Monday, 28 October 2013

Assignment Four - Critical Review - Essay and Feedback

As promised here is my essay, I don't mind if people read it now I have had my feedback which was positive. If anyone pinches it then they are only cheating themselves, as only you know what you really think/feel about a certain topic and by actually doing the research discover if you feel the same way about it after and also get to understand the topic itself a little more.


Thanks for submitting your ‘Critical Review’ Jan, which I thought offered an interesting debate from start to finish, including some great quotes and references in support of your argument.

In depth feedback on quotes/points and other areas of expertise included:-

Made - An interesting title - many would argue 'made' - especially the likes of Cartier-Bresson etc

JS Quote -  Excellent quote to start with !

JS quote -  An accurate observation - even many landscape photographers of the time, had a selection of 'sky's' that could easily be double-exposed over a dull / plain backdrop etc.

Have a look also at the comments Paul Delaroche (French portrait painter) made on first sight of a Daguerreotype in 1839 ... 'From this day, painting is dead!'  He was of course wrong, but the levels certainly shifted, as they tend to always do with the introduction of new technology.

This is really useful in terms of setting your stall out at the beginning of the text.

Have you already read Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay - 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction'   It is work looking at.

This is a good example - This show was excellent from that respect ... the scale was incredible, but also the use of additional media really demonstrated Klein's understanding of graphic representation.

Excellent reference - 'Within an archive, meaning exists in a state that is both residual and potential'

Have a look at Charles Merewether also - He states 'the archive functions as the means by which historical knowledge and forms of remembrance are accumulated, stored and recovered.'

Agreed look at the work of Joachim Schmid - Very Miscellaneous.  This is also interesting when considered in relation to the fact more images were taken in 2012 than in the history of photography since 1837 !

I'm not sure about this, single images of conflict for example still hold power.  Look at the shot of Kim Phuc taken by Nick Ut in Vietnam in 1972 - This event was also filmed, but the footage doesn't hold anywhere near as much power as the single frame.

and in general comments...

I think you have responded very well to feedback offered to date Jan and have noticed your blog reflects much of this advice now – which is excellent to see.

So onto my essay

Photography – Made or Taken?- (is the single photograph dead?)

“The history of photography has been less a journey than a growth” 
– John Szarkowski
A Critical Review
by Jan Fairburn

Photography - Made or Taken? – (is the single photograph dead?)

Photography has been through many incarnations, from the first Daguerreotype, Henry Fox Talbot’s Calotype, the Kodak Brownie to eventually today’s digital camera. Not only has the technology changed but also the way photography is perceived, especially as it begins to incorporate mixed media and find new ways to disseminate. John Szarkowski in the introduction to The Photographers Eye comments on the difference between paintings and art being a basic one: paintings were made but photographs were taken (2003).  On the topic of detail he suggests a photographer shows only a fragment of a scene, but with the frame being extended by video footage, sound clips, drawings and physical objects is this fragmentation being lessened? With the current trend for contemporary photographers to create installation pieces, employ digital manipulation, borrow imagery and use mixed media to create their work, this argument possibly no longer stands. More and more we are questioning, what is photography? This essay sets out to examine some of the issues surrounding the use of mixed media – are photographs made or taken, is the single photograph dead?

Controversy has always surrounded photography with regards to reality and truth; Szarkowski believed photographers “learned that photography dealt with the actual” (2003, p. 99). Yet manipulation and additions were being carried out as early as the mid 1800’s with two distinct camps arising; those who felt that images should be left untouched and those who preferred to add an artistic flourish and hand tint photographs (Farkas & Raleigh, 2013). Then there were surrealists such as Man Ray, Hans Bellmer and Maurice Tabard who used processes such as double exposure, combination printing, montage, solarization and techniques such as rotation or distortion to create ethereal imagery (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). Therefore, it could be argued that photographers from the outset were experimenting with reality and exploring beyond that which filled the view-finder. The photograph Two Ways of Life (1857) by Oscar Rejlander is described as a combination print which was assembled from thirty individual negatives printed onto one large piece of paper (National Media Museum, 2012).  Much later John Baldessari, (b1931) described as a conceptual artist rather than photographer, developed his style to incorporate letters, words and photographs in his works.  In the early 1970’s he was working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography (Roark, 2013).

Farkas & Raleigh acknowledged several exhibitions in America where a group of artists could be identified as “photo mixed media artists”: “Persistence of Vision” at the George Eastman House (Rochester NY) in 1967, “Photography into Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art (New York City, NY) in 1970 and “Photo-media” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (New York City NY) in 1971-1972. They separated the works into three distinct categories, machine reproductions, soft packaged and assemblages (2013, p. 129). They cited several artists who met these criterions, notably photographer Ken Josephson, a pioneering conceptual photographer who experimented with illusion to explore and question his chosen medium of photography - known as a printmaker; he has diversified as a street photographer, professor of photography and filmmaker (Gerstheimer, 2013). His piece Anissa a child’s dress, 1978 is an assemblage (a child’s dress on a small hanger, with a framed cropped image of a little girl wearing the same dress displayed prominently on the front) which provides a physical, personal link to the subject. It gives the audience an accurate impression of perspective, colour and “the thing itself” (Szarkowski, 2003, p. 99).

Unlike René Magritte's The Treachery of Images, 1928-29 "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" which only represents the image of a pipe, the implementation of mixed media assemblage means that a single piece or whole body of work, no longer has to be a merely an illusion, it becomes three dimensional and can better express a given narrative. Most recently the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, “an international award in contemporary photography, awarded to a contemporary photographer making a significant contribution, either by exhibition or publication – to the medium of photography in Europe,” (Deutsche Börse Group, n.d.)  has recognised photographers who employ mixed media, explore beyond the frame and push the boundaries of what is traditionally accepted as photography.

Photography and creativity go hand in hand, from the initial decision of subject matter, the process of taking the image, the choices of post-production to means of display, whether that be in a frame, album or public exhibition. Marcel Duchamp acknowledged the importance of the audience in conveying the meaning of a piece of work, he stated:

“…the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.” 
(Duchamp 1957, Cited in Brain Pickings, n.d.)

So therefore it can be considered that the audience helps to make an image, and possibly more pertinent to the topic of borrowed pictures, appropriation can restore forgotten artists.

Contemporary bodies of work are combining new images with old , constructing elaborate displays and discovering new outlets for photography; specifically exploring the new age of digital/electronic reproducibility. These bodies of work open old debates about are photographs taken or made, is it photography or art? By visiting exhibitions, examining the work and methods of delivery the opportunity is there to decide if photography is taken, made or if the distinction matters.

At his retrospective at London’s Tate Modern (November 2012 – January 2013) William Klein had on display several reworked older images. Reworked in ways that are best described as artfully vandalised; mural sized prints of contact sheets, altered by the liberal application of enamel paint, using wide brush strokes in bold, mainly primary colours. The original photographs were taken, the second made. The meaning of the original print is still there beneath the paint but the creation of a new art object makes the image polysemous. The audience may see it as a tribute to film photography and contact sheets yet Klein explains that for him it was a celebration of the physicality of taking the photograph (Klein, 2012).

Jim Goldberg, 2011 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize winner, was nominated for his exhibition Open See at The Photographers’ Gallery, London (16 October 2009 – 31 January 2010). Using Polaroids, video, text and ephemera Goldberg took four years detailing the experiences of refugee, immigrant and trafficked populations. Feeling that their perceptions were not being observed and considered (Goldberg, 2011) he allowed them to speak for themselves, writing on the images to express themselves and tell their stories, explaining that the photographs were proof of meeting his subjects, of their lives and worth. The exhibition also included video footage and a free poster which itemized various objects, such as food, lost wallets and official documentation. This helped provide a much fuller picture than one fragmented, still image. Once more this particular body of work can be both described as taken and made. The Open See project has been printed in book form and supporting the electronic age of communication is partially available online.

When discussing archives Allan Sekula wrote about the meaning of pictures being “up for grabs…(and) new interpretations are promised” (2011, p. 444).  John Stezaker, nominee and winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012, for his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (29 January – 18 March 2011) espoused a novel approach to found images, with the original uses definitely avoided and invisible (Sekula, 2011). Entertainingly, sometimes creepily, combining appropriated images he confesses to being a vandal and a thief and likens himself to a foster parent to these adopted images, but one who inflicts abuse due to the slicing and cutting he employs to create his work (Stezaker, 2011).

“Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging” (Sontag, 1977, p. 4). Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin winners of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2013 certainly seem to have taken this to heart when they packaged or rather completely repackaged Bertolt Brecht’s War Primer. Their inspiration was not only taken from Brecht’s book and his lesson on the semiology of war photography, hence the titles War Primer and War Primer 2, but also the Brecht quote “Don’t start with the good old things but the bad new ones.” This is prominently displayed on the front page of War Primer 2 (Broomberg & Chanarin, 2011) Taking bad or poor news images from the internet Broomberg and Chanarin parallel his actions of taking newspaper clippings on the subject of conflict. Originally published in 1955 Broomberg and Chanarin obtained 100 copies of a 1998 edition (Libris London) on which they based their own limited edition book War Primer 2. The simple explanation of how this body of work was created belies the controversy and debate that then arose with regards to their contribution to photography, the use of appropriated images and the distribution/availability of the book. Firstly they obtained the copies; secondly they downloaded a large selection of low- resolution photographs from the Internet dealing with the War on Terror. Next they whittled down the selection to eighty-five images which complemented Brecht’s eighty-five clippings and poetry, and then eight thousand five hundred screen prints were generated. War Primer 2 was then produced with the help of unpaid interns applying the resized silkscreen and offset prints (pasted by hand) into the one hundred copies of War Primer (Evans, 2013).

Once produced the pair picked up and ran with the educational idea. When displayed at the Photographers Gallery for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition their creativity shone through. A series of vitrines, the proportions of a small school desk were set out in orderly rows facing in one direction. In each desk a copy of War Primer 2 was open to a different page with information for these images projected onto a blank wall, suggesting the Smart Boards used in educational establishments today. Embracing a multiplicity of channels of communication they explored various means to disseminate their work; War Primer 2 is a limited edition book, an exhibition and is also available as a free download to mobile devices via an application.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all these means of communication; an eBook can reach a much wider non-specialised audience, a book has the physicality that a mobile device lacks, whilst the book is limited to the message on the page. However in this instance the book has the scope to spread beyond the frame, become an installation piece and press home the play on words of the book being a primer and the educational set up of the exhibition. With such a range of distribution Broomberg and Chanarin have rehabilitated/introduced Brecht to more spectators, who when adding their creative act, can be in no doubt that as a body of work and installation piece War Primer 2 has been both taken and made.

Despite the discomfort of some with regards to the use of borrowed images, which is a well-established technique in terms of fine art, and the almost complete appropriation of Brecht’s book, this is an extremely clever body of work which tells its narrative well, sets new boundaries for the displaying of photography and has opened a healthy debate on the direction that some areas of contemporary photography are headed.

Marcel Duchamp, interviewed by Joan Bakewell, voiced an opinion that the word art should be done away with, that society created artificial distinctions. (Duchamp 1966, The Late Show Line Up)  Maybe this should be the way forward, concentrating on the narrative rather than the method of creation or delivery. Barthes (1968) believed the author was dead but so too may be the single photograph; more and more it is becoming apparent that the single image no longer has the potency that it did, multidimensional bodies of work are coming to the fore, experimenting with mixed and multi-media. The arguments about radical photography have raged from its beginning and will no doubt continue to do so. Does it matter if photographs are taken or made? It would appear they are both. The narrative, the multi-layered view of life is what is important rather than the distinction.


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*update feedback Here
*update reworked essay to be in assessment folder but can be viewed on my external website Here

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