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)

Vibeke Tandberg

Vibeke Tandberg is referenced on page 50 of the course notes and cited as a photographer who experiments with self-portraiture by employing photomontage techniques. (This link gives an indication of the type of work she makes.) An article by Inga Hanstveit describes the diversity of Tandberg’s practice with the artist explaining she is driven to work in different media (photography, conceptual art, writing) as she can become bored working with the same thing for a long time. I feel like there is much more to be inspired by in Tandberg’s work and frustrated that my research has only scratched the surface of this, I suspect she is an artist I will learn study further in the future.

Living Together (1996):

This series of seemingly innocent family snapshots show two women, who we assume are sisters because of their resemblance, in a series of everyday, domestic situations. Despite the way the images convince, at least initially, they are digital constructs with Tandberg paying the role of both ‘twins’ in the frame. On closer inspection it can be noted that there is a tension in the behaviour of the ‘twins’ that suggests spilt identity and forces questions about what is real and what is fantasy. Joan Fontcuberta (2014) has this to say:

“they add the diffuse fear that perhaps we can no longer distinguish between appearance and reality, reality and simulacrum, or original and reproduction.” (Fontcuberta, 2014: 97)

Line (1999):

At first glance the portraits from Tandberg’s series ‘Line’ appear to be straightforward, straight candid shots. However, digital technology has been used to merge Tandberg’s facial features with those of her friend – literally investing the image with an intimate connection between photographer and subject. Charlotte Cotton (2014) makes this analysis:

“there is a suggestion that the photographer’s relationship with the subject would be intimate, professional, detached, or a simulation of all these positions. In fact, Tandberg has used digital manipulation to blend fragments of her own facial features with those of her friend, illustrating how a photographic portrait, no matter how guileless it may seem, is partly the photographer’s projection of herself onto her subject. At the heart of this lie the possibilities that postmodernist practice represents for contemporary art photographers: to be able to knowingly shape the subjects that intrigue them, conscious of the heritage of the imagery into which they are entering, and to see the contemporary world through the pictures we already know.” (Cotton, 2014: 217)

For Inga Hanstveit (2018), Tandberg’s staged and manipulated self portraits problematise notions of the self at social, psychological and political levels. Lars Bang Larsen (2000) sees the series as a merging of personae which is aligned with a therapeutic acceptance of repressed elements in the psyche:

“In ‘Line’ the photographic merging reflects the artist’s conquest of desire and temporary ego loss, her split personality healed in chaste, almost painterly, monumental photography

Rather than portraying an authentic self caught up in a repertoire of simulacra, she deals with the slippage between me and you, privileging intimacy as an evolutionary hot-house for identity’s deviation. ‘Line’ is a rendition of what discreet psychodramas are enacted when you live under the same roof as your desire.” (Larsen, 2000)

Links:

Vibeke Tandberg: experimental self-portraiture employing photomontage techniques (link 9):

Bibliography:

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Fugitive identities. In pps. 90-103: Pandora’s camera: photogr@phy after photography. London: MACK

Hanstveit, I. I. (2018) Vibeke Tandberg – Where literature meets art at Turner Contemporary. Norwegian Arts. Available at: https://norwegianarts.org.uk/event/vibeke-tandberg/ (accessed 23rd February 2020)

Lange, C. (2005) Reviews: Vibeke Tandberg. Frieze. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/vibeke-tandberg-0 (accessed 1st March 2020)

Larsen, L. B. (2000) Reviews: Vibeke Tandberg. Frieze. Available at: https://norwegianarts.org.uk/event/vibeke-tandberg/ (accessed 23rd February 2020)

Hans Eijkelboom

Hans Eijkelboom says this about his practice:

“What I do is actually very unclear…As a form it seems like a very simple way to collect information about people’s behaviour. But the exhibitions and books that I make do not show any useful and coherent information at all.” (White, 2020)

Bakker (2020) believes Eijkelboom’s work asks questions about human identity, vulnerability and how this is shaped by the public space and interaction with society. His work is rooted in the conceptual photo art of the 1960s which is typified by seriality, repetition, typologies, performance and humour. He explains that he uses photography as a way of making notes about what he encounters and “to employ photography as an instrument to show how the world appears.” In the introduction to the catalogue for his 2017-18 retrospective he explains:

“I explore the world daily and register aspects of my voyage of discovery with a camera. I do this in a detached way, because the thought that I can predetermine what is or is not significant in the formation of my world perception should not exist. In this way a stream of observations of these not directly responsible formation aspects of my world perception emerge and are recorded” (Bakker, 2020)

With My Family (1973):

For this series, Eijkelboom places himself as the father figure in a series of family portraits that plays on the predictable uniformity of the family photograph. At first the images seem authentic and believable, but the presence of Eijkelboom in each one causes the viewer to question what they are seeing. Erik Kessels (2016) observes that the conventions of the family photography seek to deliberately obscure all of life’s imperfections:

“Photography is not only a form of documentation; it’s just as often a tool for manipulation.

Each individual family portrait is entirely believable. Eijkelboom never looks out of place. The persuasiveness of the image allows him to deceive us. And in doing so, he questions our ideas about identity and pokes fun at photographic clichés.” (Kessels, 2016: 137-144)

Identity (1976):

This series of self portraits show Eijkelboom acting out the profession that former school mates who had not seen him for ten years imagined him to now be engaged in. Eijkelboom contacted his former friends and asked them what they remembered about him and what they thought his occupation might be now. Sean O’Hagan says this about the series:

“Alongside the often expansive and hilariously uncomplimentary answers -“going by what I remember about him, I don’t think he has become anything special” – Eijkelboom poses in the clothes of the profession attributed to him. In one, he is a somewhat unlikely-looking businessman sitting behind a desk; in another, a forester in the traditional costume of plus-fours and gamekeepers feathered hat. One woman confesses to having “been in love with him for years”. Another man calls him “a real blackguard always willing to finish the discussion elsewhere – with his fists.” (O’Hagan, 2014)

The Ideal Man (1978):

For this series, Eijkelboom devised a questionnaire which he sent out to 100 women asking them to describes their ideal man in terms of appearance and clothing. He chose 10 of the most diverse of these and worked with a make up artist to transform himself into the ‘perfect man’. The author of the questionnaire was present at a photoshoot to capture the results and offer final direction. The images of the ‘ideal man’ alone, and then with their would be partner were presented alongside the questionnaires.

10 Euro Outfits:

For this series, Eijkelboom made a series of self-portraits wearing entire outfits bought for €10 or less. Sean O’Hagan observes:

“They range from the drab – pinstripe trousers, grey-striped polo shirt, pale cream sandals – to the plain weird: a swirly-patterned shirt made of green nylon and camouflage trousers. He emerges here as a kind of European everyman, and, as such, looks depressingly familiar. The series could be a critique of Europe in the age of austerity, or a wry look at the homogenisation of high-street budget labels. Either way, it’s another example of Eijkelboom’s deadpan, though-provoking take on identity and, like all his work, makes you think and smile simultaneously.” (O’Hagan, 2014)

Photo Notes (1992-2007):

From the early 1980s, Eijkelboom predominately stopped pointing the camera at himself and began to a number of experiments with street photography. The approach he chose are described as ‘Photo Notes’ and he uses a set of rigorous rules for making the work that have become his mode of working in every subsequent series. Dieter Roelstraete (2011) makes a link between Eijkelboom’s practice and August Sander’s ‘People of the Twentieth Century’, although he asserts that Eijkelboom’s series is only superficially similar:

“the artist takes to the street not only armed with his camera, but also with a set of rigorous, non-negotiable rules. Photographing only takes place in a precisely determined spot, for a precisely determined length of time (both facts are always included at the bottom of the resulting arrangement of photographs as crucial bits of information) and the ‘subject’ is correspondingly narrowly defined to ensure maximum sameness. Young girls with Spice Girls T-Shirts, young men with Che Guevara T-shirts … or middle-aged men with Rolling Stones T-shirts; topless types on rollerblades; middle-aged mothers and teenage daughters schlepping shopping bags while talking to their mobile phones; people who are not emergency workers yet still wear yellow coats – as a document of changing fashions, Photo Notes certainly creates the impression that what was in reality only a decade-and-a-half ago is light years away in time.” (Roelstraete, 2011)

Although the thousands of photographs from this project are of individuals, it is repetition, and sameness, that is the point of Eijkelboom’s visual anthropology. Marcel Feil (2007) notes the diaristic nature of the series and the way its visual development is shaped by repeated observations over an extended period of time: “like the stalagmites and stalactites in a cave, which have gained their shapes through the ceaseless repetition of falling drops of water.” Though Eijkelboom has used different conceptual strategies throughout his career, his work is unified by some key concerns:

“One common feature of the photo projects Eijkelboom has embarked on since the early 1970s is a profound interest in questions concerning our identity. How we see ourselves and how do others see us? Is there a connection between what we wear and what we are? How does each individual manifest his or her idea of identity? And – more fundamentally – what is the relationship between expression of our identity and our (self-) awareness?

In Photo Notes Eijkelboom depicts the individual and unique in terms of the vast numbers of individuals who populate our cities. Because the photographs for Photo Notes were taken over such a long period and because of the constant repetitions and comparisons and the sheer quantity of visual material, the personal observations on the diary gradually acquire a universal validity. By looking at others, we also observe ourselves; subject and object become one, and the tension between the individual and the mass is highlighted.” (Feil, 2007)

Paris – NewYork – Shanghai (2007):

This series which culminated in an exhibition and book, sees Eijkelboom document everyday life in the cities of Paris, Shanghai and New York which he regards as the capitals of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These seemingly disparate cities are shown to be more similar than we would at first imagine, for Jim Caspar (s.d.) the project is driven by Eijkelboom’s obsessive search for anthropological-sociological typologies and provides proof that the differences in exotic cultures have already been conquered and eliminated by globalisation. He describes the design of the book as essentially three books in one, which allows the viewer to simultaneously compare and contrast images showing the similarities in France, America and China. From the introductory essay, Tony Godfrey makes this assessment:

“For a book of art photographs, there is an extraordinary array of images. Having opened it, I turn the pages of each volume simultaneously: I can see sixty photographs of men in striped shirts; turn again, and I see an army of seventy-two men in suits marching to work; turn again, and a panorama of empty civic spaces. What are we being told? That this is a small world after all? Is this a Family of Man on a minimal grid?” (Godfrey, 2007)

People of the Twenty-First Century:

For this ongoing project, which Eijkelboom has been engaged with since the 1990s, he captures “little points of commonality”, such as behaviour or dress, in various cities around the world. For Ryan White (2020), the series is “a fascinatingly simple sociological study into individuality in relation to collective behaviour.” Eijkelboom believes that the city is where society is most visible. He is not interested in pointing his camera at the extraordinary, but in recording slight differences in dress, appearance, body language and gesture – an unintended extra aspect to the series due to the length of time he has been engaged in it, is that he has also recorded how this has changed over time. Eijkelboom explains: “what becomes almost invisible due to its prevalence, the accumulation of coincidental phenomena of which the significance is not yet clear.” (Bakker, 2020)

Eijkelboom describes his photographs as “photo notes” and his process as:

“simply that I walk to the centre of the city where many people are. Then I walk around for 10 to 15 minutes. When something in the crowd intrigues me or touches me, I decide that will be the theme of the day. Then I start photographing for two hours. Many times, it goes wrong: I don’t see anything, do I don’t photograph that day; or I go to the city, see my subject, start photographing and, surprisingly, in the next two hours never see my subject again. And then, for that day, there is no photo note.” (Petridis, 2014)

Alex Petridis (2014) sees the work as simultaneously mundane and compelling with a hypnotic, repetitious quality. Despite the superficial similarities in the way people look however, it is significant that these accentuate the subtle differences in the individuals photographed: “the longer you look at them, the more nuances become apparent.” An article in the BJP expands the notion:

“The people depicted in each collage are wearing very similar outfits, making the images initially look like a comment on the loss of individuality; on closer inspection, each person has put their own stamp on the clothes, hinting at the persistence of each personality in our increasingly homogenous societies.” (British Journal of Photography, 2017)

Street Fusion: Bristol in 2019 (2019):

This series, commissioned by the Martin Parr Foundation and exhibited in 2020, is described by Eijkelboom as “a continuation and departure” from ‘People of the Twenty-First Century’. The work was made in Bristol over a period of 11 days when Eijkelboom made images around different themes each day. In an interview, he describes the difference in his methodology between this and the earlier project:

“For the first time, my photos are not on display in isolated groups, but as part of a continuous stream of observations during walks in the centre of Bristol. The basis of the exhibition is the question: which is more important for forming our image of the world — the isolated moment or the continuous flow of more or less repeating images that come to us every day? The exhibition has two ambitions: To show a moment from the stream of images that form my world view, and provide a fleeting snapshot of society in Bristol.” (White, 2020)

Martin Parr makes this comment on Eijkelboom’s work:

“If I were an anthropologist, the first photographer I would call upon is Hans Eijkelboom … Over a long career, he has photographed mainly in the street, observing people and places with the discipline, rigour and engagement that has all the hallmarks of anthropology. In fact, if I were a visitor from another planet looking for information on the nature of city life, I would engage the services of Eijkelboom.” (Williams, 2020)

Links:

Bibliography:

Bakker, T. H. (2020) The ideal man. British Journal of Photography, issue 7892, February 2020.

British Journal of Photography (2017) Hans Eijkelboom gets a major retrospective in The Hague. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/09/hans-eijkelboom-retrospective/ (accessed 7th February 2020)

Feil, M. (2007) Paris-New York-Shanghai. FOAM. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/FOAM-ENG.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Gierstberg, F. (2006) Hans Eijkelboom. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Museum-Rotterdam-ENG.pdf (acessed 11th February 2020)

Godfrey, T. (2007) The work of Hans Eijkelboom. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Tony%20Godfrey.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Kessels, E. (2016) Failed it! London: Phaidon Press Ltd.

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Arles 2014: Hans Eijkelboom and the unbearable Dutchness of being. The Guardian, 11th July 2014. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/11/arles-2014-hans-eijkelboom-dutch-group-show (accessed 11th February 2020)

Parr, M. (2007) Introduction in the book Paris – New York -Shanghai. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Martin-Parr.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Pellerin, A. (2014) Hans Eijkelboom on photography for aliens. AnOther. Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/4045/hans-eijkelboom-on-photography-for-aliens (accessed 3rd February 2020)

Petridis, A. (2014) Same but different: Hans Eijkelboom’s tribal street photography. The Guardian, 23rd October 2014. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/23/hans-eijkelboom-street-photography-tribes-people-twenty-first-century (accessed 11th February 2020)

Roelstraete, D. (2011) The mass ornament – revisited: reading from Hans Eijkelboom’s Photo Notes. Afterall. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Dieter%20Roelstraete(Afterall).pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Roelstraete, D. (2014) Hans Eijkelboom. Documenta 14. Available at: https://www.documenta14.de/en/artists/13568/hans-eijkelboom (accessed 11th February 2020)

White, R. (2020) The photographer proving we’re not so different after all. i-D. Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/k7e83e/hans-eijkelboom-photographer-street-fusi-bristol-in-2019 (accessed 13th January 2020)

Williams, (2020) Hans Eijkelboom’s snapshot of Bristol. Creative Revoew. Available at: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/hans-eijkelboom-street-fusion/

Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrissey is a photographer/artist/filmmaker who predominately uses performative, self-portraiture to make images that are rich in narrative potential and with strong contextual underpinning. In an interview with David Chandler, Morrissey describes how she explores the language of photography through her work, particularly through stories about families and women.

Camilla Brown describes Trish Morrissey’s practice as being performative with the recurring strategy of role play while also being rooted in the tradition and language of photography, particularly vernacular photographs:

“Morrissey’s style could be described as narrative documentary as it uses the conventions of portraiture and snap-shot photography whilst collapsing the distinction between fact and fiction. The artist always appears in her work, although at times she is hard to recognize which mines the territory of the family photograph.” (Brown, 2010)

Collaboration is a major facet of Morrissey’s practice and her work is often made in conjunction with others – variously family members or strangers.

In an exhibition review, Dan Rule describes Morrissey’s work as:

“performative, humorous and ultimately affecting…[the work] adopts a series of formal, familial and historical tropes, only to pick them apart at the seams.” (Rule, 2010)

Sharon Boothroyd describes Morrissey’s work as being situated between self-portraiture and performance:

“She is known for considering themes of identity with an arresting humour, and yet it is a humour underpinned with poignancy and pathos. So much so that the effect is sometimes one where the viewer doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s as if she tells us a joke, but the joke is a bit too close to home, so that it makes us wince as we recognise something of ourselves in the punchline.” (Boothroyd, 2016)

Seven Years (2001-4):

In ‘Seven Years’, Morrissey, in collaboration with her older sister, presents a series of ambiguous, constructed family snapshots staged in the 1970s and 80s. In an interview with Sharon Boothroyd, Morrissey explains that ‘Seven Years’ is only a personal project in the sense that she worked with her sister to make it:

“The pictures themselves are not related to my own personal pictures, but rather they are about generic family album photographs. They are moments when we all take pictures, i.e. the celebration, the new baby, the pet, the day out, the beach, the picnic. But they all have a dark twist. Humour is probably the first emotion encountered by the viewer, but I think that soon fades to a slow burning psychological affect. Secrets. The project is all about secrets.” (Boothroyd, 2016)

From ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’ by Charlotte Cotton:

Seven Years provides a link between Morrissey’s own family experiences, remembered through personal photographs, and the common tropes of domestic photography. Family snaps can be triggered for re-remembering and reappraising identities and familial relationships. In collaboration with her elder sister, who is the other performer in the series, Morrissey attempted to make the subject of Seven Years the subtexts of relationships that are embedded in family photographs. The props and clothing of objects found in Morrissey’s parents’ attic and secondhand items she collected for the staging of each photograph.” (Cotton, 2014 :196)

Alison Green observes that although the scenarios Morrissey shows in ‘Seven Years’ are only partially based on her personal, family history, they still have “the haunting (or stultifying) quality of one’s own memories of privately painful experiences of ordinary events.” (Green, 2006)

Camilla Brown believes Morrissey’s choice to stage ‘Seven Years’ in and around her family home rather than in a studio provides a crucial authenticity to the images which seek “to deconstruct family photographs by using various devices to render the familiar uncanny.”:

“Rarely do the sisters play themselves, but instead they appear in different guises and settings, across a decade. The gender of the characters changes as the young girl on the beach becomes a man with short hair and a moustache sat with his legs apart on a sofa. The androgyny of the characters is used to prevent the usual mimetic representation of family portraits that rely upon identifiable roles and positions. We cannot be sure who is the father, mother, daughter or brother. In this way despite the thread of autobiographical reference woven through the series there is a continual blurring of fact and fiction. It becomes clear that this series is less about one particular family but more an examination of the generic nature of family portraits and how they are interpreted.” (Brown, 2004)

Edward Welch discusses how Morrissey’s intricate reconstructions demonstrate not only the way the family album serves as an archive for the fashions and tastes of a period, but also, how it becomes a repository for family memory and history. Conventional signs of vernacular snapshot photography are recreated in a playful way, such as fingers in front of the lens. It is the way that feelings and emotions are betrayed by body language that is particularly fascinating howver:

“Our attention is drawn constantly in these photos to gestures and poses, and in particular to facial expressions, gazes and glances – whether it be the ones they address to the camera or to each other. We are invited to imagine narratives to which they point…Morrissey succeeds in making us reflect on how families are constructed, and how they present themselves for consumption.” (Welch, s.d.)

In an article for Lens Culture, Morrissey laments how the physical, family photo album has been replaced by digital images which are now shared electronically and rarely printed:

“In the past, looking through albums required a ritualized oral dialogue of storytelling, descriptions, memory-making, nostalgia and celebration – as well as denial, absences and secrecy. Family snapshots follow cultural conventions. Much of this is in flux as a result of digital intervention.

The family album presents an idealized version of family life that often belies the truth. Everyone has a special face they were for the camera. When we pause and pose for a snap, we usually smile – but the unconscious leaks out into the body, bypassing the face, which stands firm behind its mask. The instantaneous nature of photography isolates the small gestures that often go unnoticed in real life because they are too minute and commonplace to be discerned.

The photographs in “Seven Years” are the awkward pictures: fingers in front of lens, eyes shut, unattractive body language. Pictures that would normally ended up down the back of the sofa, or burned so that they would never see the light of day.” (Morrissey, s.d.)

August 8th, 1982
January 25th, 1979
October 1st, 1987

Front (2005):

‘Front’ is a series of 12 images showing different groups of people and shot on beaches in the UK during the summer. The work explores conventions of the family photograph with Morrissey taking the place of one of the women in the group and with the woman then replacing Morrissey as the artist/photographer. Camilla Brown observes that the participants become collaborators with Morrissey in making the final work: “As complicit participants the authorship of the work becomes shared.” Morrissey’s fascination with the family unit is the driving force and inherent tension in the series:

“We assume the groups are families and it is only when we see Morrissey in each shot that this presumption starts to unravel. Although these people are strangers to us, all of us will have similar photographs of our own families that are like this. The work touches on how family photographs operate in the vernacular context, and how they are also used to propagate the hegemony and stability of the nuclear family unit.” (Brown, 2010)

Alison Green sees ‘Front’ as a development in the themes of “doubling and displacement” that are concerns of Morrissey’s earlier work. In this series, she “courts the awkwardness, unhappiness or anguish displayed on the body in spite of the smile fixed for a conventional ‘happy image.”:

“[In] ‘Front’ Morrissey doesn’t merely sit for the picture, but takes on the persona-mother, sister, friend-of one of the group’s members, who herself becomes the photographer. These photographs become at once ordinary holiday snaps and very strange exchanges between public and private spaces (she usually tried to borrow an item of clothing from the woman she replaced). In a sense, Morrissey’s motivations are dual: she wants to bring photographic clichés into high relief, but also to open these dramas up, to create more play within them to counter the ossifying effects both of memory and group dynamics.” (Green, 2006)

Dan rule makes these observations:

“The series is almost disquieting in its believability. What makes Morrissey’s work impressive and convincing is its multiplicity. She doesn’t just comment on family and femininity and photographic mode; she steps inside and embodies the formal and cultural archetypes. These are as much family portraits with Morrissey, a stranger in them as they would be otherwise.” (Rule, 2010)

Marcus Bunyan states:

“These photographs subvert the idiom of the nuclear family, where conversational parties possess common cultural references. In Morrissey’s photographs the family photograph has become a site of resistance, a contested site, one that challenges the holistic whole of the family, the memory of the family photograph and the idea that without family nothing cohesive would exist at all.” (Bunyan, 2010)

Chloe Gwynne, May 30th, 2005
Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006
Katy McDonnell, October 5th, 2007

The Failed Realist (2011):

This series was made in collaboration with her daughter when she was between four and five and came about through the rainy day activity of face painting. The title refers to psychologist George-Henri Luquet’s concept of child development which he termed The Failed Realist stage which refers to the desire of the child to represent their experiences visually which is hampered by their undeveloped motor skills. Morrissey also references the Romantic artists who strove for a return to innocence in their own painting and later modernist painters who saw the drawings of children as a pure way of seeing.

Siún Hanrahan makes these observations of the work:

“The painted faces recorded in the photographs are, thus, traces of a vivid fanciful play of imagination making sense of life’s narratives – real, fictional and imagined. Emerging through play, what was being depicted was entirely present in the moment it was being told and painted. That the abstract markings are not (for the child) deliberate, if clumsy, variations on the masks of Pierrot or Harlequin is suggested by the title of the series. As failed realists, children intend their drawings to represent something from life without yet being able to control the depiction nor yet having fully thought through the relationships between parts.

So far the suggestion is that what is met through the photographs has to do with childhood. And yet, we do not meet the child and this is not quite an encounter with her world. The photograph is of the mother. We are removed from the moment and the scenography of play. Disparate events are rendered temporally equivalent, in that incidental markers of the particular day have been removed – no clothing is evident, hairstyle is largely unchanging, and the backdrop is constant. The expression is neutral, as far as possible, and ‘confrontational’ as it expects to meet our gaze.

The photographs record ambivalence toward the iconic moments of childhood. But, removed as they are from the scene of play, the ambivalence is not necessarily toward the construction of childhood. The works do not particularly propose themselves as portraits of motherhood, and yet, it is the mother in the photograph.

The works call up the body but refuse access to the specific, embodied experience and sense-making of mother or child. They both acknowledge and resist the child’s authority – in wrestling agency within the face painting game and in the meanings to be made.” (Hanrahan, 2012)

Pretty Ogre
A Wild Cat Chasing a London Bird
Pocahontas

The Successful Realist‘ is a reprise of this project made six years later when Morrissey’s daughter was 11. The work follows the same rules as the earlier series and while the painting is much more refined, much can be inferred from her daughter’s development as a young person on the verge of becoming a teenager.

Emoji (Love Eyes)
Life and Death

Ten People in a Suitcase (2015):

This series was the result of a residency Morrissey was invited to participate in along with eight other artists at Gosta Serlachius Fine Art Foundation in Mantta, Finland. The brief was for each artist to make work about the town to be shown in a group exhibition with the aim of finding a way of getting to the essence of the place. Morrissey used the town archive of over 30,000 pictures as the basis of her work, picking ten images of that resonated with her in some way and re-imaging these with herself as the protagonist. Most of the images were anonymous and showed people engaged in everyday activities and Morrissey used them as guides, selecting the images to use based on instinct and because she felt some sort of visceral connection to them. From her artists statement she explains: “The photographs transcend mere re-enactments, they are embodiments of real individuals who are more than just their snap shot.”

Fig. 0395GAS (TM) Aune Heimolainen, one of the best swimmer girls in Mantta Sporting Club. 1943/2015.
Fig. 08132KEL (TM) Tapani Kansa sang at Kirstinharju dance pavillion. Departure. 1970/2015.
Fig. 7510GAS (TM) Miss Tuula Jarvenpaa (The Serla Girl) domestic sales. 1961/2015.

Links:

Bibliography:

Boothroyd, S. (2016) Trish Morrissey. Photoparley blog. Available at: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/trish-morrissey/ (accessed 30th January 2020)

Brown, C. (2004) Trish Morrissey, Seven Years. EAST International 2004, Catalogue  Essay. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/essays/east-2004.html (accessed 28th January 2020)

Brown, C, (2010) Trish Morrissey. Portfolio, Issue No. 49. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/essays/portfolio-2010.html (accessed 18th January 2020)

Bunyan, M. (2010) Review: Trish Morrissey, photographs and video at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne. ArtBlart Blog, 2nd March 2010. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/reviews/review-artblart.html (accessed 30th January 2020)

Cotton, C. (2004) Seven Years part 1. Photoworks Issue 1. Available at: https://photoworks.org.uk/seven-years-part-1/ (accessed 30th January 2020)

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson

Green, A. (2006) Vitamin Ph, Survey of International Contemporary Photography. Phaidon Press. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/essays/vit-ph-2006.html (accessed 28th January 2020)

Hanrahan, S. (2012) The failed realist. Source Magazine. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/essays/source-2012.html (accessed 28th January 2020)

Morrissey, T. (s.d.) Seven Years. Lens Culture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/trish-morrissey-seven-years (accessed 30th January 2020)

Phillips, S. (2013) Trish Morrissey’s best photograph: infiltrating a family on a Kent beach. The Guardian, 23rd January 2013. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/23/trish-morrissey-best-shot (accessed 30th January 2020)

Welch, E. (s.d.) Family Remade. Source Magazine issue 40. Available at: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/articles/reviews/review-source-is40.html (accessed 30th January 2020)