).

I am a camera – images

We do see ‘ordinary’ events in these images; days at the beach, relaxing by the pool, watching television and so on but there is a juxtaposed element of the disturbing in the masks that the children wear, the sword swallowing, the dead animal at the side of the road, the boy looking like a naked statue while an older woman looks at him. The images present normality on the one hand and the irregular on the other. Actually I am reminded of Blake’s collection of poems ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ where he contrasts the innocence and ignorance of childhood with the  reality and truth (and corruption) of  adult experience.

The poolside image of the naked little boy with his fishing net and the older gentleman on his mobile is one image where I see the juxtaposition of innocence and experience. It seems that the boy wants to innocently play but the man with his serious expression has something to attend to.

 

Bibliography

the Guardian. (2017). Tierney Gearon defends her photographs. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2001/mar/13/childprotection [Accessed 27 Dec. 2017].

Richard Billingham (Ray’s a Laugh)

 

Squalid Realism

(Adams, 2017)

Billingham’s work often concerns his family; his parents, Ray and Liz. Ray is an alcoholic and Liz is very overweight. Alcoholism and obesity are considered to be two of society’s problems and Billingham’s work with his parents shows their life with these issues, capturing their ‘dreary, drunken existence’ (Adams, 2017).

We are more used to family images showing the good times – the weddings where we are all dressed in our best, the smiling new babies, first day at school, graduations and so on. So something like this that allows us to see behind any façade into a real day to day life is compelling. As viewers we are invited in to a very private space, one that is usually hidden behind closed doors.

The images have a ‘snapshot’ appearance which adds to the realism of the subject matter but they are not the sort of snapshots that most would put in the family album. There is an honesty about the images, no apology for what they show and no pretence. There is a feel of ‘hanging out your dirty washing in public’ which is something that is rarely encouraged.

These images, like the works of Carucci (motherhood) and Brotherus (involuntary childlessness) show real life. We see ‘Ray, toothless, shirtless and swigging from his pop bottles of homebrew, vast  Liz in her raucous patterned frocks poring over her 1,000 piece jigsaws (ibid).

Images – Ray’s a Laugh

I wondered if  Billingham has achieved photography success by exploiting his parents, like some said of Martin Parr and the working classes. However, I feel that his work fulfills a social responsibility of sorts by making people think; not everyone’s life is like yours and people live in many different circumstances, both better and worse than your own.

The images are given a greater context when viewed alongside the  television documentary of Ray’s life at home, Fishtank.

 

Bibliography

Adams, T. (2017). Mr and Mrs Billingham and Frosty Jack’s | Tim Adams. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/13/richard-billingham-tower-block-white-dee-rays-a-laugh-liz [Accessed 27 Dec. 2017].