Exercise 3.2

Photograph by Burham Özbilici: Melvut Mert Altintas standing over Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey. 19th December 2016.

For this exercise, we are asked to consider an image we believe to be ‘controversial’ or to transgress social barriers. I could have chosen many images for this project, most of which could be considered controversial because they are graphic and disturbing, however, I have chosen a photograph showing the assassination of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, by Melvut Mert Alintas in 2016 because of the interesting questions about visual representation and our reading of reality that it raises.

I remember distinctly at the time that this event occurred and this image was all over the new and social media, the overriding comment was that it did not seem real or that it was like a still from a film. This comparison is discussed by Grant Scott (2016) who likens the image as being part ‘Reservoir Dogs’ – the suit, the stance, and, part ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ – the attitude, the anger, the cry to the media. Despite being an image of an extreme act of violence, Scott notes that the cold reality of the situation, and the narrative unfolding, is like “a movie still appropriate for mass media consumption.” Although it is clear what is happening, it is the space within the image that allows us to write our own narrative that makes it so shocking. Scott makes the summary that the image tells a story in “hyper digital clarity creating a cinematic news image for our times. The narrative is clear, shocking and deeply affecting in its emotional coldness.” The reference to digital is significant in reference to the way the image was initially disseminated via Twitter and Facebook. It is not unusual for news images to be shown quickly in this way, however, this is not the shaky and badly composed iPhone imagery that has become the language of eye witness photography – the obvious professionalism of the photograph is what makes it so disconcerting and causes us to question whether what we are viewing is real or staged.

The aesthetics of the image and the effect this has on the viewer is expanded upon in article by Jerry Saltz. The violence and bloodletting present in the photograph are in contrast to the upscale, art gallery setting with everyone dressed elegantly in black – something that makes them both surreal and painfully beautiful. He continues his analyis:

“What makes the pictures so different from all of the other pictures of death we see? The poses are almost classical, frozen, or rehearsed as if from theater, ballet, painting, or mannequin display. The photographer, working the art opening for the Associated Press, deserves all of the enormous credit he’s received for responding as fluidily as a war photographer to the sudden outbreak of violence. But if I told you the images were fake, or staged, you might believe me. As Kurt Andersen put it on Twitter, ‘the great photojournalism of 2016 is continuing to resemble still from a scary, not-entirley-realistic movie’ – and that strange familiarity we feel looking at the images is one reason they are so uncomfortable to contemplate. Everything in the images is emotion articulated, caught, performed, and real. All this triggers an unreal internal visual dance. It’s a new surrealism of modern life, made all the more harrowing because it could not be more truly real.” (Katz, 2016)

This tension between reality, what we believe and how it is displayed through photographs is fascinating, and I agreee entirely with Katz’s belief that that if he said the images were faked or staged we might believe him.

John Macpherson (2016) points to a number of details in the image that both make it powerful and add subtle layers of meaning. Firstly, the trigger of the gun and the way that the assassin’s finger is held away from it – something that professional users of guns are trained to do and an indication of the skills possessed by the gunman. Secondly, a detail that helps us identify with the victim in a human way – the worn sole of his shoe, only visible because he is sprawled dying on the floor, signifies a common humanity and ordinariness amongst the extraordinary scene that the viewer can identify with.

In 2017, the photographer Burhan Özbilici was awarded World Press Photo of the Year for the image. In an article for The Guardian, chair of the judging panel for that award Stuart Franklin explains that despite recognising the impact of the image he voted against it winning the top prize as he feared it would amplify the message of the terrorists:

“It’s a photograph of a murder, the killer and the slain, both seen in the same picture, and morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading…Placing the photograph on this high pedestal is an invitation to those contemplating such staged spectaculars: it reaffirms the compact between martyrdom and publicity.” (Franklin, 2017)

While I agree with Franklin’s concerns, and I definitely feel troubled with giving the image a prestigious award, I am not sure there is an alternative but to show the picture. The risk that the message of the terrorist could be amplified by showing the picture is a real concern – but who should we trust to make these judgements about what should and should not be published? That said, without the power of this image, would the story have been as widely publicised and reported upon? It is widely considered that the photographic essay rather than the single image is the best way to show the reality of an event, and yet, in this age of instant news and social media, it is the single image that is increasingly important.

Bibliography:

Easton, L. (2016) AP photographer: ‘I composed myself enough to shoot pictures.’ AP Blog. Available at: https://blog.ap.org/behind-the-news/ap-photographer-i-composed-myself-enough-to-shoot-pictures?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=AP_CorpComm (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Katz, A. (2016) Three photographers witnessed an assassination. One photo went viral. Time.com. Available at: https://time.com/4608713/russia-turkey-assassination-photos/ (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Franklin, S. (2017) This image of terror should not ne photo of the year – I voted against it. The Guardian, 13th February 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/13/world-press-photo-year-turkey-russian-assassination (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Macpherson, J. (2016) A finger, a trigger, a shoe. A death. DuckRabbitBlog. Available at: https://www.duckrabbit.info/blog/2016/12/finger-trigger-shoe-death/?highlight=andrei%20karlov (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Saltz, J. (2016) Considering the Ankara assassination photos as history painting. New York Vulture. Available at: https://www.vulture.com/2016/12/those-harrowing-ankara-assassination-photos.html (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Scott, G. (2016) The single image narrative: sometimes it chooses you. The United Nations of Photography. Available at: https://unitednationsofphotography.com/2016/12/22/the-single-image-narrative-sometimes-it-chooses-you/ (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Shepherd, J. (2017) Photograph of Russian ambassador assassination wins top prize at World Press Photo contest. The Independent, 13th February 2017. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/photography/world-press-photo-2017-russian-ambassador-assassination-of-the-year-a7577551.html (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Walker, S. et al (2016) Russian ambassador to Turkey shot dead by police officer in Ankara gallery. The Guardian, 20th December 2016. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/19/russian-ambassador-to-turkey-wounded-in-ankara-shooting-attack (accessed 3rd July 2020)

Exercise 3.1

For this exercise we are asked to read the essay by Fred Ritchin entitled ‘Toward a Hyperphotography’ (from his 2008 book ‘After Photography’) and look for visual examples of “cubist” photographs. Ritchin defines images that have a contradictory “double image” as cubist – they show that reality has no single truth. (Ritchin, 2008: 147) The example Ritchin uses for this is two images taken from opposite angles of the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994. The first shows soldiers laying on the ground in front of a helicopter, their guns raised to their eyes resting on their back packs. The image suggests that the soldiers are ready for engagement – the second image shows a number of photographers in front of the soldiers capturing the scene and causes us to question the validity of the first picture, as Ritchin observes, it is only the photographers who are doing any shooting. I would agree with Ritchin that by viewing the second image, the viewer questions what they are seeing, but, the scene seems less remarkable to me – all it shows is the reality of how news is constructed.

A much more shocking example of “unmasking photo opportunities, cubistically” are these images, again from Haiti, of a dead teenage girl Fabienne Cherisma, shot by police for looting in January 2010 in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake a few days before.

Similarly to the example given by Ritchin, the bottom image lays bear the reality of photojournalism but makes the viewer uncomfortable – personally, I feel complicit in the violence of the scene that allows Fabienne Cherisma to be violated for a second time by the scrum of photographers looking for the most aesthetically appealing angle to create the most powerful image. Peter Brook, on his blog ‘Prison Photography’, makes the argument that if an image such as this fuels public awareness, and therefore aid to help the immediate future of Haiti, then perhaps this positive effect can negate accusations of media exploitation. Unable to explain this phenomena, he makes this interesting observation:

“I wouldn’t call this the magic or power of photography, I’d call it the mysterious perversion of photography…the history of photojournalism is replete with globally-recognised subjects whose visage was appropriated without their knowledge and/or consent. There’s no model release form in war and disaster.” (Brook, 2010)

In his essay Ritchin makes some historically interesting observations about the nature of photojournalism, the problems attached to it and the possible future. Now over 10 years old, these ideas are interesting in an historic sense as the way news is disseminated in 2020, and particularly the impact of social media has transformed this, has changed significantly. At first Ritchin’s assertion that images can be contradictory (a cubist “double image”) and that reality has no single truth seems perfectly obvious and an accepted point of view to me. His solution that a “multiperspectival strategy would help devalue spin” is a noble idea but seems naive today. Rather than allowing multiple viewpoints to be shown of a single event and therefore allowing the viewer to disseminate this information and reach their personal understanding, modern digital media seems to promote a more polarised and definite reading of events. The loss of nuance and subtlety can perhaps be partly explained by the sheer amount of news that is available – something that is overwhelming – it is difficult to know what to trust, what to believe, or even, what is important. Faced with this it seems obvious that events are simplified – otherwise the reader would not have the time to digest everything. The transition from old to new media is complex and still in the early stages of evolution, I would like to believe that the eventual outcome could be a positive one, as Ritchin does, but the more I see complex information simplified and distorted with opinions presented as facts the less confident I become.

Bibliography:

Brook, P. (2010) Fabienne Cherisma. Prison Photography. Availble at: https://prisonphotography.org/2010/01/27/fabienne-cherisma/ (accessed 27th May 2020)

Carroll, R. (2010) Haiti earthquake: he had not picked her up since she was a toddler. Last week he carried her home. The Guardian, 26th January 2010. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jan/26/haiti-earthquake-shooting-girl-story (accessed 27th May 2020)

The Reel Foto. (2013) Fabienne Cherisma: a picture of a dead Haitian girl surrounded by photographers. Available at: http://reelfoto.blogspot.com/2013/05/fabienne-cherisma-picture-of-dead.html (accessed 27th May 2020)

Morris, E. (2010) Thought experiment #2. The New York Times, January 12th 2010. Available at: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/thought-experiment-2/ (accessed 27th May 2020)

Ritchin, F. (2009) Toward a Hyperphotography in: After photography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company Ltd. pp. 140-161

Ritchin, F. (2014) Lecture. Fred Ritchin. Bending the Frame. C/O Berlin. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=541UY8jgkxU (accessed 23rd May 2020)

Exercise 2.3

Notes on artists cited and researched in this part of the course can be found here:


For this exercise, we are asked to produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture. My first thought here was to use something from my personal family archive to consider how I have conformed with the conventions of the family photo album. Something that impressed me about the work of Hans Eijkelboom is his use of repeating motifs which force us to consider similarities and differences closer than we would ordinarily. Being the father of three children there are many images in my family album which would fit into this description – mainly based around celebrations and events such as birthdays, holidays and Christmas. I found similar themes recurring such as blowing out candles on a birthday cake or the three children standing together on a day out that would be worth exploring further. I chose to look at images from Christmas day however as taking a picture of the children sitting on the stairs as they wait to be given permission to come downstairs on Christmas morning has become a tradition I uphold despite the eldest now being 16. I expected to have 11 years worth of photographs of the three of them together and was surprised that my memory had played tricks on me and these photographs have only been taken for the last 7 years. (I have included an eighth image as it features the three of them but is not posed in the same way as the further pictures.) For me these snapshots are imbued with strong emotional resonance as I remember the excitement that filled the house each Christmas morning and I look at how the children have aged over the years – I suspect their interest would be limited for anyone else outside my family however. The striking thing from this process is how strongly I have misremembered that I have been taking these images in the same way since the youngest was born 12 years ago – while the charge of how personal memory can be proved to be false through photographic evidence is not present in the images for anyone else but me, this has affected me so much that I wonder how I could use it as a subject for a future project.

Exercise 2.2

Notes on artists cited in this section of the course notes can be found here:


For this exercise we are asked to consider an artist who uses archive material in their practice. The exhibition ‘Archive Fever’ and the UK organisation ‘Grain’ are cited as references to use for inspiration. from these sources there were many artists that I could have researched further, however, I chose to investigate the work of Thomas Ruff as he is an artist I have been interested in for some time and I wanted to take the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of his practice. My notes can be found here.

I am attracted to Ruff’s work because it is fundamentally concerned with the nature of photography – his images contain multiple meanings and there is an inherent ambiguity that appeals to me. Although his projects are seemingly disparate, he has managed to somehow build a coherent body of work that returns and reinforces his central concerns and interests. Despite the conceptual underpinning and serious ideas at play in Ruff’s work, I do not find it academic, cold and overly serious. The work often stems from a simple idea and experimentation and for me, the sense of inquiry and Ruff’s curiosity are some of the aspects of his practice that are most appealing. In a couple of short videos I found (see here and here), Ruff comes across as someone who is driven to use his practice to explore ideas and ask questions about the world. When we look at the work of an artist, particularly someone with an extensive catalogue like Ruff, it is easy to be daunted by what they have made and arrive at the notion that ideas and strategies come easily to them. It is reassuring to learn that this is far from reality and that even someone like Ruff starts a series with little idea about where it will go or if it will be successful.

Working towards assignment 2, I was most taken by Ruff’s use of appropriated imagery, particularly from the internet. The series’ ‘Nudes’ and ‘jpeg’ push the limits of the digital image provocatively and force the viewer to question photographic representation. The most powerful and consistent theme present in all of Ruff’s work is the notion that how we read an image is fundamentally changed by the context and format it is presented. Ruff’s signature presentational style is to print his work at enormous sizes – the very fact that he does this with images that were never intended to take a physical form, let alone be shown in an art gallery, forces the viewer to question the validity of what they are seeing. Images of pornography that are the antithesis of what we would normally consider worthy of serious contemplation have a strong aesthetic reminiscent of impressionism. The titling of the series ‘Nudes’ is a simple, yet provocative, challenge to the presentation of the body throughout art history. The low resolution images that are the basis for ‘jpeg’ are pushed to near abstraction due to their enlargement well above the size they were intended to be shown – the pixels take on the appearance of a mosaic. Ruff’s most successful strategy through all of his work is the removal of context that forces the viewer to contemplate what they are seeing – the seemingly banal can become sinister, the academic aesthetically beautiful, and the ephemeral elevated to the status of art.

Bibliography:

Enwezor, O. (2007) Archive fever: photography between history and the monument. Available at: http://artsites.ucsc.edu/sdaniel/public_record/OkwuiEnzewor_ArchiveFever_PhotographyBetweenHistoryAndTheMonument.pdf (accessed 29th September 2019)

Sekula, A. (1986) The body and the archive. In: pps. 342-389 Bolton, R. (ed) (1992) The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Cambridge, MT: MIT Press.

Exercise 2.1

Notes on artists cited in this section of the course notes can be found here:


This exercise asks us to bring together a typology of 12 images, either appropriated from the internet or from our own archive, and present them an appropriate way, such as grid form, single images or as a slideshow.

Typically, I have gone a little over this by selecting 224 screenshots of various pieces of ‘wisdom’ that have appeared on my Facebook feed over the period of a couple of days. These vary from pseudo psychology to irreverent, incorporating the profane and the banal. The sharing of these memes and quotes is something that I normally pay little attention to as I scroll through my social media feeds, when I started taking screen shots however, they became something of an obsession. I have been surprised by how much I have been influenced by the work of Joachim Schmid, and perhaps just as importantly, his philosophy as an artist. Putting a large amount of images together in some way seems to increase their power.

For presentation I have experimented with both a grid format (created in Photoshop using the contact sheet action) and a slideshow (created in Lightroom). The effect I am going for is for the amount of images shown to be both overwhelming an difficult to read – something that for me represents the superficial way this type of visual data washes over us. The slideshow has a deliberately short transition of 1 second between each slide – for some of the images this is not enough time to even read the text, and even when it can be read, the transition to next one is so quick that it is impossible to fully take anything in.

Link to Vimeo here

Exercise 1.2

Notes on artists cited in this section of the course notes:

Jeff Wall

Sam Taylor-Johnson

Daniel Gordon

Hisaji Hara


This exercise asks that we first reflect upon a photograph that uses an existing work of art as its staring point before producing a photograph that does the same. As I began researching I was surprised by the amount of artists who use this approach as a strategy for their work. Some of this I found inspiring, but most left me cold, wondering if this was merely an exercise in aesthetics by the photographer or a demonstration of their own knowledge with the aim of impressing the critic. I also felt uninspired to produce anything myself – what would be the point of making something that is just a pastiche?

As I considered why I felt this way I began to think about the aspects of the work that I admired and what attracted me to them. I also needed to reflect on the possibility that something was preventing me from even trying this exercise – the idea that ‘everything has been done before’ is a potentially paralysing one that I am trying to avoid, and yet I seemed to be caught this trap. By coincidence I came across an essay by Gerry Badger (‘Photography and Photoshop’ in The Pleasure of Good Photographs) that chimed with my concerns about some of the work I was encountering and articulated this in a way I was struggling to. Badger argues that there is far too much work that revolves around art historical references (art about art) and that this approach is often used as a crutch – his reaction to a restaged Vermeer or Hopper is ‘so what?’ Despite this he uses the examples of Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman as artists who use this approach successfully because “their art is talking more about the world than art…and is creating a persuasive and viable world of its own…there is a quality of both imagination and seeing.” (Badger, 2010: 241) These comments suddenly helped me make sense of my struggle to make work of my own for this exercise and rather than feeling constrained I felt liberated to choose not to do this – perhaps I will come back to this exercise at some point later in the course, at this point however, continuing to progress rather than become hung up on completing every aspect of the course seems the most pragmatic way forward.

Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (1979):

Jeff Wall - Picture for Women (1979)

Also see my post on Jeff Wall which includes some further thoughts on ‘Picture for Women’.

Jeff Wall is an artist I have admired for some time, I am inspired by his meticulous working methods and the way he packs each work with meaning and references that reward close analysis and consideration. Wall studied art history before becoming a photographer which explains the influence this has on his practice. I would argue however that his images can be read without any prior knowledge of the works that inspired them, although arguably prior information could enrich the experience. Many of his works would be difficult to place as being directly inspired without the contextualisation that Wall provides for the work.

The photograph I am drawn to consider here is ‘Picture for Women’ (1979) which Burnett (2005: 13) describes as a “remake” of ‘A Bar at the Foilies-Bergèes’ (1881-2) by Edouard Manet. It is perhaps my prior knowledge of ‘A Bar at the Foilies-Berèes’ (I considered the painting in relation to the notion of photographic realism as part of UVC here) that attracts me to the work – although I stand by my assertion above that prior knowledge of the artworks Wall references is not necessary to appreciate his photographs, being able to recognise how he references Manet here undoubtably enriches my experience. Both pictures deal with themes that are of interest to me, particularly the representation of reality, power relationships in imagery and notions of the male gaze. In his photograph, Wall produces a work that is both response, reference and updating of Manet’s painting. Most importantly, the ambiguity that is central to Manet’s work is front and centre in Wall’s photograph. The similarities and differences in each work are significant – both show a female figure returning the viewers gaze with a mirror used as a device to show more than would otherwise be possible in a ‘straight’ view and draw attention to the artificiality of the picture making process itself. Each show a man, the artist, regarding the woman, the model. Both pictures are voyeuristic – it is unclear  if the woman is unaware or unconcerned about being viewed but the power relationships present seem to suggest that this is something she must accept. Both artists draw attention to the artificiality of the picture making process while using conventions of realistic representation – Manet through his limited depth of field effect in his depiction of the patrons of the bar shown in the reflection, something that is potentially inspired by emerging photographic conventions at the time he made the painting. Wall places a camera front and centre, significantly placing the woman on the left of the composition. Although her pose and gaze reference the bar maid in Manet’s painting, the implication is that the camera is now the subject of the photograph – something which draws attention to the picture making process itself. Despite initially seeming like a captured documentary moment, it is quickly apparent  that Wall’s photograph is carefully constructed and therefore artificial. It is not even certain whether are looking at a reflected image captured by the camera in the photograph or something that is designed to have the appearance of this.

With ‘Picture for Women’ Wall successfully references ‘A Bar at the Foilies-Berèes’ without copying – both works are on the surface deceptively simple and reward reflection and consideration. The ambiguity in both pieces are elements that appeal to me. Ultimately, it is the fact that ‘Picture for Women’ can be read solely on its own terms that drove me to consider it for this exercise –  Manet’s painting is a stepping off point for Wall but ‘Picture for Women’ is not a simple act of copying or pastiche, nor is it a self conscious and knowing attempt to show off his knowledge of art history – the main success is that Wall shows that photographs can be as complex, multilayered and full of narrative potential in a single frame – exactly the same way that a painting can be.

Bibliography:

Badger, G. (2010) The pleasure of good photographs. New York: Aperture

Burnett, C. (2005) Jeff Wall. London: Tate Publishing.

Exercise 1.1: The Layered Image

Using the list of artists given as inspiration, create a series of six to eight images using layering techniques. To accompany your final images, also produce a 500-word blog post on the work of one contemporary artist-photographer who uses layering techniques.

My approach to this project was to first come up with some ideas about how I might experiment with layering images before beginning my research into the artists cited in the course notes. I decided to attempt to produce a series of portraits by overlaying similar shots of the same sitter. Interestingly, the work I made was similar to that of Idris Khan and Corrine Vionnet – I suspect if I had followed my usual of system of conducting research before the exercise I would not have chosen to layer images the way I have here as I would have found the approach too derivative of these artists.

Notes on the artists cited in the course notes can be found here:

Alexa Wright

Idris Khan

Helen Sear

Nancy Burson

Esther Teichmann

Corinne Vionnet

I produced two variations on the same theme, the first, composite images of head and shoulders portraits of my children and the second, layered images of still shots from the film ‘Taxi Driver’.

Sixty Second Portraits:

One of the things I find intriguing about photography is the way that a still image can capture an individual at a particular moment and how portraits of the same person can sometimes appear totally different. Much has been considered about how to capture the essence of a person photographically. When the camera is pointed towards a subject it is likely the sitter will attempt to put up a barrier, be nervous and attempt to present a ‘preferred’ version of themselves – something that can appear false. One way to negate this is to shoot candidly without the subject being aware, although there are obvious ethical dilemmas involved with this approach. Another is to spend time with the person to put them at ease, and achieve a photograph that is authentic representation – that is assuming you believe it is possible to achieve authenticity at all in a photograph. I decided to photograph a sequence of images of my three children, the camera fixed on a tripod in front of them and the shutter set to trip every second for 1 minute. While the camera worked I spoke to each of them as a way of encouraging them to behave in a natural unguarded way. I was interested to see how the images differed from each other and how these would look when layered on top of each other – would the overlap between parts of the photograph that were the same, and the emphasis this would make on the overall image, provide some sort of truthful representation?

Firstly, I made a composite with the frames aligned exactly as they had been shot. I decided to convert the images to black and white in order to eliminate any differences in tonality and colour balance and emphasise form. I changed the opacity of the individual layers to 10% to allow each one to be seen. This gave a ghostly effect and surprisingly showed how much movement there was during the process.

Amy-composite 1

The resulting image was not as I had envisaged, so for my next attempt I realigned each image around the left eye of the sitter. I found this matched what I had previsualised much more closely, although I was still surprised by the results and not quite sure if I liked the effect:

Amy-composite 2

Thomas

Caitlin

The images are most closely reminiscent of the work of Idris Khan, particularly because they are black and white. In my research Khan states that he does not use every part of each image employing selection and masking techniques to accentuate or detract from particular elements. He does not go into detail on how he does this, but it appears to me to be the difference between his images and mine. However, if I made this choice for this set however it would go against my initial concept.

After conducting my research, I decided to experiment by making a Nancy Burson style composite of all three children put together, similar to her approach here and here. The resulting image is quite rough and ready as I have not spent a huge amount of time on it. The effect is quite off putting – perhaps emphasised by the fact that being my children I know the subjects well.

Caitlin-Thomas-Amy Composite

Taxi Driver Composites:

As film is literally a series of still images displayed in sequence to give the illusion of movement, I began to think about the possibility of showing an entire feature film as one image. (Jason Schulman is an artist I came across some time ago that experiments with this idea, although his approach is to make one exposure of the entire film rather than layer together individual stills. See article here, and Shulman’s version of ‘Taxi Driver’ here.)

‘Taxi Driver’ seemed to be an ideal subject for this approach as it is almost entirely a first person narrative shown from the point of view of the main protagonist Travis Bickle. I initially tried to take screen shots of the film on my computer but was thwarted by the anti piracy measures built into the streaming services I attempted this with. Next, I placed the camera on a tripod in front of the screen and set the interval timer to shoot every 1 minute – this would give me around two hundred individual shots to work with. My first attempt was to layer all of these images together which produced this effect:

Taxi Driver Composite.jpg

Next I tried masking individual parts of each image to concentrate attention:

Taxi Driver Composite 2.jpg

This has the effect of making individual parts of the image stand out more clearly, and, because there are less overlapping parts of the image in the composite, saturation and contrast are increased.

Next, I experimented with selecting images that just contained Travis and again, masked out parts of the image that were unnecessary. I also moved the layers around:

Travis composite 1 (20%)

Lastly, I tried the same technique again but with the layers arranged in different alignments:

Travis composite 2.jpg

At the time of completing these experiments I was more interested in the experimentation itself rather than the end result. Looking back, both approaches could have potential for further exploration, particularly the film approach.

Reading – Geoffrey Batchen: Ectoplasm: Photography in the digital age (notes)

In this paper, Batchen explores discourse around two apparent crises faced by photography that have the potential to threaten the ‘end’ of photography and the culture which it sustains:

Technological – the increasing prevalence of computer based imagery which can be so easily faked that the real can no longer be distinguished from the fake, meaning, the relationship between the photograph and objective truth is threatened.

Epistemological – which is concerned with broader changed in ethics, knowledge and culture, particularly the idea that the artificial nature of the digital image could lead to a time where it is no longer possible to tell the original from its simulation.

Following this, Batchen embarks on an interesting historical survey of the relationship between photography and death – a literal response to the prophesied death of photography by digital imaging. When he returns to directly address this question, the fact that the paper was written in 1994 becomes starkly apparent. Questions such as the value of the digital image over the physical photographic object and the concern about the authenticity of digital imaging have now been considered and accepted. The idea that digital images are closer in spirit to the creative process of art that the truth values of documentary is an interesting notion however. Discussion about photo illustration versus straight photography now seems quaint and the famous case studies of the 1982 National Geographic cover which moved the pyramids closer together (see article here) and the Time magazine cover featuring a digitally darkened mugshot of O.J. Simpson (see here) are historically important. I wonder however, if these images would receive the same attention today, and if not, does this mean we are more visually literate and able to understand the difference between straight photography and illustration, or, that an increased acceptance of changes to images mean that our ethical standards have become lowered?

Bibliography:

Batchen, G. (1994) Ectoplasm: photography in the digital age. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/journal-article/ph5dic-over-exposed [accessed 16th January 2019]

Goldberg, S. (2016) How we spot altered pictures. National Geographic, July 2016. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/07/editors-note-images-and-ethics/ [accessed 17th March 2019]

Reading – Geoffrey Batchen: Obedient numbers, soft delight (notes)

On page 19 of the course notes we are directed to read Chapter 8 of ‘Each Wild Idea’ by Geoffrey Batchen, ‘Obedient numbers, soft delight’. This essay explores the relationship between photography and computing which Batchen argues is incorrectly considered a new concern. Batchen demonstrates that in fact the invention of both technologies developed at the same time and that photography and computing innovators Henry Fox Talbot and Charles Babbage had a close relationship, shared interests and expertise and took a deep interest in each others work.

While the essay contains much interesting historical information, I am unconvinced by Batchen’s assertion that recent concerns about the impact of computing on photographic practice (such as the ability to manipulate and fabricate images) is misplaced because of their invention at a similar time. While early cameras are still recognisable as instruments that make photographs (and digital cameras are also recognisable as such), Babbage’s early computers cannot be compared with modern machines. However, the link made between the emergence of computing and photography from the cultural and social conditions of the nineteenth century is convincing and a strong reason why we should not be concerned about computers being a risk to the photograph. Indeed, technological advancements in computing and digital imaging develop side by side. Batchen concludes: “computing’s future, like photography’s, is already inscribed in its past. What is demanded from us is a new perception of the relationship between these three moments (past, present, future) – a new perception of history itself.”

Bibliography:

Batchen, G. (1998) Obedient numbers, soft delight. In: Each wild idea pp. 165-174. Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/journal-article/ph5dic-each-wild-idea-obedient-numbers-soft-delight [accessed 16th January 2019]

Preliminary exercise: Image Flood

Re-photograph every photographic image that you encounter on a single day then construct a grid or contact sheet of all of the images. Write a reflective piece about this exercise considering what you have learned from this exercise.

I considered not completing this exercise as I could not readily see the benefit of doing so – clearly it is a given that we are bombarded a multitude of imagery each and every day and I could not really see how proving this would lead to any revelations. Despite this, I decided to go with the brief and give the exercise a go. As I thought about how I would complete this exercise, my initial consideration was how difficult it would be to photograph the images I came across over the course of a day. If I chose a day I was working, for example, I would miss a large number of images as I could not interrupt what I was doing to photograph, but, on my day off I probably would not see as many. What about the images I see as I am driving or while walking around, for example, in the supermarket? As an experiment, I decided to film my car journeys with my phone in a holder in my car windscreen and take screenshots of the images I encountered. I also held my phone and recorded my journey around the supermarket. The notes state not to worry about image quality for this exercise which is just as well as the screenshots are mostly very poor, they do however add to the ‘flood’ of images I viewed. I also took screenshots of any photographs I viewed on my computer or phone – the amount of these was the real surprise of the project. Although it seems obvious that the internet is driven by images the fact that I was shocked by the sheer amount that I saw during what I would consider casual browsing of social media and various websites perhaps demonstrates how much these wash over us as viewers. My concerns about trying to capture the images I came into contact with as I drove or walked around was driven by the thought that they would be many that I did not consciously register at the time. In fact, these were quite few and it was the pictures on my computer and smartphone screen that really stacked up. I ended up with 572 photographs – many of these have more than one image in them so the total number of actual photographs was many more. I estimate that this was a fraction of the actual images I encountered. I did not take a second photograph for example of the same thing, perhaps I should have as this would have given a truer amount of imagery I witnessed. Also, although I tried to photograph every image I saw, this was impossible in practice as I still had to go about my normal activities and the act of photographing was a distraction. I suspect that the real amount of photographs I encountered was in excess of 2000 if everything is taken into account. Another striking point is that on this particular day I was not particularly exposed to a large amount of imagery as I spent a lot of the day at home cooking, catching up with housework and reading. On a normal day, when I am working for example, I imagine I would encounter many more images – possibly thousands more – I do not think an accurate calculation of the amount of these is really possible. That we are asked to only include photographs (and videos) encountered rather than other images such as drawings or illustrations is interesting and I wonder about the significance of this distinction. Is this a suggestion that the photographic image is of higher status than a piece of artwork or illustration? Perhaps it is the alignment of the photographic image to the ‘real’ that is significant?

image flood

As an extra to this exercise, I decided to experiment with a video of the images cut in quick succession in an attempt to replicate the effect of being bombarded by images in a way that the still composite could not. This involved becoming quickly acquainted with Premiere Pro – something I have been meaning to do for a while as I am interested in experimenting with moving images. This first attempt at using Premiere Pro is rudimentary but was an interesting extra to the project which has inspired me to learn more about the software, the result also meets my idea of how this could be a better way of demonstrating the constant bombardment of images we face. Image Flood video here.