Category Archives: Project 2 – Typologies

Jason Evans “Strictly”

This series provides an opportunity for me to sort out some of my thoughts on identity, following listening and reading a couple of OU OpenLearn courses, namely Understanding Identity and Identity in Question.

The courses posit that our identities are partly formed from the inside (how we perceive ourselves) and partly from the outside (how society sees us). Much of each of these is unconscious and we have little control over it, but a portion (they mention 10%) is something we are aware of and have agency over. Identity is about both belonging and differentiation, and we show both through actions and symbols which have meaning to others. Think of teen groups, such as punks and emos as examples.

How we prioritise the elements of our identity depends on the situation (place) we inhabit at any one time, and also where we are in our lives. Two personal examples are shown below, where I have listed some of the more important elements of my own identity in that time and place, in order of their priority at the time.

Some of these elements of identity are externally applied, such as manager, or woman, but others, which may be more important on a personal level, are internal parts of that identity (pregnant, in a relationship).

When applied to Jason Evans’ work Strictly, which was published in the journal I-D in 1991, things get very complicated. Evans was working at the time as a fashion photographer with Simon Foxton and took the typological series for a fashion magazine. The subject is black urban dandies, which is a very particular niche identity, where symbols (eclectic and daring clothing ensembles) are used to express a particular sense of style. I have no idea as to Evans’ ethnicity, but whether or not he is black, it seems highly likely that he has appropriated black dandyism as a means of fashion advertising. The images mix fashion photography with documentary photography in a topological style which has a (false) air of authenticity. Here, we have advertising using identity to both create and sell a certain style, which will apparently make one part of an exclusive group. A great marketing ploy. Fashion, big business and marketing are intrinsically linked in a way that makes people feel both individual and part of a group at the same time.

References

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/evans-foxton-no-title-p11786/text-summary

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/people-politics-law/politics-policy-people/sociology/understanding-identity

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=7152&printable=1

 

 

 

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Portraiture typology

I have not achieved very much coursework over the last few weeks, and this is largely down to my inability to face up to asking people (both strangers and friends/family) if I can photograph them in a formal typological way. While I am very drawn to the idea of typologies and thoroughly enjoy looking at them, I seem to find it hard to do myself. I’d very much prefer to do a typological study of some sort of animal or inanimate object, or some street photography where people are unaware of me..

However, this morning, I faced up to the issue and popped round to the local allotments. The plan was to a) check up on my own allotment (the hook to get me there) and b) engage some other allotmenteers in conversation, before asking to take their photos. In the event, it all worked out quite well and I had an enjoyable morning chatting to various people who I had never met before, before asking them if I could take their picture.The images are shown below.

Right from the beginning there was going to be a problem, as it was a very sunny day, and even at 10am, I knew contrast would be a issue. It was. However, I did my best in the circumstances. There were also a number of other considerations, which I realised after the event, but which I will have to bear in mind on any other similar shoot.

  1. I realise that the subjects are shown in different parts of the frame, and that for a typological study, they should all be in roughly the same position. All of the images have been cropped to some extent, so it will be worth going back and trying to get them all to line up, at a similar size within the frame.
  2. I am happy that each is shown in their own allotment, which provides the thread that holds the series together, while showing the individual personalities through their surroundings.
  3. Foolishly, I forgot to ask during our conversations, what the names of the subjects are, and only know that No 1 is called Molly and is a member of the Gardening Society. I have learned quite a bit about each of the subjects, who have all been trying to keep their patch of land under control while dealing with various family crises, and they all said they loved coming there as it was a little haven from their caring responsibilities.
  4. I learned that people are often willing to have their photo taken if one engages them in conversation first, and they are talking about something they love.
  5. For something like this, one often does not have a great deal of control over what is in the image, particularly if, like me, one is trying to be quick in order to keep the subject’s attention. I only took two shots for each subject, and I see now that one could do more with the composition to improve the setting, such as arranging the shot to exclude fence posts, cars, etc.

With these thoughts in mind, I re-edited the images to make them as similar as possible, and these are shown below.

I had been putting off this exercise because of my disinclination to engage strangers in conversation, but it was worth doing, both as an interesting way to meet new people, but also from a purely technical point of view. Typological photography is harder than it looks and requires considerable pre-planning if one wants to achieve the correct results.

A plan gone wrong, enjoyably

On Saturday, I set off to Gloucester in search of artists for my typologies exercise, in the company of fellow student, Anne. Gloucester was having an arts festival as part of the Art In The City initiative, and it included a painting competition, where people were asked to complete a painting in a single day, ready for hanging at 6pm. All over the city, artists were dotted around working away at their entries and I hoped that some of them might allow me to make a portrait of them.

The plan went awry even before I set off from home. Before I left, I was reading some fellow students’ blogs and came across a post by L., who posted about what her own tutor had said about her typology exercise. She was told all the subjects had to be standing in the same way with similar backgrounds. That wasn’t going to work for me as the artists were spread across the whole city.

As it turned out, this was a day that begged for street photography. There was so much going on, and a wealth of interesting characters on show. I took lots of photographs of artists at work, but could not summon up the courage to ask any of them to pose for a typological portrait. Odd that I struggle with this in the UK, while being perfectly happy to do so when travelling abroad.

Here are a selection of my images of artists at work.

August Sander and typologies

Typology

In photographic terms, typology refers to the grouping together of images on a particular theme, which could be anything from water towers, facial types and signposts, through to ideas, trees and indeed anything else that a photographer feels the desire to collect. Most of us have objects that we feel the need to document whenever we see them, and my own are windows, doors and abandoned farm machinery. I cannot pass an interesting example of any of these without taking a picture. It is impossible to say why I do this, but it must appeal to the inner collector within us.

Below is a very small sample from my windows collection as an example.

 

I have already considered the background surrounding typology in a previous post and so will move directly on to Sander and his version of the genre. However, it is worth mentioning some of the photographers who I have come across lately who work in this field, including Ed Rushka, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Gillian Wearing. Most recently, I saw a fascinating photographic installation at the Strange and Familiar exhibition at the Barbican, produced by Hans Eijkelboom, which looked at fashion typologies, Taking the idea to its logical conclusion, the Polish photographer Zofia Rydet, who died in 1995 tasked herself (inevitably unsuccessfully) with the enormous project of photographing every house in Poland.

Sander’s most famous series, People of the 20th Century was a set that he hoped would create a visual record of the elements of German society between the wars, ranging from manual workers through to the elite. One can argue at length about how successful or not he was in this venture, but the images themselves are interesting from a technical point of view, and we are asked to consider their similarities.

The subject(s) tend to be looking straight at the camera, in a serious and unsmiling way. They are carefully posed and many show elements of their work-life in the background, although often blurred out. In images where there are no background cues, the subject is often carrying something that tells the viewer his (mostly) job. The images are often beautiful, with a clear sense of the subject’s personality shining through the blandness of their expressions.

Sadly, most of Sander’s work was destroyed, either by the Nazis or in a devastating fire, but we are still able to see over 10,000 of his images, and he was clearly a prodigious worker. I have include a few of his People of the 20th Century images below, as examples.

Interestingly, to modern eyes it is often difficult to make any sensible guesses about some of the people’s professions as even the lowliest worker would often wear a suit.

References

http://blog.redbubble.com/2012/04/photographic-typologies-the-study-of-types/

http://infinitedictionary.com/blog/2015/10/21/photographic-typologies/

Ang, T. (2014) Photography: the definitive visual history. Dorling Kindersley. pp.152-3.

Background as context

We are  asked to make a portrait of someone we know, making sure that the background says something about who they are. We should be very particular about posing the subject and what we include in the photograph. I decided to make an image of my partner in our study (we share), and hope that it will be clear what is his field of work. He is shown working on his iPad, with his phone on the table beside him. This pose is entirely natural and on most days he can be found in exactly the same position at some point. _1480833-Edit-Edit It was an interesting exercise for a number of reasons, which I have bullet-pointed below.

  • background in/out of focus? In, because the titles of the books are informative
  • Framing? How close to crop in order to keep unnecessary items out of sight.
  • What to include by way of props? The iPad and phone were a no-brainer here.
  • Angle of shoot? I decided to go for a 3/4 pose. The reasons for this include the available light from windows and rooflights as I used only natural light, and to indicate a casual, unaware pose. In reality, the subject was very aware of what I was doing and I had told him where and how to sit while I tested different camera angles. The background shelves and cupboards were a bit of a problem because the shot  was not straight on, which meant that distortion of the lines was somewhat difficult to correct.

Overall, I am happy that this is an honest and informative image of a person I know well.

Barthes on travel guides

Roland Barthes article The Blue Guide unpicks the thinking behind Hachette’s travel guide of Europe in a way which made me rethink some of my own attitudes to travel and photography. He argues that only the picturesque is included, with an obsession with mountains and rivers, which he attributes to the 19th century ‘cult of nature’ and puritan emphasis on physical effort.

Climb every mountain; ford every stream. Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream. (From The Sound of Music)

Alongside this, he muses on the emphasis on monuments, particularly grand buildings, churches and other religious symbols. Until one has ticked off various (largely Christian) religious buildings on a visit, one cannot say that you have “seen” it. Conversely, people are mentioned only briefly, and generally as stereotypes.(the Basque fisherman, the Scottish highlander, etc.). Barthes attributes this to authors trying to capture the “essence” of a place in as few words as possible  Also, there is often an underlying cultural narrative which promotes a particular view of historical events, which may not be objectively correct.

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The net effect of all this is to make the people who inhabit the places, both historic and modern, a mere afterthought to the buildings and scenery, and as such Barthes argues that the Blue Guide becomes an agent for blindness, leading visitors on a tour only  of the bourgeois history of Europe, and ignoring any other narrative. Current thinking argues that we should attempt to reintegrate the histories of women, and minority groups into this historiography in order to get a more rounded understanding of a place’s history.

This article was epiphanic for me. I’ve been wondering for years about why particular locations are seen as so iconic when visiting a new place, and why people feel they need to collect images of them as souvenirs, so they can tick them off a list of experiences. The media is full of articles such as 1o places to visit before you die, which feed this hunger  and encourages people to travel.. By going along with this narrative, one misses out on learning about the location’s people and their lives, which are, after all, the heart and soul of the place.

References

Barthes, R (1972) ‘The Blue Guide’. In Mythologies. Available online at: https://monoskop.org/images/8/85/Barthes_Roland_Mythologies_EN_1972.pdf (Accessed on 11 July 2016)