Welcome

I am Michael Millmore and this is my learning blog for the Open College of the Arts course ‘Digital Image and Cuture’.

This is the fifth course I have studied with OCA after ‘The Art of Photography’, ‘Digital Photographic Practice’, ‘Understanding Visual Culture’ and ‘Documentary’.

I am working towards a degree in photography.

Contact: michael497132@oca.ac.uk

Assignment 2: #boris

See here for posts leading to this assignment:


These images of Boris Johnson show the many sides of this polarising political figure. Appropriated from social media posted during the 2019 General Election campaign and stripped of their context it is sometimes difficult to tell which are intended to be in support of Johnson and which are not. We are left to consider who the real Boris is, and indeed, whether it is possible to make an accurate assessment of someone’s character by simply looking at a photograph.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

Making this work has required rephotographing images found on social media and manipulating these in Photoshop to remove the background. These were then presented as a book in PDF form and publishing to Issuu. The images are made by photographing the reflection of my computer screen into an illuminated mirror – this was a lengthy process that involved much experimentation in order that no reflections were visible in the image and the view was focused solely on the face of Boris Johnson.

Selection was probably the most important aspect of this assignment, first selecting possible candidates to be rephotographed, then reviewing and choosing possible final images from these before arriving at a final choice. I have tried show a variety of images but similarity has also been a factor in the images selected – repetition is an important aspect of this series both in terms of subject matter and theme. Although I describe this process as selection, deselection is more accurate as I refined my choices by removing images that I either felt were duplications or lacking in some way. The most common reason for this was removing images that either showed someone else in the frame or contained an element that I found distracted from focusing attention on Johnson. My usual method of selection is to make prints and review and select them physically. On reflection, this is something I should have done from the start as making choices on the screen is much more difficult than choosing a physical photograph. Publishing these images as an electronic book pushed me to select a large amount of images – my aim here was to emphasise the importance of image in politics and make a comment about how much politicians are photographed.

At this point I am unsure as to whether a smaller section would prove more effective. In my post detailing the development of this project, I discuss ideas about making a physical book from these images and my desire for this to allow the viewer the opportunity to influence the sequencing and viewing experience of the images in some way. This is something I am still interested in pursuing but feel I need to spend some time away from the images to allow some reflection before returning to make any further decisions about how to progress.

Quality of Outcome:

I am more satisfied with the concept of this series than the final outcome. When I started collecting social media posts during the 2019 General Election I had many ideas about possible ways to proceed and I am pleased with the way this assignment has developed organically. I am unsure how successful the conceit of photographing the images reflected into an illuminated mirror is, however, the experimentation I engaged in before arriving at my final approach has been a valuable learning experience for me. I have tried to make something that is not a straightforward exercise in appropriation, but I simultaneously worry that this has resulted in something that is simultaneously contrived and straightforward. I have tried to create a united set through the use of a consistent style and by photographing the mirror at the same angle, however, something more free form could have led to a more stimulating visual experience. My selections also aim to display nuance in the way Johnson is portrayed in an attempt not to impose my personal thoughts onto the viewer. Perhaps I should have made something more critical of Johnson, or a more overt narrative and not let this bother me so much. I had originally wanted to use text extensively but decided against this as I decided to leave the series ambiguous and open to reader interpretation and require the viewer to draw their own conclusions about my intentions and what the images mean. This is something I think works for the series and my intention to focus on the fallibility of image.

Demonstration of Creativity:

My aim with this series was to produce a set of images that makes the viewer question the way politicians are presented and present themselves in the media. I also wanted the nature of Boris Johnson’s persona to be called into question without overtly saying this is how the images are to be interpreted. There is enough ambiguity present for the viewer to arrive at differing conclusions, but I hope there is commonality in the realisation that the projected image of Johnson is more complex and contradictory than it might first appear. As I mention earlier, the key success for me for this assignment is how I have developed the idea organically to its eventual resolution, although I would consider the project not yet fully realised or possessing the ability to be taken in further divergent directions. A major problem that I must address however is the length of time it has taken me to bring the assignment to this point. Some of this has been the result of time constraints driven by family and home life, but much has been because I have procrastinated too long about what I am doing. Thinking about the work as unfinished is something that I have been focusing on as a strategy to help me get the work over the line – sometimes you can just end up being too close to what you are making that you arrive at a deadlock. By thinking about the work as something that is evolving and that can be returned to, I have eventually been able to finish this version.

Context:

The artists I have studied throughout this section of the course have been a major influence for me, particularly the way themes are developed and transferred into subsequent projects, there is a large amount of research evident in the ‘Artists’ section of my blog. Artists such as Penelope Umbrico, Joachim Schmid and Hans Eijkelboom and their use of repetition is something that has influenced this project. By putting visually connected images together the effect of similarity and difference is amplified and subtleties become more pronounced. The work of Christopher Spencer/Cold War Steve is also a major influence – his satirical edge is often brutal and funny and I greatly admire his prolific output and the way he publishes this on social media.

Assignment 2: Development

During the General Election campaign of 2019 I collected political posts and memes from the various political parties with the intention of using these in assignment 2. Following the landslide victory of the Conservative Party I was struck by how quickly these previously important pieces of campaigning became dated and obsolete and was left wondering if there was a project to be made from them. The way the political landscape changed, literally overnight, was both staggering and bewildering to me – the deadlock of Brexit which had consumed the news and political debate since the referendum result was now over and the bill that had previously brought parliament to a standstill was quickly passed without incident. Reflecting on how politics had changed so quickly I was struck that the election had been fought, lost and won in a presidential manner with the the leaders of both main political parties being put front and centre. Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson were now yesterdays news and Boris Johnson was praised for his daring calculation and leadership through the campaign.

By accident I came across a way I could explore ideas of image and politics that had been the catalyst for collecting these posts – looking at them on my computer I found them reflected in my daughter’s illuminated mirror that happened to be beside the screen. I experimented taking images with my iPhone and instantly felt this approach could have some potential.

I then experimented removing the background in photoshop:

The development of the idea up until this point is detailed in my earlier post here:

Development and experimentation:

Although I liked the way of working with my iPhone, and the thought of using this as a tool to make images for the assignment was appealing, it soon became apparent to me that I needed to create a uniform style for the images in order for them to make a coherent set. To achieve this, I set up my camera on a tripod focused on the illuminated mirror which was angled in such a way to display an image from my computer screen. I then went through each of the images from the social media posts I had saved that featured Boris Johnson. I found that I could use my wireless mouse remotely as a way of moving and enlarging the images so they could be shown in the mirror and I could also check the composition. At the end of this process, which took a great deal more time than I expected and involved a couple of false starts where I had to begin the process from scratch, I was left with 223 images. Using Photoshop I then selected the central part of the images and removed the background, here are contact sheets of these:

Selection, editing and sequencing:

My main concern when selecting the images was to minimise any sign of context – my aim was to focus solely on Johnson. A number of motifs recurred that tied into the myth Johnson had made about him being a different kind of politician – the unkempt hair, the personable gestures, the friendly, everyman persona and the clown, unafraid to make himself look foolish. The images came from official Conservative Party sources, news websites and posts that were in opposition to both Johnson and the Tories – I was struck how having removed the context for the images it was now difficult to place the sources of many of them. Something I had noticed at the time was how some images were even used both by the Conservatives and their opposition to illustrate conflicting viewpoints about Johnson. Similarly to Donald Trump, Johnson had a way of polarising the electorate with many either vehemently for or against – the campaign seemed unconcerned with trying to convince those in the opposing camp and aimed to amplify all of the things that attracted people to Johnson while emphasising how he represented a difference to the status quo that had brought British politics to a standstill.

Ultimately, my selection was based on instinct and personal preference. A number of images showed pixillation due to either the low resolution of the source image or due to the enlarging process. This was something I found visually interesting as there was a direct link in the image to the digital nature of the source, although I was concerned this could prove distracting when the images were presented together.

The question of editing was something I considered a great deal and ultimately struggled to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion about. The brief for the assignment suggests a minimum of 12 double pages, so 24 images potentially. Clearly my shortlist was much larger than this so I was faced with the decision about how many images to include. As the output that we are asked for is an electronic (PDF) book, there was the possibility that I could include a large amount of images. This approach could potentially fit with my idea about being bombarded with images, but could also be criticised for being undisciplined and indecisive. A potential solution could be to select the number of images that could be shown in a physical book, should I choose to pursue this route. (See below)

Equally difficult was the choice of sequencing – potential solutions were to form a developing narrative leading with images of Boris the statesmen to Boris the clown, that is, positive to negative (or vice versa). Or perhaps juxtaposing images from these extremes next to each other. Another idea could be to create a random sequence selected using chance or some other method that would prevent me imposing my personal views. This was something suggested by OCA tutor Andrew Conroy when he looked at my images for assignment 1 at an OCA North study day and would also fit with my interest in Dada. Of course, if I choose to make a physical book that allows images to put placed next to other by the viewer then this would mean I was no longer the author of the sequence.

Here is a rough PDF draft of all of the images together:

Presentation:

The brief for the assignment asks for the images to be presented as a pdf book. Having enjoyed working with physical images in assignment 1 and experimenting with collage I was also keen to transfer this into a physical object. I started thinking about innovative books I have come across and immediately remembered ‘Last Stop’ by George Georgiou, an exploration of London captured from the vantage point of a bus and presented as a concertina book. (See video about the book here.) Georgiou’s intention presenting the work in a book this way is that the viewer would be able put different images together to create juxtapositions and relationships between them that would echo the way taking the same journey each day can draw on similarities, differences and create surprising narratives. It struck me that my concerns about imposing my personal view of Johnson could be mitigated with a similar approach that would echo the random way I had come across these on the internet and allow them all to be viewed at once while retaining the form of a book. Another extension of this could be printing the multiple images onto a large piece of paper and folding it in a way that it became a book. I experimented with making a concertina book using card and this seemed like something that could work and would be worth pursuing.

Whether to include text or not in my finished presentation was something I considered throughout the experimentation process before I decided to feature the images without any words. I had considered the idea of sourcing pieces of text from the original social media posts I had collected but ultimately felt that this would go against my aim of forcing the viewer to interact with the series purely on the basis of image.

Context:

I have gained so much from the artists I have studied in this section of the course – perhaps to the point that I have taken a great deal of time conducting research. This is not something I would wish to change however as the inspiration that has followed has been something that has driven me on. The use of repetition and pushing a theme to extraordinary lengths is something that is of particular relevance and note for this assignment. (I am thinking particularly of Joachim Schmid, Erik Kessels, Hans Eijkelboom and Penelope Umbrico here.)

When researching Thomas Ruff, I came across this quote by Allan Sekula from his essay ‘Reading an Archive’. I am not sure if it has any place in this assignment, however, I have come back to it a number of times during the development of this series and it continues to resonate with me. I particularly like the sentence, “photographs in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances.” It is a quote that seems to fit my intentions for this series perfectly:

“Conventional wisdom would have it that photographs transmit immutable truths. But although the very notion of photographic reproduction would seem to suggest that very little is lost in translation, it is clear that photographic meaning depends largely on context. Despite the powerful impression of reality (imparted by the mechanical registration of a moment of reflected light according to the rules of normal perspective), photographs, in themselves, are fragmentary and incomplete utterances. Meaning is always directed by layout, captions, text, and site and mode of presentation.” (Sekula, 2003: 445)

Further developments and experiments:

A recurring theme from some of the artists I have studied during this part of the course is their ability to take an initial project and develop it further into multiple outputs – this is something I find inspiring. A number of developments for this project could be possible, although I do not want to become too hung up and distracted by these at the moment. One possibility is to put the images together as a video, which is something I will experiment with in the future (perhaps developing ideas I had with the introductory exercise – image flood.)

Joachim Schmid‘s series ‘Statics‘ is something that has particularly stayed with me since I looked at his work. My style of work has always been based on photography’s relationship with the real world, however, abstraction increasingly appeals to me and is something I am looking to experiment with. For ‘Statics’ I admire the way Schmid both transformed previous work into something else while making a new set of images that are completely abstract – the series is highly conceptually with multiple layers of meaning but the images themselves are aesthetically strong and can be enjoyed purely on those terms. I used the mobile app Adobe Capture to make some quick ‘sketches’ that could develop further:

The shapes feature quickly turns the images of Boris into line drawings which could potentially be further manipulated in Photoshop, for example, colouring and presenting in a style similar to Warhols screen prints.

The pattern feature has multiple options and creates a kaleidoscope from single images. This results here really appeal to me and they would work well as large, poster sized prints. I also wonder if there would be a way of capturing these and animating them?

The colors feature selects the key tones from an image – something that would push my ideas of abstraction to the limit!

Bibliography:

Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading and Archive’ In: Wells, L. (ed.) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 443-452

Evan Roth

Evan Roth originally trained as an architect but became interested in the world of the internet during the heyday of torrenting, experimenting with code and making websites in the early 2000s. He engaged in various activist collectives such as Graffiti Research Lab and Free Art and Technology/F.A.T. Lab before becoming an artist working with new media. He describes the work he makes as, “[wrestling] with a desire to create net art as a cultural object while staying critical of it.” He describes himself as having a “hacker philosophy” means playing within rule structures where you are not meant to have agency:

“A hacker tweaks these small moments of power you do have into something bigger. My interest in this philosophy is as a problem-solving technique for artists and activists. Actually, a lot of my work deals with personal empowerment issues, looking for those rare moments when users can gain power that makes us feel bigger than we are.” (Small, 2018)

This artists talk by Evan Roth, although predominately about his project ‘Red Lines‘ gives an excellent overview of his development as an artist and his passion for internet activism. When I initially looked at Roth’s work I almost discounted studying it further, however, as I read more about I became drawn to both his strategies and philosophy. Rather than being an academic exercise, Roth demonstrates a great deal experimentation in his work and context is essential to fully understanding it.

9 to 5 Paintings (2006)/Level Cleared (2012)/Angry Birds All Levels (2012)/Multi-Touch Paintings series (2013-ongoing)

These series’ expand on the idea of transforming the activity of using a computer/device into a visual artwork. With ‘9 to 5 Paintings’, Roth created a visual representation of daily computing routines. (This video shows how the images came together.) The resulting ‘paintings’ are simple abstracts that are more successful conceptually than aesthetically.

Nov. 1, 2006
Oct. 16th, 2006

With ‘Level Cleared’, ‘Angry Birds All Levels’ and ‘Multi-Touch Paintings’, Roth extends the idea into the arena of touch screen devices that had become prevalent in the time since the earlier work. The painting are made as Roth plays the popular game Angry Birds using inked fingers on tracing paper. The screen sized paintings are displayed as grid, the small scale of each individual image contrasting with the sheer number of them and forcing consideration of our relationship with our mobile devices. In the text from Roth’s website, the work is described as a comment on the rise of casual gaming, identity and our relationship with mobile devices:

“The series is a comment on computing and identity, but also creates an archive of this moment in history where we have started to manipulate pixels with gestures…In the end, the viewer is presented with a black and white representation of the gestures that have been prescribed to us in the form of user interaction design.”

The idea is further developed with the ‘Multi-Touch Paintings Series’ for which Roth enlarges the finger print smudges to huge dimensions which often dwarf the viewer. The detail of each fingerprint is enlarged to such an extent that the aesthetic beauty of each is accentuated both individually and as part of the larger composition which it becomes and further expanding on the idea of how our connected life is imposing over our real world experience.

Casual Computing No. 1, 2014 (Candy Crush)
Slide to Unlock (2013)
Zoom In Zoom Out (2013)

Internet Cache Self Portrait series (2014-ongoing)

This series features an uncensored stream of images collected from daily browsing, or “memories that were never intended to be saved” according to the artists statement on Roth’s website. Personal images are presented side by side with advertisements and corporate logos, something that Roth describes as an “attempt to reveal something human and intimate about us through our interactions online.”

See also: Internet Cache Portrait series (2014)

Silhouette series (2014-ongoing):

This series takes inspiration from an 18th century technique of representing a subject cut as an outline into a single piece of black paper. Rather than the typical subject for this technique of a person in profile, Roth makes compositions based on the proportions of the internet such as his own browsing data or standardised internet advertising proportions which, according to his artists statement:

“[draws] into question whether these proportions are in reaction to or are a driving force behind the general shape of the web. Similar to its 18th century counterpart, the series eschew the content of the subject, leaving only the familiar outlines to represent the character.”

Forgetting Spring (March to June 2013) (2014):

For this work, Roth printed all of the internet cache collected from four months of browsing onto a large piece of card before putting this into a trash compactor which creates a messy cube. This was then bound with chord and displayed as a sculpture in a gallery. The work is a physical manifestation of how web browsers track our behaviour – information unintended to be viewed. In a review of the piece, Josephine Bosma suggests Roth is making a comment on how the intricacies of the internet is dumbed to become a string of images not much different from a TV channel and concludes: “Evan Roth leaves is to wonder about the value, shape, and function of our extended memories with this deceptively simple work.” (Bosma, 2014)

Landscapes series (2016-ongoing)/Red Lines (2018-19)

Since 2014 Roth has documented coastal sites where undersea internet cables emerge from the water and into the ground using a modified digital camera that is capable of photographing infrared spectrum. The idea for the work came from increasing concerns Roth had about the internet and our relationship with it driven by issues such as the NSA surveillance controversy and crude, simplistic metaphors like ‘the cloud’. He began to question the specific dangers to the network:

“I became interested in visiting the internet somewhere. Others focus on the mines where the minerals come from, or maybe the data centres. I liked how the cables coming out from the ocean are at these strange transition points around the globe. You find yourself looking for these massive networks but end up finding yourself completely alone, because, by design these cables are isolated for safety reasons.” (Small, 2018)

The series is an attempt by Roth to depict both physical and hidden landscapes. 53 landing sites for fibre optic cables around the world were filmed by Roth where he created videos using his infrared adapted camera. The scenes show no indication that each is a hidden source for the world wide web, but the eerily beautiful red tones of each give an alien feel, the use of infrared is a direct reference to the fact that this is what is transmitted through the cables. The tranquility and remote nature of the locations gave Roth time to slow down and consider where his art practice was going – originally intended as some form of online activism in response to feeling jaded about the internet, Roth was able to slow down and “see through the digital noise” and gain a much needed moment of reflection. He comments:

“[The remote spots] provided a nice sanctuary for slowing down and so the work became about that…It wasn’t about seeing the cable and reporting back on it…these remote places…allowed me to think about the network in different ways, slower ways and ways that were more informed by the pace of nature rather than the pace of social media.” (Bland, s.d.)

For the exhibition ‘Red Lines with Landscapes’ at the Usher Gallery in 2019, Roth chose 18th and 19th century landscape paintings from the museums collection to show alongside his works. His website explains this further: “By contrasting the old and the new, this exhibition explores the history, power structures and ideologies that shape our visible and non-visible contemporary landscape.”

‘Red Lines’, commissioned by Artangel, is a way for Roth to bring ‘Landscapes’ out of the gallery space into peoples homes. Using peer to peer software (similar to that used by torrent sharing sites such as Pirate Bay) the work can be viewed on any internet enabled device, this allows most people the opportunity to live with the artwork in their own home.

Details on how to set up ‘Red Lines’ here.

As suggested by Roth, I set up an old smartphone to show ‘Red Lines’ and to ‘live’ with the work for a while. There is a strange, meditative nature to the work which is conducive to viewing just outside of peripheral vision. I had the screen displaying the work set up to next to my computer and found myself studying the scenes during moments where I was thinking – the work is a calming presence. I am attracted to the Roth’s ideas about accessibility for art and how this piece is essentially free for anyone to access by anyone with an appropriate device and an internet connection. Rather than being an artwork you own however, by displaying the work you become part of the network that displays it – a particularly poetic response to questions about the value of art and how ownership is accessible to the very few.

Links:

Bibliography:

Bland, S. (s.d.) Interview: Evan Roth. Artangel. Available at: https://www.artangel.org.uk/red-lines/interview/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Bosma, J. (2014) Clearing out four months of internet cache by Evan Roth. Neural. Available at: http://neural.it/2014/05/clearing-out-four-months-of-internet-cache-by-evan-roth-description/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Matthewson, J, (s.d.) River to river. Artangel website. Available at: https://www.artangel.org.uk/red-lines/river-to-river/ (accessed 24th May 2020)

Popovich, N. (2013) Evan Roth: the badass artist hacking popular culture. The Guardian, 20th August 2013. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/aug/20/evan-roth-badass-hacktivist-artist (accessed 28th September 2019)

Rabimov, S. (2019) The Strasbourg Biennale artists reflect on the most pressing question. Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephanrabimov/2019/01/19/the-strasbourg-biennale-artists-reflect-on-the-most-pressing-question/#2598be76cd67 (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Regine (2019) Strasbourg Biennale. Being a citizen in the age of hyper-connectivity. We Make Money Not Art. Available at: https://we-make-money-not-art.com/strasbourg-biennale-being-a-citizen-in-the-age-of-hyper-connectivity/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Roth, E. (2018) Landscape, signal and empire: Evan Roth talk. Retune fesival 27th September 2018. Available at: http://www.evan-roth.com/presentations/retune/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Roth, E. (2019) Artist Talk: Evan Roth. The Photographers Gallery, 21st June 2019. Available at: https://vimeo.com/356205376 (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Small, Z. (2018) A net artist on why the cloud is a bad metaphor for the internet. Hyperallergic. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/460796/a-net-artist-on-why-the-cloud-is-a-bad-metaphor-for-the-internet/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Teplitzky, A. (2018) Evan Roth created a work of net art that you can live with. Creative Capital. Available at: https://creative-capital.org/2018/09/10/evan-roth-created-a-net-artwork-that-you-can-live-with-for-free/ (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Watson, L. (2018) Internet art: Evan Roth’s ‘Red Lines’. Financial Times, September 28th 2018. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/6190e9ca-bcc6-11e8-8274-55b72926558f (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Chloe Juno

I first came across Chloe Juno and her series ‘Someones Rubbish’ via Instagram. The series is a longterm project documenting life in Juno’s home town of Brighton through the everyday items that are discarded. Juno makes this summary of the project on her website:

“Someones Rubbish over 2500 images on Instagram. Photos taken daily from 2014. Looking at everyday life in the centre of Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, Britain. The objects people use and discard, a street museum of now, looking at the cost of living, the things we need to use in this life for play, work, education, health, beauty, food, sex, love, drugs, debts, money, bills, general domestic life. Over time I have also realised, that many of the objects I am drawn too document, are things I have used or relate to in some way. As the collection builds patterns form, representing of a section of a city. A big picture of life now.” (Juno, s.d.)

Apart from being drawn to both the concept and execution of this series it has also now taken on a particular relevance as collecting photographs of rubbish and discarded items is something I have started to do as part of my ‘DailyWalkDiary’ project. This project came about as a way to motivate myself to do something creative during the recent Covid-19 lockdown. As I work in retail I found myself busier than ever so being stuck in the house was not a concern for me, in fact, I was working long hours and it felt like I was hardly ever at home. I started walking daily, and documenting what I saw as a way to decompress from the pressure of work and also to push myself to use photography as a creative outlet to support my mental health and well being. I did not intend to photograph rubbish as part of this project, it is just something that happened instinctively, but was perhaps subconsciously driven by my knowledge of Juno’s series. Since I have started doing this I can identify much more with the drive Juno has to follow her own project – the idea that these items can tell us something about human life now is a compelling one. In a recent blog post, Juno imagines how an archaeologist in the future could look back at items of the past and use them to build a picture of human life (Juno, 2020). Juno’s simple, yet effective concept succeeds because of the sheer number of items Juno has collected over the years and because each is charged with multiple potential narratives – I look at them and imagine the circumstances that led to the objects being left and am left with many possibilities ranging from the profound to the banal. Taking these images myself I feel a sense of quiet envy at some of the amazing finds Juno has had, and a jolt of memory from my own searches when I have come across something out of the ordinary and felt pleasure at photographing it.

Links:

Bibliography:

Juno, C. (s.d.) Someones Rubbish. Available at: https://www.chloejuno.com/someones-rubbish-1/luc2qjv1zwhdbs7jszmq7xfbmf0nwe (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Juno, C. (2020) Someones Rubbish: Babybel Chloe Juno, Brighton and Hove, England. Chloe Juno Blog, 15th May 2020. Available at: https://www.chloejuno.com/blog/2020/5/15/someones-rubbish-babybel-chloejuno-brighton-and-hove-england (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Gab Bois

I came across the work of Gab Bois on Instagram in an article on the Elephant website while I was researching another artist and was immediately struck by the playful, witty, original yet simple nature of her work. The themes of consumerism, body image, aspiration and living in an always connected world that are often present in her work also resonated with me. Bois uses digital manipulation to reimagine alternative uses for everyday objects in a way that bends the line between real and imaginary. Andrew Lasane believes that the ideas are the reason the images work and that the way the photographs twist reality to illustrate bizarre, yet clever, concepts by depicting unnatural double entendres and impossible feats in a way that is seamless. (Lasane, 2019) Louise Benson has this to say about the work:

“With just a few smart visual cues, Bois has much to suggest about the state of our over-medicated, hyper-branded and self-obsessed contemporary reality – not to mention about our short attention spans. When it is all too easy to keep scrolling, Bois stops you short in your tracks.” (Benson, 2020)

Jyni Ong describes Bois’ work as being “visually impactful in an era of over-saturation [while] providing a point of difference.” She describes the images as having a ‘life-hack aesthetic’ (as an aside, life-hack is a phrase I cannot stand, although I do recognise the accuracy in Ong’s assertion and that this is a genuine phenomena on social media.) In response, Bois states that it is important to her that the work has a:

“raw feel [so it] doesn’t become too close to an ad, or like content from a clickbait site…It’s also important for my work to involve subjects that I know. Whether that’s my own body or familiar objects or food I like. The challenge of creating something new from something I’ve looked at thousands of times is really stimulating and satisfying.” (Ong, 2019)

In an interview she expands on these points and her inspiration:

“I like to get inspired by subjects that I know and have experienced…I work with parts of my everyday life because it’s the only way that it feels relevant. I mostly create for myself because a lot of my images have memories and meanings attached to them. It’s a very selfish process. If my followers and viewers relate to my images, then all the better. But there’s no specific reaction I’m aiming for…I look at Instagram as kind of a mood board and it’s just a way for me to put my thoughts into images.” (Douglas-Davies, 2018)

Links:

Bibliography:

Benson, L. (2020) Bored at home? These mind-bending photos transform the everyday. Elephant. Available at: https://elephant.art/bored-at-home-these-mind-bending-photos-transform-the-everyday-17042020/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Dazed Beauty (2018) Gab Bois is the Instagram artist finding beauty in the banal. Dazed Beauty. Available at: https://www.dazeddigital.com/beauty/community/article/42351/1/instagram-artist-finding-beauty-in-the-banal (accessed 19th April 2020)

Douglas-Davies, G. (2018) You may not know her name, but you’ve definitely regrammed Gab Bois’ pics. i-D. Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/59j45x/you-may-not-know-her-name-but-youve-definitely-regrammed-gab-bois-pics (accessed 19th April 2020)

Lasane, A. (2019) Ironing wrinkled chops, keeping headphones in place, and other surreal life-hacks photographed by Gab Bois. Colossal. Available at: https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2019/10/surreal-life-hacks-photographed-by-gab-bois/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Ong, J. (2019) Gab Bois transforms things we’ve seen a thousand times into something spectacular. It’s Nice That. Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/gab-bois-photography-170919 (accessed 19th April 2020)

Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore is a photographer who holds a special influence for me as I became familiar with his work as my interests moved from the craft of photography to the photograph as art. His style, which focuses on the everyday, has been described as banal, vernacular, democratic and led to the concept of the snapshot aesthetic – all things that I find appealing in photography. His work is simultaneously straight documentary and highly conceptual and it is difficult to overstate the influence has had on photography as an artform.

I came across an article in The Guardian by Sean O’Hagan which although predominately about Shore’s new book ‘Transparencies: Small Camera Works, 1971-1979’ also provides insight into Shore’s strategies and motivations. Describing his ‘democratic approach’, Shore states:

“To see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.

I have always been interested in everyday experience…It relates to an idea I had…of what it might be like to pay attention to the average moments in your life, rather than just the dramatic moments. Attentiveness is self-awareness – you are aware of yourself paying attention. It was a different experience and I was nourished by it. I still am.” (O’Hagan, 2020)

In an earlier article, also by O’Hagan, Shore says this about photographing the everyday:

“To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photographic possibility is not making a very big leap…But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.” (O’Hagan, 2015)

I love this idea of looking closer, and photographing, things that others may pass by and dismiss as unworthy subjects for a photograph – it is something that deeply influences my own work.

At the end of O’Hagan’s article, Shore describes his current engagement with Instagram and how he is using this to explore the notion of democratic photography in the digital world with Shore posting a single image a day shot on his iPhone. He describes his attraction to this way of working:

“It means I work every day…It can be diaristic or it can be pictures I find interesting. I recently posted a picture of the steering wheel of my car and someone commented something along the lines of: ‘Jeez, you’ve finally run out of subject matter.’ So I replied: ‘Yep, that’s it exactly.’ I think that most people understand my Instagram feed is not my gallery…I’m interested in visual thinking, and there is something very personal and revealing about this kind of visual thinking that I just find fascinating.” (O’Hagan, 2020)

Having felt a bit stuck, uninspired and struggling to find the time and motivation to make photographs lately Shores approach and enthusiasm resonated with me and has inspired me to use Instagram as a way of making work. Instagram is not something I have strongly engaged with in the past but something that suddenly struck me as having potential as a creative outlet. I have set up a new account for this project, dailywalkdiary, and have started to use this as a way of motivating myself to take photographs each day, and most importantly, do something with them. I follow broadly the same route each day and photograph anything that catches my eye – I am not sure if this will evolve into anything else, and to be honest that is not important, as the process itself has already helped reignite my creative energy.

Images from Stephen Shore’s Instagram:

As an aside I came across the comments these comments on Shore’s Instagram intriguingly juxtaposed:

Links:

Bibliography:

O’Hagan, S. (2015) Shady character: how Stephen Shore taught America to see in living colour. The Guardian, 9th July 2015. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jul/09/stephen-shore-america-colour-photography-1970s (accessed 10th May 2020)

O’Hagan, S. (2020) Stephen Shore: ‘People would chase me off their lawns with my Leica’. The Guardian, 29th February 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/feb/29/stephen-shore-ordinary-america-photographs-interview-plate-camera-leica?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other (accessed 29th February 2020)

Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner‘s practice has been described as ‘post-photography’ meaning he is an artist working with photographic images rather than directly using a camera to produce his work. He describes his approach like this:

“The clue is in the phrase ‘taking photographs’. Even with the traditional meaning of the term, there’s an almost implicit assumption that the images are already out there ready to be taken by the photographer. So I don’t make much of a distinction.” (Shore, 2014: 8)

In a later interview, Henner expands on this and gives insight into his practice:

“I do take photographs – that is, I take other people’s photographs. I take photographs from the network. But they’r not really photographs. They’re mostly data, they’re digital bits. When I think of photographs I think of chemical on light-sensitive paper, you know. And of course that’s not what I’m working with.

If you followed me for two weeks you would not in a million years think of what I do as photography. It’s something else. It’s an amalgamation of intelligence gathering, data aggregation, images making and packaging.” (Shore, 2015)

An article by Sean O’Hagan notes that Henner began his career working as a documentary photographer before becoming both disillusioned with the genre and embracing conceptual art with a “convert’s zeal”. Henner explains:

“The process of making documentary is far richer than the images can be…it has little to do with truth…I got a little dissolusioned with chasing some elusive notion of truth and wanted to enjoy making images again.

Though I wouldn’t call myself a conceptual artist, the movement smashed through so many pretensions and facades that it appealed to me in a big way, especially in the work of appropriation artists. It was still documentary to me, but not as we knew it…Now, I’m happiest when I’m making something that doesn’t look or feel like documentary photography but still manages to address a social context.” (O’Hagan, 2012)

Much of Henner’s work could be categorised as political, or at the very least designed to challenge assumptions and the status quo, however, he does not describe himself as an activist. In an interview he offers some thoughts about his intentions:

“If I was an activist, I don’t think I would be putting art on a gallery wall. I would be doing something else…I think there’s a way to open up the doors of perception and reveal things. When art does that, it does it brilliantly…But I think that, in a way, you believe in art because of ambiguity as well.” (Greenberger, 2015)

Reviewing Henner’s 2015 exhibtion ‘Semi-Automatic’ at the Bruce Silverstein gallery, Loring Knoblauch makes this analysis of how the work fits with both the future and past of image appropriation:

“His work represents a potent example of the next generation of photographic reuse, where connectivity of the net, the vastness of its resources, and the digital malleability of its imagery have opened up entirely new modes and methods for art making. Hidden in the dark corners of this expansive open depository are plenty of overlooked quirks, eccentricities, and evils, waiting to be unearthed and recontextualized by artists like Henner. The fundamental idea of old school appropriation as incisive representation is still there, but it’s now being executed with much more velocity, flexibility and breadth.” (Knoblauch, 2015)

Bliss (2010):

For this series, Henner took screenshots of newscasters as they reported on subjects such as recession and disaster, at moments when their eyes were closed. Exhibiting the work, the images are backlit to make them look like screens. Henner gives this succinct summary of his motivations to make the series:

“They were talking and saying nothing…And I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’ll send them to sleep. Give them a break.” (Greenberger, 2015)

Dutch Landscapes (2011):

Appropriated from Google Earth, this series shows the response by authorities in Holland to the potential security risk posed by satellite images of top secret sites being readily available to the public. While other countries have approached this problem through methods such as cloning, blurring or pixellation, the Dutch chose a stylistic intervention of imposing large, bold, multi-coloured polygon shapes shapes over the sites-something that both draws attention to the censorship and is a statement in its own right. In his artist statement for the series, Henner makes the connection between the aesthetic interventions and the way the Dutch landscape is shaped by a vast land reclamation project of dykes, pumps and drainage which has been engineered over hundreds of years and is required due to a third of the Netherlands being below see level:

“Seen from the distant gaze of Earth’s orbiting satellites, the result is a landscape unlike any other; one in which polygons recently imposed on the landscape protect the country from an imagined human menace bear more than a passing resemblance to a physical landscape designed to combat a very real and constant natural threat.”

David Chandler makes the link between the digital interventions and Dutch landscape painting:

“[The] work comes with a beautiful, gift-wrapped irony, that Holland is one of the crucibles of the landscape form, one of the genres preoccupied with depicting contemporary life that flowered in the seventeenth century. And so these strange digital emanations can be seen as part of the ongoing tradition, one whose realisms were from the outset steeped in a language of metaphor and symbolism, of one thing hidden inside the other. Also as this tradition unfolded over centuries, the Dutch landscape itself has been reconstructed: land below sea level has been reclaimed then protected and cultivated by complex systems of dunes, dykes, pumps, and drainage networks. So the land seen from above, is already one fractured and faceted by human intervention, a land becoming an abstraction of itself. In this context … the stylised polygons of this particular brand of camouflage appear as areas in which the landscape’s latent character has merely erupted into a new painterly intensity.” (Chandler, 2011)

Although the images of these sites are readily available for anyone to view, the data is so vast that finding them is not easy. Henner used information from internet forums to find the areas but discovered that being able to bring them together as a coherent body of work was problematic – his strategy was to bring simplicity and coherence to something that was otherwise difficult to comprehend and complex.

St. Haagsche Shoolvereeniging, Den Haag
Nato Storage Annex, Coevorden, Drenthe
Frederikkazerne, Den Haag

Astronomical (2011):

Astronomical (the movie)

This series is a mathematically accurate study of the solar system in 12 volume, 500 page book form (5,000 of them mainly blank) each page representing 1 million kilometres of the 6 billion kilometres between the Sun and Pluto. In an article on Henner’s practice, Philip Gefter quotes MoMA director Quentin Bajac’s assessment:

” ‘[Astronomical] is about the overwhelming presence of images, but also the many different forms the photo image can take,’ explaining that “Astronomical” fits right in as ‘a book made of found images, where you can follow the iteration from the screen of the laptop back to paper.’ He added that Mr. Henner’s poetry and humor make obvious the limits of the photograph as a document: ‘You do not actually see anything, and yet he proposes another, more meditative experience.” (Gefter, 2015)

The Sun, pages 1-2, volume 1
Saturn, page 433, volume 3

No Man’s Land (2011-13):

No Man’s Land (A Road Movie)

Using Google Street View, this series shows women stood at remote roadsides in Spain and Italy, apparently waiting to offer sex to passers-by. Similarly to ‘Dutch Landscapes’, Henner used internet forums where locations of sex workers are shared to find the women in the series, something that Knoblauch (2015) observes adds an extra layer of grimness to a series that already has themes of surveillance, desperation and exploitation. When first published as a print on demand book, the series polarised audiences with some accusing Henner of being immoral and unethical and others defending the artist and his right of expression. In 2011 Henner was sued by a women’s charity, for profiting from exploitation, endangering the women’s safety, reinforcing gender stereotypes and breaking copyright law.

Marco Bohr makes this assessment of ‘No Man’s Land’:

“In contrast to the luscious surroundings of the Mediterranean, the scantily clad women standing at the edge of the road allude to the harsh an repressive conditions of the sex trade. The prostitutes’ marginal socio-economic status is cleverly signified by their position in the landscape: on the edge of the road, on the edge of the city and on the edge of society. Perhaps because of the voyeuristic nature of the project, No Man’s Land took the internet by storm since it first came out as a self-published book in early 2011. This is one of the characteristics of a new breed of online savvy artists: for them the internet functions both as a source and as outlet for their art.

Looking at No Man’s Land, Henner’s collection of images thus confronts the viewer with a surprising question. What is more shocking? The crudity of the sex trade on the allegorical margins of our societies, or, the unstoppable invasion of the camera in every aspect of our lives spurred by financial interests. This question is further provoked by the vantage point of the Google camera, looking down on the subjects as they either avoid, not notice, ignore, or act for the camera. These differing reactions, as subtle as they may be, are a powerful reminder that our problematic relationship with photography is – informed by our historical understanding of the photographic apparatus – constantly in flux.” (Bohr, 2012)

In a filmed interview by the Photographer’s Gallery for the 2013 Deutsche Börse photography prize, for which ‘No Man’s Land’ was shortlisted, Henner sums up his approach:

“I think traditionally if you were to approach the subject, the approach of the photographer would be probably to try and humanise the figures in some way or to try and evoke some sort of personal story. But actually I think the detachment of the Street View cars here is perfect for the subject, and I think that what this series can do is talk about the quantity…the volume of an issue.” (Photographer’s Gallery, 2013)

Via di Brava, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Carretera de Rubi, Terrassa, Spain
Carretera de Fortuna, Murcia, Spain

Less Américains (2012):

I previously studied ‘Less Américains’ for my earlier course Understanding Visual Culture. See post here.

Unable to find an American publisher, Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ was first published in Paris in 1958 as ‘Les Américains’. The work has since becoming a revered masterpiece, and although Henner believes this status is justified, he is suspicious of the way the work has become dogmatically mythologised. In order to force a reinterpretation of the book, Henner chose a strategy of erasure – he selected parts of each image and removed them in Photoshop, leaving blank outlines behind. The result is a series that has some images that are instantly recognisable, while others become abstracted. Henner elaborates:

“The Americans was and remains a masterpiece but, by its very nature, it provokes and demands today’s reader to reinterpret it rather than remain a passive spectator. I think that’s true of all great works – they open a door of perception and possibility rather than close it.” (Shore, 2014: 14)

Feedlots (2012-13):

Like ‘Dutch Landscapes’, this series uses aerial satellite imagery to show giant cattle farms in the U.S. Henner pieces together screenshots to make large scale, giant images that have a monumental beauty – neatly tiled patterns of lines and dots (cattle holds and cows) are obstructed by a giant mass, like an “Expressionist rupture” which is actually an acre sized lake of cattle waste. (Gefter, 2015) In the U.S. so called ‘ag-gag’ laws prevent farm operations from being photographed, ironically, the satellite images fall outside of the law – something that Henner’s series series seeks to draw attention to.

Randall County Feedyard, Amarillo, Texas
Tascosa Feedyard, Bushland, Texas
Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas

Links:

Bibliography:

Albers, K. P. (2015) Public life and the private screen: Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land. Circulation|Exchange. Available at: http://circulationexchange.org/articles/nomansland.html (accessed 25th April 2020)

Bohr, M. (2012) Mishka Henner and the boundaries of photography. Photomonitor. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/mishka-henner-and-the-boundaries-of-photography/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

Brook, P. (2012) A conversation with Mishka Hanner. Prison Photography. Available at: https://prisonphotography.org/2012/04/23/a-conversation-with-mishka-henner/ (accessed 25th April 2020)

Calmfors, H. (2011) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. Available at: https://museemagazine.com/culture/culture/art-out/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-at-bruce-silverstein-gallery (accessed 8th March 2020)

Gefter, P. (2015) Mishka Henner uses Google Earth as muse. The New York Times, 28th August 2015. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/arts/design/mishka-henner-uses-google-earth-as-muse-for-his-aerial-art.html?_r=0 (accessed 19th August 2015)

Greenberger, A. (2015) The man who laughed at surveillance technology: Mishka Henner on his jarring images about images. ARTnews, 21st October 2015. Available at:

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/the-man-who-laughed-at-surveillance-technology-mishka-henner-on-his-jarring-images-about-images-5016/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

James, S. (2013) Mishka Henner. Frieze. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/mishka-henner (accessed 19th April 2020)

Jewsbury, D. (2011) No Man’s Land review. Source, Autumn 2011. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0mxn7BUlcSUV2hxU09lNTJzRkE/view (accessed 19th April 2020)

Knoblauch, L. (2015) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic @Bruce Silverstein. Collector Daily. Available at: https://collectordaily.com/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-bruce-silverstein/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

O’ Hagan, S. (2012) Mishka Henner’s erased images: art or insult? The Guardian, 23rd May 2012. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/23/mishka-henner-less-americains (accessed 8th March 2020)

Oakes, S. (2012) In search of new materials: making art with the internet. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/mishka-henner-in-search-of-new-materials-making-art-with-the-internet (accessed 8th March 2020)

Photographer’s Gallery (2013) Mishka Henner: Deutsche Börse Prize 2013. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qomlXhycwpM (accessed 19th April 2020)

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King.

Shore, R. (2015) Art as geospatial intelligence gathering. Elephant. Available at: https://elephant.art/mishka-henner-art-as-geospatial-intelligence-gathering/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Bibliography:

Albers, K. P. (2015) Public life and the private screen: Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land. Circulation|Exchange. Available at: http://circulationexchange.org/articles/nomansland.html (accessed 25th April 2020)

Bohr, M. (2012) Mishka Henner and the boundaries of photography. Photomonitor. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/mishka-henner-and-the-boundaries-of-photography/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

Brook, P. (2012) A conversation with Mishka Hanner. Prison Photography. Available at: https://prisonphotography.org/2012/04/23/a-conversation-with-mishka-henner/ (accessed 25th April 2020)

Calmfors, H. (2011) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. Available at: https://museemagazine.com/culture/culture/art-out/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-at-bruce-silverstein-gallery (accessed 8th March 2020)

Gefter, P. (2015) Mishka Henner uses Google Earth as muse. The New York Times, 28th August 2015. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/arts/design/mishka-henner-uses-google-earth-as-muse-for-his-aerial-art.html?_r=0 (accessed 19th August 2015)

Greenberger, A. (2015) The man who laughed at surveillance technology: Mishka Henner on his jarring images about images. ARTnews, 21st October 2015. Available at:

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/the-man-who-laughed-at-surveillance-technology-mishka-henner-on-his-jarring-images-about-images-5016/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

James, S. (2013) Mishka Henner. Frieze. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/mishka-henner (accessed 19th April 2020)

Jewsbury, D. (2011) No Man’s Land review. Source, Autumn 2011. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0mxn7BUlcSUV2hxU09lNTJzRkE/view (accessed 19th April 2020)

Knoblauch, L. (2015) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic @Bruce Silverstein. Collector Daily. Available at: https://collectordaily.com/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-bruce-silverstein/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

O’ Hagan, S. (2012) Mishka Henner’s erased images: art or insult? The Guardian, 23rd May 2012. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/23/mishka-henner-less-americains (accessed 8th March 2020)

Oakes, S. (2012) In search of new materials: making art with the internet. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/mishka-henner-in-search-of-new-materials-making-art-with-the-internet (accessed 8th March 2020)

Photographer’s Gallery (2013) Mishka Henner: Deutsche Börse Prize 2013. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qomlXhycwpM (accessed 19th April 2020)

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King.

Shore, R. (2015) Art as geospatial intelligence gathering. Elephant. Available at: https://elephant.art/mishka-henner-art-as-geospatial-intelligence-gathering/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Vivian, H. (2015) Mishka Henner and Jill Orr: performing to the all-seeing eye. Artlink. Available at: https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4364/mishka-henner-and-jill-orr-performing-to-the-all-s/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Nathan Bett

I came across the work of Nathan Bett reading the book ‘The Social Photo’ by Nathan Jurgenson. Jurgenson references the series ‘Learning to Disappear‘ which consists of composite street photographs in which the subject is captured grimacing into the camera, the series immediately resonated with me because of the work I made for Assignment 1. The images are shot in New York, somewhere Bett was desperate to visit and make street photographs having been inspired by the likes of Bruce Gilden and Garry Winogrand. The reality of taking images in the city was at odds with the romantic vision Bett had of what the process would be like – rather than capturing moments of poetry amongst the everyday bustle of life on the street, Bett was struck by how he was viewed as a nuisance or with suspicion, he comments:

“What you see in Learning to Disappear are not actual moments but they are a fair reflection of the collected interactions between the public and I. Each photograph is a composite of images made from multiple frames shot from the same spot.

Learning to Disappear is about the dynamic relationship between viewer and subject; specifically, the way in which people react to having their photograph taken, candidly, by a stranger, and without their consent.” (Bett, 2015)

This notion that a stronger truth can be demonstrated in a manipulated or staged image is one I find compelling. It reminds me of the work of Jeff Wall and how he often uses real experience to inform his constructed photographic narratives. The images made by Bett only exist because he has brought them together, and yet, there is a strong relationship to truth and reality – the stares from the people in his images strike a chord as feelings of being looked upon, judged or anxious in public are universal concerns for us all. Jurgenson makes this observation:

“True to the street photographer ethic, his response to these grimaces at being photographed without consent was to Photoshop the faces together to make a new image, a street photograph reduced to pure surveillant anxiety. The violation of privacy is not just something necessary for his art but is the art itself. Resistance to the street-photographer gaze becomes another element for it.” (Jurgenson, 2019: 93-4)

Apart from the strong aesthetic of this series, my attraction is the similarities it has with my assignment 1. Bett has succeeded in making something much more compelling however – the looks from his subjects make immediate impact on the viewer and also unify the set, something I attempted in my own work but have . The series is yet another example of how the direction of a project can develop organically from making the work – the output Bett eventually realised was far from what he initially intended and could only have resulted from the process itself.

Links:

Bibliography:

Bett, N. (2015) Every stare directed at a street photographer in a single image. Medium.com. Available at: https://medium.com/vantage/every-stare-directed-at-a-street-photographer-in-a-single-image-71700b15b9db (accessed 18th April 2020)

Jurgenson, N. (2019) The social photo: on photography and social media. London: Verso.

Sales, L. (2016) American sigh: Nathan Bett. International Centre for Photography. Available at: https://www.icp.org/interviews/american-sigh-nathan-bett (accessed 18th April 2020)

Penelope Umbrico

Penelope Umbrico is an artist who predominately works with found images from the internet and addresses the issues presented by the overwhelming amounts of these pictures we are faced with. Her goal however, is not to archive or collect these images, but to use them in the service of creating her own work which is often different, or even opposing, the intended meaning of the original. In response to a question about how her works de-contextualise and re-contextualise the images she uses she states:

“All photography is de-contextualization. And as soon as it can be viewed – by anyone, in any way, place or form – it’s re-contextualization. As photographers, the first thing we learn is how to frame the world. And when you put a frame around anything, you de-contextualize it. To not see the re-contextualization at this point is to normalize that framing, to make it invisible – in some ways, I’d say my work calls attention to this invisibility – makes it visible.” (Labey and Bick, 2011)

It is so frustrating to research an artist and find they do not have their own website and therefore refreshing that Umbrico’s website is so comprehensive and provides such a gateway into her practice. There is much I admire and am inspired by in her work – not least the eloquent and personal way her artists statements for each of her projects bring them to life. I have taken the liberty here of including extended quotes because of this, and also because I would aspire to be able to describe my own work in similar ways. Other notable points from her practice is how she expands an idea into subsequent projects – some of these I have signposted here. Something else that resonates with me is that despite working extensively with appropriated digital images, the physical manifestation of her work is extremely important to Umbrico. Responding to a question about this in an interview she says:

“to me…flatness is seductive, and I love the physicality of the print. I like the work to sit right on the edge between representation and abstraction, illusory 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional object. So yes, I am very particular about material and craft. It’s important to me, for example, that the sun photographs are produced via a mass-market process – 4″ x 6” Kodak “Easy Share” machine prints (Kodak actually calls them this) or that Broken Sets (eBay) are digital c-prints on metallic paper – the sheen and luminescence of that paper lends to the coolness of the subject matter (the technological breakdown derived from images of broken electronic displays sold on eBay). (Labey and Bick, 2011)

Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (2006-ongoing):

Umbrico describes the genesis and development of her ongoing project ‘Suns from Sunsets from Flickr’ on her website (as an aside, I particularly like the conversational tone and the way she still manages to incorporate the conceptual ideas of the project):

“I began the project, Suns from Sunsets from Flickr in 2006 when looking for the most photographed subject, I searched the photo-sharing website Flickr and found “sunsets” to be the most present (tagged) resulting in 541, 795 in 2006 hits. I thought it peculiar that the sun, the quintessential giver of life and warmth, constant in our lives, symbol of enlightenment, spirituality, eternity, all things unreachable and ephemeral, omnipotent provider of optimism an vitamin D … and so ubiquitously photographed, is now subsumed to the internet – this warm singular object made multiple in the electronic space of the web, and viewed within the cool light of the screen.

I collected those sunsets from Flickr that had the most defined suns in them, and cropped just the suns from these images … which I upload to consumer photo-labs to be printed as 4×6″ machine c-prints. For each installation the title reflects the number of hits I get searching “sunset” on Flickr at the time of installation – for example the first installation was 541, 795 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 01/23/06; a year later: 2, 303, 057 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 09/25/07 – the (Partial) in the title refers to the fact that the installation is only a fragment of the number of sunsets on Flickr at that time.

… the title itself becoming a comment on the ever increasing use of web-based photo communities and a reflection of the collective content there. And since this number only lasts an instant, its recording is analogous to the act of photographing the sunset itself.

Perhaps part of the beauty of taking a picture of a sunset is that while you are doing it it’s likely that a million other people are doing it as well – at exactly the same time. I love this idea of collective practice, something we all engage in despite any artistic concern, knowing that there have been millions before an there will be millions after. While the intent of photographing a sunset may be to capture something ephemeral or to assert an individual subjective point of view – the result is quite the opposite – through the technology of our common camera we experience the power of millions of synoptic views, all shared the same way, at the same moment. To claim individual authorship while photographing a sunset is to disengage from this collective practice and therefore negate a large part of why capturing a sunset is so irresistible in the first place.” (Umbrico, s.d. a)

David Bate (2015) sees Umbrico’s massive grids of appropriated images as demonstrating the universal appeal of the amateur sunset snapshot and how a space can be inhabited by the imagination more than any geometry of place:

“The geometrical consciousness of place as an actual location in the world, for which photography is so renowned, is replaced by a luminary psychological effect, replete with all the imagination of human feeling. The sunsets, repeated as a variation on a theme, are used to enhance a set of emotive feelings. which are only tangentially grasped by aesthetic theories of the beautiful and the sublime. Put simply, a beautiful scene pacifies the spectator, whereas the sublime excites their desire. In the case of the sunset, it can usually do both at once, invoking the sun with feelings of melancholic passion. The sunset photograph is a classic example of how a psychological image can be imposed onto geometrical space: the effect exceeds the information provided about geographic place.” (Bate, 2015: 125)

See also: ‘Sun Burn (Screensaver)’ (2008)

See also: ‘Sunset Portraits from Sunset Pictures on Flickr’ (2010-ongoing)

Out of Order: Broken Sets/Bad Display (2007-ongoing):

For this series, Umbrico presents cropped images of broken monitors and TVs that are sold for spare parts on eBay. In order to show that the electronics behind the broken screens still work, the sellers present them switched on, for Umbrico, the abstract patterns of the displays show an “incidental beauty” which derives “from the failure of their own promising technology.” The images are printed and displayed in grid form which emphasises both their formal and abstract qualities. From her website, she elaborates on her intentions for the series:

“In all these works the medium that serves up the image (the screen) functions not only as a site of projection and reception, but also as a sifting mechanism, or a censor, letting some information through and keeping some out. As the substrate on which one sees images, the screen is invisible until something goes wrong. By focusing on the failed screen, I draw attention to its physical materiality. I make photographic prints of these transient images in order to draw attention to the materiality of the objects from which they come. The photographic print fixes them – makes them transient still, and serves to emphasize their stubborn physical presence.” (Umbrico, s.d d)

Moving Mountains (1850-2012) (2012):

This project is Umbrico’s response to a commission from Aperture where artists were asked to pay homage to work featured in a previous Aperture publication that culminated in an exhibition – Aperture Remix. She chose to focus on images of mountains featured in the Aperture Masters of Photography series, rephotographing pictures using an iPhone and a series of apps and filters. The text from her website summarises the presentation of the work in the gallery space:

“For the exhibition, Umbrico exhibited a grid of over eighty new images side-by-side with vintage prints of each of the images that had been photographed in reproduction, from the pages of the Masters series. In doing so, the expansive and elastic nature of contemporary photography was neatly illustrated – from the original, stable object of the Masters, to the ever mutating, fluctuating digital iterations possible today.”

See also: ‘Range’ (2012-ongoing)

Sun/Screen (2014):

See 46 second excerpt (of 35 mins.) of ‘Sun/Screen’ here.

‘Sun/Screen’ is a video installation which expands on the ideas explored by Umbrico in ‘Suns from Sunsets from Flickr’. Using an iPhone, a range of found images of the sun were rephotographed from her computer screen and then edited together as a slideshow. The conflict between the sensor of the iPhone and the computer screen resulted in as constantly shifting moiré pattern as the suns dissolved into each other. Umbrico says this about the work on her website:

Sun/Screen draws attention to the materiality of the screen and further distances us from the natural sunlight source of the original images. It is a meditation on simulated light activated to produce images of natural light derived from digital images found online of a natural light source (the sun) it is a dialogue between analogue and digital; natural and simulated; surface and screen; projection and reception.” (Umbrico, s.d. b)

The piece was shown in 2014 in the Photographer’s Gallery Media Wall exhibition space, this analysis is made on the gallery’s website:

“The shimmering hazy illusion of heat and light lends a material quality to the screen itself and conversely is more suggestive of natural sunlight than the original images, inviting questions about the nature of reproductions and verisimilitude.” (The Photographer’s Gallery, s.d)

Sun/Screen – installation view at The Photographer’s Gallery

TVs from Craigslist:

This deceptively simple series features images of TVs found by Umbrico for sale on Craigslist. The original pictures are cropped to show only the screen and printed at the scale of the TV being sold. The unintended reflections in the screens are amplified by the process and “offer inadvertent glimpses of intimacy and function as self-portraits of the sellers.” From her website, Umbrico explains further:

Although these images are purely utilitarian, taken only to sell a TV, they all have embedded in them the subjectivity and individuality of the photographer/seller. The inadvertent reflections of the sellers become the subject within the dark screens of their unwanted used-TVs for sale. I find gestures of intimate and private exposures, various states of undress, unmade beds, dirty laundry – all accessible to an entirely anonymous public.

The source images that these prints come from are very small: it’s likely that the seller has no idea that he or she is pictured there. But thinking about the promise, and ultimate absence, of intimacy that the internet fosters, I can’t help thinking there’s a subconscious undercurrent of exhibitionism here; a plea for attention.

Going from city to city on Craigslist in search of TVs has become a somewhat voyeuristic proceeding. It’s like I’m invited into people’s living rooms and bedroom to look at the TV they want to sell and there they are, with unmade bed, sometimes completely naked, reflected in the surface of a TV they no longer want. It’s sad really – at one time the centre of the family room, now rejected, the last picture of the TV that will exist holds on to a little ghostly image of its owner…. Or, the ghostly image is forever stuck in the machine its owner doesn’t want.” (Umbrico, s.d. c)

Barry Johnson (2012) says this about the series:

“While initially simple visually, Umbrico’s work TVs (from Craigslist) gradually illuminates a vast array of unintentional private interiors. The pieces are at once abstract and representational. The camera flash on each black-framed black print is blinding; but once your eyes adjust and focus, the subtle, hidden images of living rooms, garages, bedrooms, and their occupants become clear. So many people take pictures today and think nothing of it. Many of these photos are subsequently posted on the internet, at once swallowed up by indexical monsters that are Google Image Search, Flickr and Facebook. A few keystrokes can bring you to the shared visual creations of millions of photographers (whether professional or otherwise). So vast is the collective database that we can now search by ever more specific color, composition, subject and tag.” (Johnson, 2012)

See also: ‘Signals Still’ (2011-ongoing) which is a series of images of TVs from Craigslist which are switched on but show no image, only signal: “Emitting eerie light, they are present but mute, they hum or hiss but tell no story.” (Umbrico, s.d. e)

See also: ‘Pirouette for CRT’ (2012) – a video installation in which images from ‘TVs from Craigslist’ seem to spin round in the centre of the screen. On her website, Umbrico explains:

“the bulky CRT TVs that are pictured in profile seem like anthropomorphic characters that have been rejected by their owners and yet physically persist, dig in their heals and insist on being dealt with. They are the manifest dinosaurs of technology, physical bodies as symbols of their own obsolescence. Using these found images, Pirouette for CRT is a choreographed tribute to the mortality of the CRT, and of the image.” (Umbrico, s.d f)

Links:

Bibliography:

Bate, D. (2015) Art Photography. London: Tate Publishing.

Cole, T. (2015) On Photography. The New York Times Magazine, April 19, 2015. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/files/NYTM_Teju_Cole_2015_v3.pdf (accessed 1st March 2020)

Evans, D. (2019) Penelope Umbrico: (Photographs). Elephant, 5th January 2019. Available at: https://elephant.art/penelope-umbrico-photographs/ (accessed 1st March 2020)

Hirsch, F. (2010) Penelope Umbrico: LMAK projects. Art in America, November 2010. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/files/Umbrico_ArtinAmerica_2.pdf (accessed 1st March 2020)

Johnson, B. (2012) Hoffman Gallery: Extreme photography and abstract sales. Oregon ArtsWatch Website. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/files/Hoffman%20Gallery-Lewis%20and%20Clark.pdf (accessed 1st March 2020)

Labey, C. and Bick, E. (2011) The digital sublime: A dialogue with Penelope Umbrico. Conveyer Magazine, Spring 2011. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/files/Umbrico_Conveyor_v2.pdf (accessed 1st March 2020)

The Photographer’s Gallery (s.d.) Penelope Umbrico: Sun/Screen. Available at: https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/digital-project/penelope-umbrico-sunscreen (accessed 1st March 2020)

Rutledge, V. (2013) The image world is flat: Penelope Umbrico in conversation with Virginia Rutledge. Aperture Magazine. Available at: https://www.markmoorefineart.com/attachment/en/581c5e0c84184e51358b4568/Press/581c5ea384184e51358b7f5f (accessed 1st March 2020)

Umbrico, P. (s.d.)a Suns from Sunsets from Flickr. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/suns/ (accessed 1st March 2020)

Umbrico, P. (s.d.)b Sun/Screen. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/sun-screen/ (accessed 10th March 2020)

Umbrico, P. (s.d.)c TVs from Craigslist. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/tvs-from-craigslist/ (accessed 10th March 2020)

Umbrico, P. (s.d.)d Out of Order: Broken sets and bad displays. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/broken-sets/ (accessed 10th March 2020)

Umbrico, P. (s.d.)e Signals Still. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/signal-still/ (accessed 10th March 2020)

Umbrico P. (s.d.)f Pirouette for CRT. Available at: http://www.penelopeumbrico.net/index.php/project/pirouette-for-crt/ (accessed 10th March 2020)

Umbrico, P. and Haik, J. (2015) Flashes that have the character of ghosts. Conveyer Magazine, Fall 2013. Available at: http://penelopeumbrico.net/files/Umbrico_Conveyor_Spectrum2_v2.pdf (accessed 1st March 2020)

OCA North Study Day – Halifax – 8th March 2020

Vic Allen with a print of ‘Catchpoint’ (1932) by Bill Brandt. (Credit: Andrew Fitzgibbon)

Despite our guest OCA tutor being unable to attend the meeting at the last minute due to being unwell, we decided not to cancel our planned event as it had been in the diary for some time. I am so glad that we did as the day turned out to be well worth the journey with Vic Allen, arts director at Dean Clough Galleries where we hold the meetings more than ably filling the afternoon with an informative and entertaining presentation about holding an exhibition at the venue. By his own admission Vic can talk, but in a good way! He covered so much in his presentation, from the business of running a gallery, the history of the site and his personal views and opinions on art – all with great humour and enthusiasm. I have included some notes below that I managed to jot down as Vic spoke, although I must admit that most of the time I just enjoyed listening to him generously share his knowledge. The meeting ended with the group enthused about the possibility of holding a group exhibition next year, although it was apparent that this would require a great deal of work and collaboration. We agreed to focus on the practicalities of making this a reality at the next meeting and to putting ideas more formally together.

Notes from Vic’s presentation:

  • There are established ideas about what the art world is – however – in reality it is hard to activate and is often different to what is expected or assumed.
  • The artist needs to take responsibility for creating their own ‘art world’ through building connections, networks and engaging with like minded individuals.
    • Artists are often the best patrons and supporters for other artists.
  • Exhibitions are not about selling work but about seeing work in a different context and gaining feedback.
    • This moves an artists practice along and helps them develop.
    • Exhibitions can show the strengths and weaknesses in a body of work and present unexpected opportunities of viewpoint.
    • Exhibiting is an ongoing education – all artists should strive to exhibit as much as they can.
    • We learn from our mistakes not our successes and these move an artists practice on.
    • The collaboration between artist/curator/venue should not be underestimated.
  • Art vs. culture – an antagonistic relationship
    • Culture can be described as habit and art should be about breaking habits.
      • e.g. The Mona Lisa is now so much a part of cultural iconography that it can no longer be consider art.
    • Becoming a famous artist can mean having to (or being forced to) repeat the same formula.
    • Art should have a sell by date to keep it fresh.
    • Art is wider than the gallery space.
  • The gallery is to art what a car show room is to a car.
    • But cars aren’t built to be kept in a show room – they are for journeys and travelling.
  • You can’t have an art world where only great artists exist.
    • Art is not about excellence but about living life with artistic values.
  • Obsession with galleries as the only place to show art is a problem for the art world – too insular.
  • Dean Clough philosophy is about holding a mirror up to the community and inviting them in.
    • Exhibitions range from master to amateur – an approach not embraced by the art world usually!
  • What motivates you to make art?
    • Money?
      • Adulation?
        • Reverence?
          • Social impulse/impact?
            • Sense of fulfilment?
  • Dean Clough operates an open submissions policy (unusual for the art world) with exhibitors being chosen by a panel.
    • See Dean Clough submission guidelines on website here.
    • When making submissions think carefully about how/who to approach – important to build a process of connectivity with places would like to exhibit.
    • Visit and understand the venue.
    • Send concise information
      • It is best to package proposals as definite suggestions rather than leaving open ended which forces a yes/no response.
      • Submissions should be focussed and not overwhelming – “never send two paintings when one will do.”
  • Go to exhibitions and openings.
    • Opportunity to network and make connections.
    • Also the right thing to be interested in new work and galleries as a practicing artist – inspiration.
  • Have a website/web presence.
    • Only problem with this is it being out of date!
  • Deadlines can be useful in not letting work drag on unfinished forever.
    • Can also be a psychological benefit when things aren’t perfect!
  • Maintain a database of contacts – anyone who has expressed interested in work.
    • This is also your fanbase!
This famous 1932 photograph by Bill Brandt was brought out by Vic in a matter of fact way to illustrate a point he was making about the perceived value of art. (He quipped that a vintage print of the same image had recently sold for £140k, but as this was a later, and inferior print he thought it was only worth about £60k!) The scene where the image was shot, although clearly much changed, could be viewed from the room where our meeting was taking place. It felt like a privilege to view such an iconic photograph while at the same time I loved the way Vic showed admiration, but not reverence, for it. For the majority of the meeting it stood propped on the floor in the corner of the room – I wondered was it the image itself, the famous photographer or the value of the photograph that made it so special, and indeed, how much of this influenced how I felt about it.