Category Archives: Research & Reflection

Some experiments in homage to Albarran Cabrera

Let’s not beat about the bush here. I love the work of Spanish duo Albarran Cabrera, and in particular the way it combines unusual media, a laser sharp focus on the Moment, the Japanese influences and the way they have taught themselves photography by reading (a lot) and just trying things out. There’s a very helpful video on their website about how they work, as well as an excellent article explaining the theory behind several of their recent series here.

I’ve written briefly before about their series Kairos, in which they use gold leaf to produce a visual divide between one moment and the next, using the Japanese idea of kintsukuroi (see below).

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A subsequent series, which is currently being shown on Instagram is called The Mouth of Krishna, and references the same idea that David Campany’s recent exhibition A Handful of Dust does, i.e. that everything is ultimately made of he same stardust. It is how we choose to see it that matters.

In any part of the universe there is a whole universe – Hamlet saw infinite space in a nutshell; William Blake saw a world in a grain of sand, a heaven in a wild flower, and eternity in an hour.
— Albarrán Cabrera

Most of the newer series are silver and platinum prints, some of which are toned with tea, but there are a few that are made with a different process, one they describe as Pigment print over gold leaf on Japanese paper.  An example can be seen here, but there are also a regular supply of new ones on their Instagram feed at https://www.instagram.com/albarrancabrera/. These are gorgeous, and I wanted to have a go at trying to replicate the technique on a domestic basis. I don’t know how they produce their pieces on a large scale, but I can certainly do so on a very small scale, as I happen to have both gold leaf and Japanese washi paper in my supplies cupboard.

First up was an attempt to add a gold leaf join to a torn print (using an old regular print that I don’t need any more). I found this extremely tricky and messy to do, and feel there must be an easier method than dabbing gold leaf onto glue, but the results have promise.

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Then I tried the idea of making a black and white print on very thin washi paper  (Awagami – Murakomo Kozo Select) and then applying gold leaf to the back.  First result was messy – too much glue, although I really like the almost painterly feeling that it shows in close-up.

A second attempt was more successful, although I will have to make sure that I keep bits of pesky leaf off the front of the photo. I like the fact that one can just see the gold leaf peeping out from the edges on this one.

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And finally, I tried it with a colour image. Albarran Cabrera mostly use yellows and reds as their colour palette, but my first attempt used greens, and was possibly too dark. (I have attached the original standard print alongside for comparison.

So, where do we go from here? I intend to use this technique for my next exercise , which is about illustrating five separate words. Just need to choose the words now! And I am also going to try it out with aluminium foil as the backing.

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A possible collaboration opportunity

A couple of days ago, I visited an Open Studio showcasing the work of Hannah Dosanjh. Hannah is a Naïve painter who originally qualified as an Illustrator and I really enjoyed the visit for two reasons. Firstly, her work is very good, but what particularly attracts me to it are the little descriptions she attached to each one, which indicate her thoughts about why she made the picture and whimsical details about her life. See below for an example. They seem very much in alignment with the work I am currently doing on linking images and text. Secondly, Hannah lives and works in my village and her images are about everyday life here – the cake competition, the pub, etc. and I see that they complement some of my own work on village life. A few are shown below, as Hannah kindly asked me to photograph them for her to put on Facebook.

As it happened, when I turned up, another person I know was there, Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn. Talis is a musician and composer (our village is full of talent) and all three of us are Parish Councillors! It struck me that we could do some work together, and I have just the right opportunity for a group show coming up. Our local library will be shutting for six months from December and will re-open in July (long story about the Borough Council refusing to pay for our library service any more, and it being taken over by a library trust, of which I am a member), with an opening ceremony and party. The perfect event for a group exhibition and concert featuring local people who produce work on the local environment. I am looking forward to making this happen. If it comes off, it will also be an opportunity for me to learn how to put on an exhibition, and about curation, as we will almost certainly have more people anting to show work than space available, so some boundaries will need to be put round what is accepted.

Photo Oxford 2017 symposium

Yesterday, I attended this symposium at the Weston Library in Oxford. It was the opening event for this year’s Photo Oxford festival. I am planning to go back to see the individual exhibitions, so this post consist of more general thoughts on the symposium.

I attended the first festival three years ago, and wrote extensively but very naively about it in my TAOP blog. As a very recent starter on the degree course, most of the ideas discussed went straight over my head, and I really must go back and take another look at my notes to see whether I missed a great deal of the discussed ideas. That festival was quite large, with a programme of talks and lectures over several days and a large number of exhibitions. At the time, I thought that the speaking events were poorly attended, despite the high level speakers, and this obviously had an effect on what was possible for this, the second festival. In the opening remarks, the guest curators, Tim Clarke (Director and Editor-in-Chief at 1000 words, an online photography magazine), and Greg Hobson (lately Curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford and currently a freelance photography curator) explained that their original plan had been for a much larger event, but that funding had been difficult to achieve, and they had had to scale down the festival considerably to match the resources.

They gave a list of other photographers’ work that they would have liked to have included:

  • Laia Abril’s series On Abortion,
  • Joachim Schmid’s X Marks the Spot (about people who have their photo taken at the spot where JFK was assassinated)
  • Coralie Vogelaar’s Recognised/Not Recognised (which uses image recognition software to look at what makes some images go viral, and others not.
  • Peter Mann’s Amanda Knox: Innocent and Guilty (which considers how one story can be represented from two different viewpoints, using media photos)
  • Poulomi Basu’s work on ISIS mothers – those whose children have left Europe to fight for ISIS

They had also intended to produce a group exhibition, which would have included the following works:

What unites all of the above work is the concept Reveal/Conceal, and how photography links reality and perception in a way which can be played with, to make new meaning out of found and appropriated images and items. I will be discussing this concept in more detail in future posts, as there are moral and ethical considerations in this area of photographic work which are contentious and which require some consideration.

The curators described their festival as searching for some of history’s footnotes and based their concept on this quote by Dieter Roelstraete:

…art is, or at least can be, many things at many different points in time and space. Throughout its history—which is either long or short, depending on the definition agreed upon—it has assumed many different roles and been called upon to defend an equal number of different causes. Or, alternately—and this has turned out to be a much more appealing and rewarding tactic for most of the past century—it has been called upon to attack, question, and criticize any number of states of affairs. In the messianic sense of a “calling” or κλησις—a call to either change or preserve, for those are the only real options open to the messianic—we might locate both the roots of art’s historical contribution to the hallowed tradition of critique and the practice of critical thought, as well as its share in the business of shaping the future—preferably (and presumably) a different future from the one that we knowingly envision from the vantage point of “today.” (Roelstraete, 2009)

References

Roelstraete, D. (2009). The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art – Journal #4 March 2009 – e-flux. [online] E-flux.com. Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/04/68582/the-way-of-the-shovel-on-the-archeological-imaginary-in-art/ [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

 

Thomas Kellner – Fractured Architecture

Yesterday I met Kate 513284 at Lacock Abbey, for a catch up and to see Thomas Kellner’s exhibition called Fractured Architecture, Cubist Photographs, which is currently showing in the upstairs gallery. There is a short video here explaining his technique, but from a practical point of view, he re-images of well-known buildings by taking a series of images of the parts and putting them together. He does this by glueing his analogue negatives together to form a physical sequence, which he then make prints from. The whole process is initially like looking at the buildings through the reflection of a series of windows, but then you start to look closer and discover that the negatives are actually sequential, and so Kellner knew exactly the effect he wanted before he took a single shot.

At first glance, the images seem to fit into the genre of Cubist Decontstructivism, but Kellner has coined the phrase Radical Constructivism to describe his work, and he uses an artistic method he calls “visual analytical synthesis”. His aim is to take well-known viewpoints and reproduce them in a non-linear way – the way the eye flits around a view – rather than the basic two-dimensional view we are used to.

High res copies of most of the images we saw are shown in this Lenscratch article (2017) and a little more explanation of his technique is discussed here.

FL: You mention on your website that your work is all about playing with your viewers’ perceptions of what is real, landmarks that they consider to be constant and unchanging. Why is it that you think this is such an important message to spread?
“Kellner’s contact sheets give bodily form to our scattered, animated and animating act of viewing. In doing so, they reclaim the individual’s central position to the formation of image and building alike.” Pappas, Allison, MFA Houston in: Houston, we’ve had a problem! (The Hippo Collective, 2014)

One has to admire the precision and forethought that Killner uses to produce his work. It is startling and one inevitably gets drawn into thinking about how he made it. He says that initially he began nwith the idea of using a single 36 frame roll of film for each image, but that this has expanded now and he often uses two. For my own part, the image I liked best was one where he did not use the constraint of the rectangular format, but something a little looser in contruction.  IMG_3948v2

His work has echoes of that of Seung Hoon Park, David Hockney and Sarah Sense, both of whom I have reviewed before in Context & Narrative, but the techniques of deconstruction and reconstruction are all completely different. There’s plenty to think about in relation to my own work.

References

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village/features/fractured-architecture-cubist-photographs-by-thomas-kellner

http://lenscratch.com/2017/03/thomas-kellner/

http://www.mutantspace.com/thomas-kellner-photos-deconstructed-montages-iconic-structures/

https://www.thehippocollective.com/2014/10/20/thomas-kellner-interview/

https://susanspiritusgallery.com/artist/seung-hoon-park/

http://www.sarahsense.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=91121&AKey=L6DFM793

 

 

 

The male art nude – a workshop

WARNING: This post contains nudity

and is NSFW.

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Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the male art nude. It was led by Jo Suthurst, who is an MFA student at the University of Falmouth, and the workshop was part of her degree course. Jo is interested in the human body, and the parts that are usually hidden, particularly in people who do not conform to the current norm of beauty, and her blog is here. The timing of the workshop fitted in perfectly with some research I am currently doing on the male and female gaze (more of which I will address in a separate post).

I had two aims in mind for my own participation in the workshop. The first was to practise studio lighting, at which I am still an absolute beginner, and the second was to question the idea of the Female Gaze and how it might affect a photography shoot where the subject was a naked male.

Firstly, I will explain the practicalities of the day. It was held at a small studio near Cricklade, with which I have become familiar as a result of a Facebook group for local female photographers. We meet monthly to try out different concepts in a non-threatening environment and to share our collective experience. The attendees range from near beginners to commercial photographers, so there are plenty of different ideas to discuss. They have started to do regular workshops recently, and I signed up for this, as well as an Creative one at the end of the month, as I find studio work intriguing.

Jo explained the etiquette of nude photo shoots and referred us to some literature on poses for men, and also the model release form, which I have posted about here before our model, Clint, turned up. We were two students, Jo, and two other ladies, one of whom was the studio owner and the other a female model whom I had already met. The latter two were around, but did not take part in our activities. We started with a range of slighting situations for upper body nudity, and as the day progressed and we all felt more comfortable with the situation, moved on to full nudity.

I have never been to a female nude shoot before either, and have nothing to compare the experience with, so I asked Clint and Gemma (the female model, who does nude work, but was not involved in this day) how our approach differed from a shoot where the photographers were mostly men. Clint’s response was that an all female group was less threatened by his nudity and that there was a lot more conversation than would have been the case with male photographers. He is very experienced in nude shoots and was entirely comfortable without any clothing, so very soon his nudity became irrelevant from a social point of view and an outsider would have been startled to see three middle-aged women and an overtly naked man all huddled up together looking at a camera screen to see if a shot had work and discussing what might be improved.

Clint has done a lot of modelling for top shelf female magazines, and  his natural range of poses tended to reflect that. We also tried various ideas from David Leddick’s The Male Nude (2015), which includes an extensive series of images right through the history of the genre. The great majority of these fell into the category of “tasteful”, rather than “explicit” but Clint told us that he has been asked to pose for everything right up to extreme porn. This was well outside our remit for the day though, thankfully. Below are three images which give a flavour of our day. I won’t post any more for now, as I am planning to use them later in Part 4.

 

So, where does a day like this sit in the gap between the Male and Female Gaze? And what did I get out of it?

Laura Mulvey (1999), who coined the term The Male Gaze in 1975 to convey how through many centuries our viewpoint on practically everything has been that of the white heterosexual male. It is tripartite, and consists of a) the director, b) the actor’s performance and c) the viewer, all of whom are traditionally assumed to be male. (I am writing another post on this subject too, so won’t go into a great amount of detail here.) In this scenario, women are considered as the Object – largely silent, and something for the male to view and/or own, as John Berger said in Ways of Seeing.

One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, 1972)

Berger talked about The Gaze, but his gaze was the Male Gaze, and amazingly, he seemed to think that it was women who put themselves in the position of being objectified.

The response to this came with Jill Soloway’s lecture on the Female Gaze in 2016 (see my other post on this for details) where she asks society to move away from the male way of looking at the world, towards something more inclusive of many minority groups. This she characterises as the Female Gaze, which she argues consists of  a) a feeling-seeing on the part of the director, b) the actor is fully aware of being seen and can choose to agree to it, i.e. having a sense of agency in the transaction and c) returning the Gaze, as in I see you looking at me and I don’t want to be an object any longer.

Along the way towards this, feminists and sympathetic men made several less than successful attempts to subvert the Male Gaze, through notions like the Female Combatant, in which the female heroine plays what is essentially a faux-male role, including leadership, violence and super-strength, and the Objectified Male, in which the Male Gaze is twisted back on itself, with women supposedly looking at men as men have looked at women.

This workshop might potentially fit into this last category, but I would argue that it does not. Taking each of Soloway’s elements in turn, Clint said that he could tell from an image of himself whether it was taken by a straight man, a gay man or a women, as those taken by the latter two categories have a different feeling about them. The great majority are not what we would consider objectifying, but are using his body to express other ideas and/or feelings. He was aware of what we were doing and why, and I don’t think there was any question of him not having agency in the process. He was as fully involved in the making of the art as we, the photographers were. (It’s interesting to contrast this process with that of life drawing, as a quick diversion. In life drawing the model is simply there to be looked at, while in the photographic process we undertook, our model was an active participant with opinions and personal rights.) In some of the images I took, Clint has chosen to present himself as an object of desire, but that was his choice and wasn’t requested by me, and I am not intending to use those images as they do not convey the messages I want to examine.

Overall, it was a fascinating and very creative day, and I must thank Jo again for her teaching and knowledge on the subject of the nude. Finally, you might like to know Jo’s thoughts on the subject of Clint’s tattoos, which are something I have made no reference to in my own post, as for me, they were just something that was part of who he was. Jo puts a more considered academic viewpoint to the subject. From my own aesthetic point of view, the images I like best are the minimalist ones I took with rim lighting, like the top one, although the masked images are also interesting. (Jo does a lot of work with masks, and it is something I too have looked at before. She has access to a much wider range than me though).

Edited to add:

Following discussion on the comments thread below about the importance of the model’s tattoos and whether the work really does have a non-traditional viewpoint , I’ve now started to stitch Chines symbols for female words onto the photos, in the style of tattoos. I think this has some potential for assignment 4. Here’s an example below.

References

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Leddick, D. (2015) The Male Nude. TASCHEN GmbH

Mulvey, Laura.(1999) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44. [online] At: http://www.composingdigitalmedia.org/f15_mca/mca_reads/mulvey.pdf (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Soloway, J. (2016) Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze | MASTER CLASS | TIFF 2016. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnBvppooD9I (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

Suthurst, Jo. (2017) Surfaces and Strategies – Shoot Mod3#7 – Male Art Nude – “Clint” At: https://josutherstphotography.blog/2017/06/08/surfaces-and-strategies-shoot-mod37-male-art-nude-clint/ (Accessed on 13 August 2017)

On the subject of model release forms

Today I attended an art nude studio day, more about which I will got into in a different post. However, the subject of model release forms came up and how they are necessary for this type of work. First of all I went to the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) website, to see what they say about it.

Bath, 18 May 2015 – With increased public concerns over privacy and the need for photographers to protect themselves and the people they photograph The Royal Photographic Society has produced a generic model release form which it has made freely available for all photographers to download here: www.rps.org/MRF

The RPS has worked with a top UK law firm to produce a RPS Model Release Form template with supporting notes to give guidance to amateur and professional photographers over how to use it.  A model release forms specifies how pictures can be used and is there to protect both the photographer and his/her subjects. Properly completed a signed form will protect the photographer in the event of any future claim. (RPS, 2015)

The principle behind the model release form (MLF) is that if one is using a photograph for commercial purposes, then there is the possibility that the model may sue for invasion of privacy. You and I might think that because the model has been paid to come along and pose for you, they have given their permission implicitly, but legally they have only agreed to the taking of the photograph at that stage. If you then decide to sell it to a stock library, for example, you need their permission again.

There seem to be three types of circumstance where MRLs are advisable

  • where you plan to sell the image to a stock photo library
  • where you plan to use it for advertising purposes
  • where there is a more diffuse promotional element to it.

The last is the one that applies to this blog, Facebook, Instagram etc. Because my pages are public, and can be viewed by anyone who finds them, I should really be covered by an MRF if I am making staged photos with a paid model.

As a general rule, MRFs are not necessary in the following circumstances:

  • if you will only be using the image for personal use
  • if you are shooting in a public space, and are not planning to use it for commercial purposes, although it is often better to get one signed where any individual is easily identifiable and is the subject of the image.
  • if it for editorial purposes, although this is a grey area again, and one needs to watch out for potential pitfalls. The one most easily accessible for a general photographer is probably the Royal Photographic Society’s one, which is available here: The RPS Model Release Form.

Thinking this through, initially I thought a form might be a bit over the top for many circumstances, but a few situations where one could get into trouble without one are:

  • paparazzi images, where the subject does not know they are being photographed on private land.
  • an image which the subject hates, but which is made publicly available. (This makes me wonder about the legal position of photos on social media where the subject is in a private area, e.g. school and has not given permission for the shot.
  • where an image taken in a public space is used for advertising, and the subject was unaware that it had been taken. We occasionally hear of situations where members of the public find their faces on billboards as part of advertisements, and they knew nothing about it.
  • Finally, one needs to think about those situations, such as the previous case, where potentially the model would have been able to make a commercial gain if they had known about the use of their image.

In the art photography world, an example of where a case has been taken to court is outlined in this article. It refers to Arne Svenson’s series The Neighbours, where he has taken images through the windows of his neighbours’ flats, without them knowing. In all cases, the person is not identifiable, but a lawsuit was made for invasion of privacy. It was an American case, and Svenson won on the grounds that the series of images was protected under the First Amendment, which is about freedom of speech. My own, non-legal opinion would be that in the British legal system he should also have won, as the subjects were unidentifiable even though they were in private spaces. Contrast his work, for example, with a similar series by Sharon Boothroyd, The Glass Between Us  where people are again photographed through their window, but in this case their faces can be seen and Boothroyd has asked each of them to sign a model release form.

References

http://blog.docracy.com/post/35863395427/whats-a-model-release

http://www.rps.org/news/2015/may/rps-launches-model-release-form

http://www.sharonboothroyd.com/index.php?/the-glass-between-us/

When Does Photography Become an Invasion of Privacy? Perhaps Never

http://arnesvenson.com/theneighbors.html

A quick note on sewing and pixels

I came across the following two books in the Whitechapel Gallery bookshop yesterday, which are worth noting.

http://www.javierhirschfeld.com/el-pixel-protector/

Moreno talks about how in the West, children tend to be protected in images to avoid the somewhat unlikely chance of the images being used for child pornography purposes, while this respect is not offered to African children. He therefore takes portraits of African youths and children, mainly in Senegal, and pixelates the faces, as a statement and protest about colonialism. Something to chase up later.

IMG_3857v2I noticed the second not for the subject, but for the cover, which combines two interest of mine, the idea of the red thread and sewing on images (or in this case, a book cover).

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