Contextual Studies

HOW WE ARE: PHOTOGRAPHING BRITAIN (A Tate Britain Exhibition) – 26th SEPT 2012

For today’s lecture we were provided two chapters to read ourselves which based themselves on the exhibition, from these two chapters we had to highlight what stood out to us, cut them up and using other resources of media, these being magazines, leaflets, books, so on and so forth we used our imagination to create a booklet based source of information from the chapters based on the subject at hand.

At first being assigned this task I was confused, not having understood the benefits of this task, however as I progressed I found that by highlighting and recreating a small booklet of information for myself I was able to understand and read more clearly the points that the written texts provided made. It was fantastic to be shown another way to take in information however I do not personally feel this is a method I can follow through on as I already have my own ways of processing information.

The texts discussed, conveyed and elaborated many clear points, the chapter titled, ‘The Urge to Document’ was what appealed to me most as it spoke of many ideals in which our attitudes to documenting day to day lives have changed and that it is seen within everyday media, half of which we do not even recognize in our day to day lives. Social communication is a vital part of the human essence within today’s society and without media communicating with/ for us we have an empty canvas of nothing.

Having had photography document our lives from an early age it became recognized within politics and socially engaging in the 1970’s, however most photographer felt best focused on the subject of British society. In the 1980’s the vision of documentary photography changed as we developed colour imaging and with this came the laugh of fashion and other varieties of magazines.

The chapter titled, ‘Reflections on a Strange Country’ goes on to discuss what became of photographers and there work within the 1990’s having the launch of the magazine many took to approach photojournalism, with this a new insight and perspective was offered to British Society and not too soon after this did the art world accept the medium of photography by means of creating a more artistic result from photography.

With this photograph has become an ever expanding technology and continues to create more interesting ways to document, not only the British culture but the culture of everyone’s. Photography has become a voice for many and expression for many others.

Even now we are reaching out to the public to expand the British Society and peoples interpretations and perspective of it, the Tate Britain published this:

“For the first time, Tate Britain invited members of the public to contribute to the content of an exhibition. How We Are: Photographing Britain takes a unique look at the journey of British photography, from the pioneers of the early medium to today’s photographers who use new technology to make and display their imagery. Members of the public were encouraged to submit a photograph to the exhibition via the How We Are Now Flickr group to illustrate one of the four themes of the exhibition: portrait, landscape, still life or documentary.”

Personally I see a prime example of a photographer that photographs British Society being, Martin Parr. Recently at my university, The Plymouth College of Art, we had a visiting lecturer Liz Well’s who discussed points and theory’s such as these, Click here to see my review of her talk





“It takes a thousand Voices to tell a single story” A Native American saying – From Lecture

“Photography is a small voice” – W.Eugene Smith, Founder of the Photo Essay

A narrative environment is a space, a space in which can be real or fake and where stories can unfold right in front of your eyes. A real narrative space can be within a museum, an exhibition, even public spaces, a real narrative space is where we can situate ourselves in front of the story and interpret its unfolding for ourselves, where as a fake narrative can be directed an told for us within the games we play, the movies we watch and even the books we read.

ANGELA KELLY’s narrative would be found with her fathers return from the navy and the items within his trunk, from this she saw many stories unfold in front of her from the pinned maps displaying the places he traveled too, the silver trinkets he collected from the places he had been and of course the photographs he would take, not only of his venture but also of his family. However this sea trunk proved more valuable to her than just mere sotries of travel, it had survived the house fire which had tragically killed her family in 1988, for Angela this sea trunk had become part of her own life, her own narrative.

She would re-invent  her fathers old maps and documents into her own photography combining the two to create a sense of the connection she once had and the loss that she now feels.

– “Dear Daddy”
“Studio portrait with Map of N. Pacific Ocean and a letter written by me as a child to my father. As children we wrote  letters regularly to father while he was at Sea. After he died we discovered that he had saved them all and kept them in his sea trunk”

From Angela Kelly’s work I can see how she transfers her emotions from herself into her photographic practice, even without knowing her story I feel that the narrative she uses is bold and prominent. You can see the narrative space she creates within her work through her fathers memorials from the truck and transforms them using photographs of her and her family.

So having looked at Angela Kelly’s work based on the narrative she created from her own space I wanted to example someone who created a ‘real narrative’ which incorporates the space of an exhibition hall and even the involvement of the public.

CLARE TWOMEY created an installation which involved many bone china ceramic tiles, these were then all placed onto the floor for the public to walk on and ultimately smash upon stepping on to it. It was titled, ‘Conscience/ Consciousness’ (2003) I find this really quite captivating and clever, especially from looking at it from a narrative point of view. She not only creates that transformation from spectator to partaker but she creates a sense of past. From the moment the member of public takes a step onto this flooring they become a part of this installation.

It focused on the reaction of the public from the instant they stepped onto the tiles, how they made decisions to walk in a direction, how to walk, fast, slow, jump even hop. It was described as “Walking on a fresh bed of snow”

However Twomey has done many installations, my personal favorite being Heirloom’s, exhibited in Swansea, 2004. This involved her collecting porcelain objects locally that reflected the history local to it and featuring it within her installation. This reflected a historic context to those local to the area and from the mass collected, it ultimately created a convergence of narrative in which was dependent on the view of the interpreter and their familiarity of the object featured.

The reason this was my favorite installation of her is because she brought ‘Heirlooms’ to Plymouth City Museum in 2009. This featured the porcelain objects of people local to the area of Plymouth that they had donated to be displayed within wooden framed glass boxes and hung from the ceiling therefore building a collective of the narrative of different peoples styles, characteristics, and even personalities conveyed through the objects they had sent in.

Aside from my two favorite examples of Narrative Spaces we discussed a couple more examples within the lecture, these involved:

– Christian Boltanski

Boltanski’s work co-insides both his life and work where he establishes the connection between his personal life and his employed life in which the result conveys a narrative about him. Most of Boltanski’s work reflects a certain dark drama about world war II having being born just at the end of it he grew up with the aftermath of what it had caused. He is self taught in contemporary art. His work commonly features lost property found within public spaces, an example being a train station, with this he transforms it into an art work in which the lost item ‘memorializes’ the owner.

Boltanski’s most recognized installation features a crane, named ‘The Finger of God’ and a 12 metre high pile of clothes. This crane will grabs a handful of clothes only to drop them again once lifted. The clothes symbolize people Boltanski states. Having recorded 400 separate heartbeats too and played through their own set of speakers you can begin to understand the narrative Boltanski attempts to achieve, “The big idea behind the piece is this killing factory because you have a mountain of clothes and this metal hand that will take some clothes and reject others.”

He planned several aspects of his exhibition specifically, an example being that he specifically did not want it to be hot inside so that people could experience the cold intensity and serious nature of what he was communicating.

– Chino Otsuka

In a bid to establish self identity, self portraiture has become a thing of popular demand in today’s society. For Chino Otsuka, personal identity is exactly want she wants to communicate through her work . She does this by revisiting her past and recreating the scenes she was photographed in as a child. In doing this she creates a narrative through past an present.

However I find her films much more intriguing as she merges her past to her present through a form of distorted manipulation, this to me communicates a narrative of self development and growth, where she has come from and how she has developed as an adult. This reminds me of the works of Irina Werning with her series, “Back to the Future” and James O’ Jenkins, “Before and After” series. (Click the hyperlinks to view the articles I had already published on my blog)

So in researching and learning about all these fantastic examples of people that create narratives and how they all approach and interpret the subject differently I decided I wanted to find someone or an installation that was not discussed within the lecture and see how the narratives compare, through searching I found, ‘The Japanese Wall of Sighs’

This installation collected 750,000 lost photographs that were destroyed in the tragic effects of a tsunami that took places. This narrative speaks to me of the memories lost in that event to thousands of people and when an event like this takes place people join together to recall and remember those lost to these disasters. This is actually an article I covered in the early stages of, ‘Cogtography’. Click here to see my article on it.



THE BODY & THE GAZE – 10th OCT 2012

Objectification is a regular occurrence within photography, whether we know it or not, photography is a powerful tool in which it can objectify the subject within its frames.

“Men act and women appear.”

A statement boldly said in today’s lecture, this means that the male in most art related mediums pose in powerful and strong statements of the body language/ facial expressions. Where as the women in most arts pose for the beauty of themselves and thus turning themselves into something to be look at and observed, ultimately becoming an object.

In the early ages of art women quickly became an object of beauty, however they took this form of beauty a step further and painted nudity to grab the attentions of the male spectator, a couple of examples of this would be, The Venus of Urbino by Titian, Olympia by Edouard Manet and Susannah and the Elders by Tintoretto.

From seeing these example we can already see that in the world of artistic means that the male and female roles are extremely different. The women gender poses within art as if she is on display ensuring a sense of perfection in her beauty. From this idea of ‘being on display’ objectification is then introduced. As opposed to this the male gender is then seen as a ‘body of action’. In many art forms the beholder views the male as the character in charge. These concepts by ‘Berger’ can still be seen in many different forms of media in today’s society.

The idea of ‘the gaze’ is a personal link between the pleasure of the beholder and the images, the camera changes its chosen subject into an object to be looked at and through this comes the power of the photographer to be able to select and reject what become an ‘object’. A great example of objectification would be Marilyn Monroe, with the amount she has been photographed she has become an object which has been recognized through merchandise and artistic art form giving her the immortality of being seen as an object.

“People have a habit of looking at me as if I’m some kind of mirror instead of a person. They  didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.” – Marilyn Monroe

In today’s media we have become too familiar with objectification to the extent where we expect to see the enforced ideal of beauty in females and therefore creating, Voyeurs, (those who wish to see the forbidden), and through this ‘scopophilia’, (the desire and pleasure to see this nude form) in extreme cases this nude from of beauty has created obsessive ‘voyeurs’ in which they gain sexual satisfaction from watching those that have become, ‘objectified’

Within movies, story’s and media with a narrative the male becomes the main character in most cases due to the influence of the ideal that men act and the women appear, however in recent events women have slowly come to power to become the main character and instead of appearing, acting. An example of this would be Sarah Conner, Lara Croft, and my personal favorite example Resident Evil.

“Men act”, or they used to, it would seem that in current day media that the roles of men and women have made a reverse, a slow one but still a reverse. In advertisements for underwear, perfume, clothing and so on the male is perceived as perfect, strong and a form of ‘beauty’.

Its been heavily contextualized and argued the rights of objectification and the fairness of it within gender, through campaigns for sexism and the inequality of genders. However this is arguable from both genders. Of course women have had this, ‘objectification’ for many, many years within art and its mediums but in current day media men are also being objectified. Women use make up, fashion and dieting as a way to achieve this sense of beauty conveyed through the objectification but men are also now feeling prompted to achieve ‘beauty’ through similar means to women, without the make up.

It is not only the men who gaze upon the objectified, but also the women. Within trying to achieve this perfection many have gone to extremity’s to achieve it in a bid to win the desires and attention of the gender they long for, these extremities fall under mental health problems, weight issues and even surgery.

There are few people that have used this voyeurism to witness the lives of others, my primary example being Diane Arbus. Her work features the portraits of ‘circus freaks’ and in photographing this she opposes this idea of perfection and beauty and instead tries to convey a different meaning through objectification. This makes us question, as spectators what is and is not right to view and express through personal lives.

“Her works make us question not just her motives for looking at what the critic Susan Sontag called “people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive”, but also our own.” – Susan Sontag

(Bronze statue, created by Damien Hirst)





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