Tag Archives: Paul Strand

Preparations for assignment 3 shoot (finally)

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I really need to move along with Assignment 3 now, and it is time to put aside some of the other projects I have been exploring in my Personal Reflections. The more I think about the assignment, the more I believe I am over thinking it, and trying to make it too complicated – it really should not be that difficult. I therefore decided to revisit the assignment criteria again, and to me the following are the important aspects that we are asked to consider:-

  • it should feature a community (more than one person)
  • it should tell their story
  • the story should be something we can all relate to
  • I can choose if the community is one with which I am familiar or not.

I have already photographed various people from my village community for this module, and I have decided to continue this by photographing another village event, this time the Carnival, which takes place this Sunday. This post is by way of preparation, so that I can make the most of the day itself. There will only be one chance to do this, so I have to get it right.

I am intrigued by John Berger’s idea of a photograph “cutting across the continuum of time” (1) and how they can function as historical documents for future generations. An excellent example of how this can be achieved is in Martin Parr’s series Unseen Cities (2) which I reviewed here. In it, Parr examines a way of life which has been repeated for hundreds of years but which seems anachronistic to the current generation. He looks both at the behind-the-scenes aspect and the on-show element to give a rounded picture of the ceremonies and people involved in the City of London.

My previous research on David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project (3) series is also relevent to this, as is Paul Strand’s Tir A’Mhurain (4) and Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. from the point of view of my own photographic practice, I prefer the aesthetic of the former two to Goldin’s, and I would like to take the opportunity here to consider Paul Strand’s book in more detail, as I am lucky enough to own a copy.

Strand made it his life’s work to immerse himself into various communities around the world and to make works which have a powerful sense of place as well as the people who lived there. Apart from South Uist, he produced similar works for Egypt, Morocco, France, and Ghana among others. Tir A’Mhurain is a mixture of text and poetry, alongside portraits and landscapes, although it is not entirely clear to me how much of the text was written by Strand and how much by Basil Davidson, who collaborated with him on the book. It was photographed over three months in 1954, and thus the images are black and white, while the aesthetic is realistic. The majority of the portraits are taken as close-ups, although there are some full length ones too of groups and individuals. Strand managed to capture most of them against a fairly plain background, often in a door frame, so that the attention is focused squarely on the person and not their surroundings. The “place” element is supplied by the interweaving images of the countryside and people’s activities within it, mostly farming, fishing and housework. The thing that captures my own attention most is the clothes, which mark the year as being from the past; many of the activities still continue in the Outer Hebrides in much the same way today, so the clothes are what separates the people from now. (In contrast, the clothes in the Martin Parr series are what marks the historical aspect of the ceremonies – in this case they haven’t changed for centuries, and the punctum is that their wearers are seen in very modern situations.)

So, the aim on Sunday will be to achieve a mix of single portraits and street shots, alongside some images which root the village in its past. And for the single portraits I will have to overcome my fear of rejection and ask people directly if I can take their photograph. I will need to take a great many images in order to have sufficient to select a series that not only represents the village, but also my own place in it as an outsider (one isn’t considered a local until one has lived here for several decades) but also an active participant in village life. The issue which I am mulling over now is whether to make the carnival the centrepiece of the series, or to use it as a vehicle to enable me to present a wider range of people than I would normally be able to  on a day by day basis. And as a sideline, I also want to try to produce something with a specific unified colour grading. The idea I will be trying to achieve is a representation of the village as it is today as if it were a future historical document. It may also be that I present it in a book style, to allow for more images to be included.

References

  1. Berger, J.  (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.
  2. BBC (2016) Unseen City: Martin Parr reveals the square mile’s secrets. (online) At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/culture/story/20160301-unseen-city-martin-parr-reveals-the-square-miles-secrets (Accessed on 27 June, 2017)
  3. Tinternvillage.co.uk (n.d.) David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project (online). At:  http://www.tinternvillage.co.uk/history/david-hurns-photographic-project/ (Accessed on 27 June, 2017)
  4. Strand, P.(2002) Tir A’Mhurain. Edinburgh: Berlinn Press.

 

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Study on a historic photographic portrait

Deciding what image to write about has proved tricky for me. I am beset by confusion as to when “historical” photography became contemporary portraiture. There’s a reason for this concern, as early photographic portraiture was very similar to painted portraiture, and when they began to diverge, photographic portraiture went through various styles, a process which continues up to the present. This Wiki article is a good starting point for further research on the evolution of styles.

I therefore decided I had to pick a period or a photographer and discuss the work within the context that was prevalent at the time it was made. The image I have selected is Paul Strand’s Jeune Garçon, Charente, 1951.

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© Paul Strand, 1951

The image depicts a teenage boy, dressed in overalls, with a knitted vest underneath. He is shown head and shoulders, against a background of wooden panelling, maybe a wooden fence or wall. The boy, who is unnamed, stares straight into the camera lens, with an expression which looks  implacable, almost angry and at the same time, somewhat bemused. One can imagine him being annoyed to be asked for his photograph, but grudgingly agreeing. Both his face and his clothes are scrupulously clean and new, which gives the image an air of being a fashion portrait. Indeed, its style has been copied by later fashion photographers, for example Peter Lindbergh’s 1994 portrait of Kate Moss in overalls shown below.

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© Paul Lindbergh, 1994

Strand was American, and a protégé of Alfred Steiglitz between the wars. His work has often been overlooked as he was interested in photographing everything and had no particularly recognisable style. Sadly I did not get to see his recent exhibition at the V&A, but I am drawn to his later images of the Outer Hebrides, rural France  and other remote locations. In these images, he mixes landscapes with portraits of the people who inhabit them. The images are arresting – beautiful, very tonal and with an overwhelming sense of place. They have an authenticity which indicates an in-depth understanding of the communities he photographed. An excellent video clip accompanying the V&A exhibition explains that he took his time about making his images, and worked collaboratively with poets and writes to produce works which are initially unassuming but which repay some time given to slowly work through and appreciate them.

I intend to come back to Strand’s work as I progress with the course, as I find it very moving.  I’m also pleased to read that his book on the Outer Hebrides is being reprinted this year, and look forward to receiving a copy when it is published.

References

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/paul-strand-americas-forgotten-visionary/

http://www.georgetowner.com/articles/2014/oct/23/paul-strand-philadelphia/

http://phillystamppass.org/paul-strand/