Exercise: Article by Elizabeth McCausland 1939

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Read the 1939 article on documentary photography by Elizabeth McCausland. Write a short bullet list of the main points. Explain, in your own words, why this article is relevant to this part of the course.

Rapid growth of documentary – strong creative impulses seeking an outlet.
Not a fad.
Application of photography to chronicle the external world.
Whole and unretouched.
New eyes looking at external world. Honesty.
Symbolism – what is seen from an image of hands. Photographer finds truth and gives it significant form.
Not many opportunities for publishing honest photos of present-day life.
Farm Security Administration photographers and Federal Art Project series – government are the best sponsor of knowledge.
Painting has survived despite the rise of photography.
Turn of the century – is photography art?
More to realism than art.
The arts alter mode of expression etc as society changes.
We want the truth.
Work of art must have meaning and content and must speak to the audience.
No limit to what the photographer may record. Can say what we want.
Needs to have a clear purpose and not let personality influence.

This is relevant to the current part of the course where we have been looking at the history of documentary and what it actually is. There is also the start of the art and photography debate, which still exists today. The purpose of documentary and portraying reality is something that we have been looking at, and certainly something I believe in. We need to show the truth of situations. It goes with the previous chapter’s ideas about objectivity. This was written early on but I still feel that it is totally relevant today, that although photography has moved on in some ways, the basics are still there regarding composition and what we do with the images, especially where documentary photography is concerned. It generally provides a summary of what we have done so far and what is to come.

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Book Summary: Visual Methodologies by G Rose

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Chapter 1 starts with a brief survey of researching with visual materials.
The 1970’s showed a change in our understanding of social life. Culture was seen as a process. Production and exchange of meanings. We are reminded that we are surrounded by visual technologies. There are different views of the world, but people’s interpretations may vary. WWe see before we speak, so this is how we come to know the world.
It is assumed that in pre-modern society visual images were not especially important. Barbara Maria Stafford (1991) is a historian of science images, construction of scientific knowledges – the world has become more based on image rather than written texts.
Travel photography – people see images and want to visit those places. There may be link between images and language. There are so many types of images – satellite, manipulated, MRI etc. Pervasiveness of images – linked to amounts of digital storage and communication devices.
There are differences between analogue and digital images. Analogue – better correspondence for what they show. Conversions in digital can change images.
David Rodowick (2007) said that digital images should not be called photos. This raises an issue regarding reality, but we know that film images could also be unreal in some ways. There is a difference in signals between analogue and digital TV. Family photos taken digitally are similar in composition, but there are different ways to take and share them.
In anthropology and human geography – images are used as research tools. There was discussion about an interest in how images can make you feel something.
p12 Effects of visual images.
Images – social. Power relations can be shown, such as in war (loc. 626). How we see different races etc. How do we look at images? Are we the surveyor or surveyed? (loc 652).
Social differences, culture, social relations and social power can be depicted.
How different audiences see work. Display etc.
p15 – It is very unusual that we encounter work without any text – we usually have at least some information, for example in a gallery. This can make a difference to how we see it.
p16 – A critical approach to visual culture:
Takes images seriously
thinks about the social conditions and effects of visual objects
considers your own way of looking at images
p17 Visual imagery is never innocent. It is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges.
p20 When we think about and look at images from the past – we need to consider what was available at the time. By 1948 cameras were light and film faster so people did not have to stand still for long periods. Snapshots were now possible.
p23 Documentary photography originally tended to picture poor, oppressed or marginalised individuals, often as part of reformist projects, to show the horror of their lives and thus inspire change. The aim was to be as objective and accurate as possible in these depictions. However, since the apparent horror was being shown to audiences who had the power to pressure for change, documentary photography usually pictures the relatively powerless to the relatively powerful. It has thus been accused of voyeurism and worse.
p38 Social practices of looking of spectating – look at images and creating other versions of them. Social identities of the spectators.
p48 has good information about how to use images for research.
p51 We need to take images seriously, look at them very carefully. Effects of the image – power.
p63 Paintings have different effects depending on perspective.
p77 Compositional interpretation – ways of describing content, colour, spatial organisation, mise-en—scene, montage, light and expressive. Content of various kinds of still and moving images.
p88-89 Content analysis – how to select images – random/stratified/systematic/cluster depending on results.
p101 Content analysis is a clear method for engaging systematically with large numbers of images.
p105 Semiology (semiotics). How images make meanings head on.
p108 Semiology assumes that these constructions of social difference are articulated through the working of signs of images themselves. Many studies concentrate on the image itself as the most important site of its meaning.
p109 These studies require extensive knowledge of the type of image the case studies will examine.
p149 Psychoanalysis and visuality. Freud suggests scopophilia – pea sure in looking – was one of the basic drives with which all (sighted) children are born, and the visual is especially important in the work of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.
p150 Different psychoanalytic concepts brought to bear on the same image can produce very different interpretations of the same image.
p151 The power of images – the relationship people have with images. Why are we drawn to certain images?
p152 We are reminded that psychoanalysis deals with subjectivity, sexuality and the unconscious. Emotional reactions to images may be unconscious.
p190 Discourse – refers to groups of statements that structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking.
p193 Foucalt was concerned with how power works in institutions.
p230 Describes the Panopticon – this was invented by Jeremy Bentham in 1787. How to view people.
p261 How TV audiences make meaning from what they watched. People watched TV together and chatted with people the next day. Now we have more TV’s and the internet, changing our viewing habits.
p267 Describes the impact of media messages on the audience – things like violence. Fan bases – culture.
p293 Are images seen the same way on different screens, ipad vs large screen TV.
p297 Describes images made as part of a research project. Used actively – evidence. Photo-documentation, photo-elicitation, photo-essays. Doc – planned series of photos to document and analyse a particular visual phenomenon. Elicitation – participants take photos and discuss in an interview. Photo essay – a series of photos and possibly text to interpret a situation.
p301 Photo documentary assumes that photos are an accurate method. Systematic taking of photos – not used much.
p304 Elicitation – widely used. Photo Voice etc. There are lots of links to my own studies here, I completed some participatory projects in the past for my MA and for a project with a boys shelter in Vietnam. Time consuming.
p317 Photo essay – a combination of writing and photos. Could both be done by one person or 2 people, one doing the writing and one the photos. Evokes the senses. Analytical and evocative. Relationship between photos and text.
p334 Discusses ethics of both found and new photos. Consent. Using google street view. This made me think of Mishka Henner’s project using street view to show prostitutes. Copyright.

Rose, G. (2012). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. (3rd ed). Sage. [ebook]

Book Summary: The Photograph by Graham Clarke (1997)

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The book starts with a chapter named “What is a photograph?” which is a debate about the history of photography and how photos are seen. There is a quote from Barthes that all photos are history as they are something that no longer exists. There is also some debate about images that exist on paper such as photograms, where do they fit? The size an image is displayed can also affect how we see it,
The second chapter is about how we read photos, and talks about how the meaning of photos can be complex- there may be a literal meaning but there may also be a connotative meaning. There are so many levels – is it a real insight into the world?
My own photography developed as I lived in New Zealand, so far from my family. I wanted to show them New Zealand, but what was I leaving out? What was the story behind the images I chose?Telling the story in an image. There was debate about photos making statements (Friedlander, p38/39).
The next chapter deals with photography in the 19th century. It describes how photography tried to emulate painting in some ways, like combination prints by Gustave Rejlander (p43). There is an element of selectivity – for example London may be shown as individual buildings or as sprawling chaos. p50 describes the start of travel photography, where people were able to record new cultures, but also impose their own cultural view on scenes. On p53 there is a quote, ‘To photograph ‘is to give evidence to facts.”’ This goes along with many other views we have seen on the course so far, that documentary is the pure form of this, showing the real world. It is a pure form.
The next Chapter (4) deals with a sense of scale (p60), where people wanted to show just how vast the landscape actually is, with some kind of reference. Overseas photos appeared idyllic to some – certainly something I have wanted to see on more than one occasion, leading sometimes to disappointment. p65 described imaging an ideal land, untouched by humans. Brits like Martin Parr and Chris Killip rather documented the social side of landscapes, unemployment and poverty for example. A Westerner’s perspective of overseas can be seen.
Chapter 5 is about the city in photography. Robert Barker took 360 degree views. In the 1790’s there were panoramic exhibits of the world’s main cities. They depicted cultural icons, and showed a view from above. They showed urban poverty. Weegge, mentioned on p85, took photos of the ‘dark side’ showing murders and other such events. On p87, they mentioned Walker Evans who in 1938 used a concealed camera to photograph people on the subway etc, appearing alone. Night photographers showed the other side of the cities.
Chapter 6 was about Portraits. These express our inner being. p101 talks about social identity. There are lots of staged events, construction. p106 mentioned carts de visit which were fashionable in 19th century Paris as a mark of identity and social significance.
Portraits were often taken with someone’s social environment. There were self-portraits, of photographers, such as Edward Steichen in 1908 – he took a photo of himself holding a paintbrush.
Some photographers explored identity, such as Mapplethorpe who explored homosexuality. He took his own self-portraits, some of which were very provocative. Sherman’s series, Untitled Film Stills offers an alternative to reality. In some cases, the size images are displayed can have an impact. I saw an exhibition of hers in London, where there were only about 5 or 6 images, printed larger than life size.
The next chapter, 7, talks about the body. This includes depiction of the nudity and sexual acts. It was mentioned how women can be posed to appear passive/submissive, but this can also be the reverse. p129 Muybridge studied human motion in the 1870’s, with a series of photos of people moving. An image by Sherman mentioned on p130 (Untitled, 1992) talks about male power, a constructed image.
Jo Spence is famous for her documentation of the effects of breast cancer on her body.
Chapter 8 discusses documentary photography, which dominated the photographic history of the 20th century. On p145, the say that document means evidence – truth. Events may be approached in different ways by different photographers. p147 mentions a project by Jacob Riis in 1890 called How the other half lives. This is visual and written accounts of living conditions in New York’s lower east side. It showed appalling conditions and deprivation. There is some discussion about exploiting subjects on p148. On p149, Margaret Bourke-White’s Sharecroppers 1937 project is discussed, telling a story through framing – poverty, injustice of the political system. p153 discusses the famous image of the migrant mother taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936, and later Robert Frank’s The American’s is discussed as showing traditional American icons. Having seen the exhibition of this at Pingyao in China in 2007, and found it quite an insight into America and fulfilled some cultural stereotypes. p158 discusses images by George Rodger in 1945 of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. There was one image of a boy walking past dead bodies, and looking away. Lots of war images.
Chapter 9 is titled ‘The Photograph as Fine Art. This is an ongoing debate, about whether landscapes can be seen as art. P169 talks about a photo by Stieglitz of people, describing them as shapes rather than items. An image by Ansel Adams, Picket Fence, taken in 1936, has a sense of uniformity and form. Transforming ordinary objects into something unique. Some people put an emphasis on form. There is a notion that art photographers work in studios. An image taken by Eliot Porter in 1953 (p178) called Pool in a brook looks like a painting.
Chapter 10 – The photograph manipulated. This talks about the period from 1900 onward, abstraction etc. Constructivism, p189, is mentioned. Some images are a mix of photography and painting, and there is also a mention of photograms and montages.
Chapter 11, the cabinet of infinite curiosities mentions the decisive moment, and documentary, the meaning of images. Art in images is discussed, along with the pattern found which may be a form of symbolism. Images can be put together in a certain way.

Graham Clarke: The Photograph (1997) New York: Oxford University Press.

Exercise: Photo festival and Foto8

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We had to select a body of work from a leaflet from the Hereford Photography Festival 2011 and writ a reflective commentary about it.

The work I chose was Interrogations: Big Zone, Small Zone by Donald Weber. The image I could see was fascinating, and the write up mentioned that the photographer had befriended a Ukrainian policeman and took photographs of criminals at the point of making a confession. I looked up more of the images as I was intrigued, and found images of people looking distressed and upset. There were some of people with guns to their heads. They all look really uncomfortable, which is also the feeling I had when I was looking at the images. This is usually a very private moment between the police and criminals, and to see it documented in this way made me feel like I shouldn’t be looking. Some are smoking and all are looking anxious. Knowing their lives may change for ever is also something I thought about, how this image also marked the end of their life as a free person, most are probably going to spend time in prison and things will never be the same for them and their families. I think this is a really thought-provoking body of work, and was fascinated by looking closely at more images as I found them online. It is documentary in the true sense, nothing about it is set up.

The second task was to watch a video of Jon Levy, the founder of Foto8, talking about documentary in the art gallery.

He talked about the main premise of the magazine being about storytelling, as reports rather than fictional stories. That is more about what documentary is in it’s raw form, presenting facts in the form of images. He mentioned a lot of issues that get reported on, such as political and environmental, and the fact that how different people may get involved in stories that may be close to them or in places far away. There are so many different perspectives out there and they want to show as many as possible within the gallery. This may be from people with a lot of experience or people with a little only. The intention of the photographer when they took the image is important – was it intended to tell a story or just as a piece of art?

He mentioned that some quieter stories may attract more than well known ones, something that I always like to see in galleries. He mentioned that photojournalism is sometimes perceived as the Western view of the world, but I hope that they are challenging that by presenting other views too. Since living in Asia, I have seen many other versions which challenge this. Jon also says there is no real hierarchy, it is more important how the images are shown in order to get us closer to the story.

Exercise: Reflective commentary (Bazin and Sekula)

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Write a 250 word commentary on the quotes by Andre Bazin and Allan Sekula. Briefly compare their respective positions and record your own view on the issue of photographic objectivity.

Bazin writes about the photograph depicting reality, and how the only intervention by the photographer is the selection of what is being photographed, without creative intervention – can be argued etc- we need to accept image as being real. However, framing can change an image somewhat and as we only ever see what is within the frame, it can hide some crucial information. Perspective can be a factor. I personally saw some photos of a Thai island I wanted to visit and got really excited about the white sandy beach. Imagine my disappointment when I went and found that the only beach on that particular island was tiny! the photographer had taken it near the ground with a wide angle lens. I was able to take a similar photo and it made me more aware of how we can alter reality.

Sekula mentions that the way we see an image is influenced by our cultural background, meaning there is no intrinsic or universal meaning. This rings true from my time in China – we were set an assignment to go and photograph something the Chinese students would probably not think was interesting, and they had to take a photo Europeans would not think interesting. The whole exercise sparked a lot of debate. My image was also influenced by my background being bought up as a vegetarian, and so I saw another cultural aspect. The photo was of a pigs head in a market. The Chinese students deemed it too normal a sight to photograph. I would argue too that someone who ate meat may not have taken the photo as they may prefer not to see the head of the animal they are about to eat. There are other cultural implications here, as I live in Malaysia, a Muslim country where even mentioning pigs can spark a reaction let alone showing a photo of the head of one. Being exposed to a lot of certain types of images may also mean we react less to that type of image. In some countries, images of dead bodies are commonly shown in the news, but on other countries a different perspective is shown and so people may react more if they see a dead body or body parts, something discussed after the Madrid train bombing where some British newspapers altered images to take out or blur body parts.

Our culture and background can influence how we interpret images, and maybe this will also influence how we show ‘reality’ as described by Bazin. Gender may also affect how we interpret images, as well as age.

Assignment 1 – photos

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PA02533w Image1: This image shows the fishermen and women.

 

PA02857w Image 2: Here I was looking at people from further away then usual, feeling particularly disconnected from the local community but wanting to be around people too.

PA02859w Image 3: These couples were just walking back from being close to the sea.

PA02864w Image 4: There are always lots of motorbikes on the beach, and they love being the focus when I am shooting, the closest I got to people during the various shoots I did.

PA02916w Image 5: These sandcastles were a great subject, and I liked the slightly odd angle this one was at, the sandcastle almost forms a barrier between myself and the community.

PA02945w Image 6: A runner I see regularly on the beach, and a boy. We are all disconnected in this image.

PA02949w Image 7: A couple enjoying  sunset.

PA03004w Image 8: One of the regular buffaloes, and people in the background.

PA03011w Image 9: A group of children play on the beach, there was no adult in sight.

PA03078w Image 10: A spectacular sunset, and my nearest companion.

Assignment 1

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I went through a few options, and had in my head a series of images of people running, even with captions from speaking to them about their motivation to run. However, without much Malay, I realised this was almost an impossible task. Trying to find enough people who speak English was not going to be easy, and I wondered if I even wanted to do it, as it felt like it didn’t really represent myself in the community – why would I suddenly start talking to people just because I needed to do a photo assignment for uni. The brief made it sound like I needed to represent myself in the community and I feel disconnected.

A few days of research helped me find a lot of information about Melinsung (the resort area I live at), and gave me ideas about potentially shooting a project around broken promises, things that were in the original plans but do not exist or only existed for a short time. I decided against this as the images need to feature the local community, and this feels like more of a chance to document without anyone being in the shot. It is an idea for something else though and I am continuing to do research on the topic.

Beach activities that I could document include people who go running, fishing, swimming, playing, watching sunset and talking on the phone. There is a group of overseas workers from the Kimanis plant who I see down at the beach calling their families, what a great location to do that from. Others walk around the complex, talking on the phone around the buildings they live in. Many of them live with about 6 per flat, so I guess they need some time alone and come outside to make the calls. Also, mobile phone reception is of course better outside – there are no phone lines in our complex so making landline calls is not possible. I decided that the main location for my shoots would be the beach, although I did also walk around and see what else was happening around here. There are no other really picturesque areas though, and at this point I had already decided to use a wide angle lens which meant I wanted somewhere pretty. I see people fishing from time to time, mainly at public holidays, standing on the beach. There are also sometimes people down there catching crabs, but recently I haven’t seen this. A lot of people go running at the beach, mainly men although at times I do see women too. I did have a romantic notion of a set of images that were runners in front of a beautiful sunset, but as I spent more time down at the beach I realised this was not going to be quite how it happened. Of course there are issues with backlighting when shooting into a sunset, and coupled with the angles needed, I would need to set up each image carefully. I decided against this as I feel strongly that a documentary project should be just that, something documenting what is happening rather than a beautiful set of images that the photographer has created in some way by asking people to be in a certain place. Of course, the very act of framing does this to an extent, but I wanted to limit my impact on the scene.

The experiences and histories of people who live here is something I am gathering as I live here, and I felt the beach was the best place to capture this. I see a variety of people down there, from groups of kids with their families, to groups of men hanging out, families walking together, people running, oil rig workers walking along the beach in their overalls, I can only imagine what the histories are from watching, and from what the teachers at my schools tell me. I know there are lots of oil and gas workers from the Kimanis plant here as it is relatively cheap here and they have buses picking people up every morning as I go to work. They appear to be from many different countries around Asia. I have also been told that a lot of teachers live here, who have been posted from the mainland or other towns in Sabah or Sarawak, as it is an easy place for them to live. There seems to be a large population here using the flats as holiday homes, it is always noticeably busier at weekends and holidays.

I decided to use my Nikon P330 camera, as this attracts less attention that my D7000, but still gets good images. The locals seem to find it a lot less threatening. I have also been told to be careful on the beach as there have been some robberies, and so the D7000 is too much of a target for a lone female to carry. I have tested the P330 a few times, and decided that the best representation of my relationship with the local community would be to use it at the widest setting. Images taken on this setting show people as really small unless they are right in front of me, and it shows my feelings about how I fit in to the local community. I am distant and apart from them, apart from a few short chats with people on the beach, my interactions are limited to buying things in the local shops. I don’t really eat at the local restaurants as I am vegetarian and they use belachan (which has seafood in) even when they cook vegetables. I am also not 100% confident of hygiene in places located so near what appear to be open sewage channels!

I went down to the beach on several occasions to shoot, as I was walking, and took images of people there, or representations that there was someone there, and have included an image with the buffaloes as they also make up the local beach community where I am.

During the project I thought again about communities I am part of, and realised that to an extent I am part of the school communities here, and online communities as well as a community of runners. I did think through all of these options, but due to time constraints decided to go with my original plan. Also, there are issues with schools as I work there and my company restricts getting and using images of children, who I feel make up such a significant part of what I do that I could not document the community without them.

The first edit is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/125594361@N06/sets/

Other practitioners who I looked at before doing this assignment were Martin Parr, Valerie Jardin, Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Meier, Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. More notes and links to follow.

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