I had booked a seat on the FotoFest Creative Conversations Zoom talk for today and I’m just going to do a short write up – not because it was uninteresting, but because it was incredibly dense with information. It featured David Levi Strauss in conversation with Roberto Tejada. Strauss read passages from his new book Co-illusion Dispatches from the end of Communication.
In his book Strauss foregrounds the new concept of “iconopolitics” in which words and images lose their connection to reality. “Old morality is dead!” Strauss exclaims. We live in a world where words and images no longer agree and this has created an intensely surreal situation. Communication via social media reigns supreme and demands our attention, yet we fail to scrutinize the content that is served up to us. Strauss states that this book is episodic. There is no plot – its about characters. The first section of the book are dispatches written by Strauss from both the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions – the staged spectacles. In the second part of the book he writes “in the voices of the regime” and those of big tech companies. His book is illustrated with photographs by Susan Meiselas and Peter van Agtmael. All sorts of topics – quite mind boggling actually – emerged: surveillance (big tech/data) are stealing the private experience – this is an assault on social subjectivity; photos of political conventions – not unrelated to stagecraft. The electoral politics = a spectacle. Strauss covered so many concepts in a Berger-like fashion. Its a talk one really needs to listen to alongside the book, as the book is obviously key to understanding.
Fotofest will be archiving the talk on their YouTube channel. At the date of uploading this post, it has not been uploaded yet. I did, however, come across an MIT podcast where David Levi Strauss discusses his book (see bibliography below).
Glasstire (2020) Creative Conversations/digital: David Levi Strauss with Roberto Tejada | Glasstire. At: https://glasstire.com/events/2020/07/31/creative-conversations-digital-david-levi-strauss-with-roberto-tejada/ (Accessed 12/08/2020).
Human geography is the study of the interrelationships between people, place and the environment and how these relationships differ from location to location. As Cresswell (2004) states: “it is the study of places”.
Defining a place is simultaneously simple and complicated. Some characteristics of a place:
place implies ownership
it implies privacy and belonging
there is a social hierarchy attached to it
it implies a particular arrangement of things
it is ubiquitous
A space carries with it a sense of history -> when you rearrange a space to make it your own, you make it a place. As soon as we name a space, redecorate it, build on it, cut down trees, mow the lawn we are transforming the space into a place.
These places become meaningful to us (they carry nostalgic memories for us) and we become attached to them, converting them to a meaningful location.
What constitutes a meaningful location?
location = where
locale = the actual shape of the place within which people conduct their lives
sense of place = the subjective and emotional attachment people make to a place.
Space & Place
Space is a more abstract concept than place. It is a “blank canvas” initially, but when we inject meaning into the space it becomes a place.
Landscape & Place
Cresswell defines landscape as the portion of earth that one can view from one location, further combining this focus on the materiality of the land with the way in which we see it. He cites the difference between landscape and place being that with landscape the viewer is outside of it, while with place the viewer is inside. There is an element of containment of sorts at play here. Imagine looking at fenced garden from the street. The viewer is outside viewing the landscape, but if he steps through the garden gate he will be inside the place. A further differentiating factor is that we cannot live in a landscape, we can only look at them.
Place as a way of understanding
Doreen Massey, a geographer, in an interview with Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds describes space as “instead of being this flat surface , it’s like a pincushion of a million stories” (Warburton and Edmonds, 2013). Cresswell’s statement (2004:12) that “place … is space invested with meaning in the context of power”, correlates with Massey’s theory that space is more importantly the relationship between people and social space. She then gives an example of globalisation, which is a construct of relations between people in different countries and this then becomes a geography of power, not only politically, but economically and ideologically as well (Warburton and Edmonds, 2013).
This week started off with a Rest of the World Hangout. As we didn’t have too much to discuss, I am just going to capture the main discussion points here. Attending was Mark & Michele from New Zealand, Roger from Chile, Deborah from USA (Texas) and myself. Roger brought us up to date on his painting work. He is now going to be working on tondos(circular art) and has brought copper and aluminium sheets to work on. He has to use a compass to accurate cut them into round or oval shapes. He mentioned that the aluminium is a little soft so he has mounted one on a board to provide some stability. I’ve never heard of this before so look forward to seeing some of his work at the next hangout. He also gave Deborah who is doing drawing an overview of the module Understanding painting media, explaining that it was more experimental than the Painting 1 module.
Deborah was getting ready for the November assessment, but will be taking a bit of a break before starting up a new module in September.
Mark related his foray into the Christchurch Art Gallery’s library in search of books about August Sander. He says he has discovered a veritable treasure trove that no one really uses there. Only snag is one needs to make an appointment to access it. He also brought up the name of photographer, Tony Vaccaro who had been a soldier during WWII. Vaccaro had initially tried to sign up as a photographer, but was rejected because he was too young. Instead he was shipped off as a soldier, but he took his camera with him and because he was embedded, managed to take thousands of very explicit war photos.
I brought the group up to date with my work regarding my first interview and how that went. Also the call for information from the First Nations chiefs. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure how to frame my initial essay because I may not get the required First Nations participation because of oral history usage restrictions (I remember reading something to this effect), but Michele advised me to keep my focus very wide at this stage. Mention the possible problem and let it resolve itself with time.
Michele has reworked her literature review and now needs to visit the archives to see if she can get more information – maps etc., on Ngwai. Mark mentioned a website that she could access which would let her drill down to various maps and will forward the URL to her.
Michele will set up the next meeting for 23 August.
Sunday: My entire afternoon was spent on the deck trying to get to grips with various philosophical concepts that my BOW tutor had sent me to research. And I have to say that some of this stuff is so confusing and convoluted! Although I do find it confusing, I strangely find it quite fascinating as well.
Monday: Making some arrangements for a boat trip up the Seymour Arm part of the lake. Have to include a fishing component as well to the trip otherwise my other-half will not be too happy. Back to the philosophy stuff again – dare I say that some of it is beginning to make a little bit of sense! I watched a HeadOn presentation with Julieanne Kost on the Creative Composite. I don’t actually have PhotoShop on my PC, only PhotoShop Elements, so some of the functionality she was mentioning doesn’t translate into Elements. But I find it is still good to watch the occasional workshop for some inspiration. I’m not crossing the composites off my list yet.
Tuesday: I watched another SheClicks webinar this morning entitled From Idea to Book, presented by Carolyn Mendelsohn who was an award winner for Portrait of Britain in 2017 for her body of work.
I have also updated by research summaries for both Body of Work and Contextual Studies. I have decided to create topical bibliography for the various segments of the course work with the appropriate links to my responses to research items. I’ll decide later on exactly how I am going to use this.
Wednesday: Really enjoyed the TPG’s talk with Poulomi Basu with her work on Indian women. She is a gutsy photographer I must say.
Thursday: Had my first interview with one of my original homestead descendants this morning. So please it went well and will hopefully be able to follow up on some things later on.
My little Doxie portable scanner has arrived! I have charged the battery – didn’t notice how long it took as I was finishing off some OCA coursework, but I think it was done with 1 or 2 hours which I thought was pretty quick. For the rest it was just pop in the SD card, click the power on button which cycles through a couple of modes – green for 300 dpi, red for 600 dpi. Once you’ve made that selection all you need to is line up the photo or document against the left edge of the platen and Doxie beeps and slides the photo through within seconds. I tested it out on a box of old photos and was very pleasantly surprised with the resolution and quality of the output.
Granted the polaroids were upsized and a polaroid’s resolution is not the greatest at the best of times so those scans were a little grainy, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in post processing. You have an option to save as JPG, PNG, PDF – colour or B&W/PDF with OCR so definitely a few options. Doxie will scan a document up to a thickness of 0.68mm which is fantastic – no you can’t scan your credit card :-). Although it is a single sheet manual feeder I found that the scan speed was quite fast – definitely faster than my Epson Perfection 1240U. The software also allows you to select pages that you have scanned and ‘staple’ them thereby combining them into one document for you. You can also do minor adjustments like change brightness, contrast, crop and rotate. You can also send your photos or documents to Evernote. And the best thing about it is – you don’t need to hook it up to a laptop or device in order to use it, which makes it the perfect field tool.
Friday: I have contacted the three First Nation Indian Bands that are around the lake in the Secwepemc territory with a similar request to my open call that I posted on the two Facebook groups for settler information. I have also emailed the author of a book that I have on the Secwepemc Nation, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University with the request. I decided to approach the Chiefs with my request as I’m not sure if there are any protocols I should follow. I sincerely hope I do have some positive reaction to my email requests. Fingers crossed.
Saturday: No responses from the First Nations yet. Hopefully I will receive something next week. I realise if I don’t get any participation from them, this will affect my CS essay. I think I need to map out some initial ideas for CS-A1 with a scenario that includes settlers and First Nations and another that reflects only settlers. If I do get First Nations participation I will need to bring in themes around their cultural heritage, and make a tentative correlation with my BOW.
To Do List
Review of interactive website that accompanies the book Alexander: Forging Utopia:http://www.alexander.michalsiarek.com/. I’ll defer this until I receive the book so I can draw some comparisons. My book has arrived! I’m hoping to do a write up on it in the coming week.
Per recommendation of Michał Siarek: Robert Knoth & Antoinette de Jong’s latest work: Tree and Soil.
Another of Siarek’s recommendations: the work of Jon Tonks.
As I look back at the various genres in the course manual and try and relate it to my work, I can see it won’t be easy to apply just one label to my work. Generally speaking, I really don’t like applying labels to artists’ work because where do we stop. While we have studied tableaux, personal journeys and the fictional autobiography, the archive, psychogeography, and conceptual photography as genres, where do the common genres of landscape, portraiture, still life, photojournalism,documentary, fashion or architectural photography fit in? Are they sub-categories of those we studied in the course manual, or vice versa?
If we consider Jeff Wall’s work which is both tableaux and conceptual, but could also be documentary and landscape we begin to see how confusing these labels are. Then we really have to ask ourselves who are the “labels” intended for? The viewer, the curator?
Do I really care which label applies to my work? Let’s see – my work won’t involve psychogeography as the area I am covering is too large to walk and it is in a rural space, so I will be using a car. But I will be “wandering” via a vehicle following my nose up forest and farm roads that I am not familiar with (does that qualify?). I can probably safely rule out tableaux – I might take a photograph that could technically fit the tableaux criteria but it will most likely be something that I’ve captured spontaneously. All work reflects back on the photographer, but my work won’t constitute a personal journey or autobiography – I am not going to be the subject of my work. I am going to use the archives of my subjects though and in doing so bring their voices into my work. The work will be a collaboration, in the same vein as Laia Abril’s projects. I also plan on using multi-media (sound and video) in my work so perhaps that plays into conceptual photography.
The advice that my tutor has given me is to not stress about the work at this stage and just let it happen organically and it will fall into place on its own. So that is what I plan to do – follow his sage advice.
We are asked to watch a series of videos that Source Magazine made in 2012 about conceptual photography. The magazine interviewed writers Sean O’Hagan, John Roberts and Lucy Soutter and the artists John Hilliard, Suzanne Mooney, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin to find out their response to the question What is conceptual photography?
I first looked at Tate’s definition of this art term which is: “Conceptual photography is photography that illustrates an idea” (Tate, s.d.). This is rather vague, in my opinion, because doesn’t all photography convey an idea or concept? I turned to a journal article by Dean Spitzer entitled What is a Concept? to see if I could find a little more clarification. Granted the article dates back to 1975, but judging from the responses from the interviewees on the video, nothing has changed much. Various definitions of a concept according to the Webster’s dictionary range from: “something conceived in the mind, a thought or a notion to an abstract idea generalized from particular instances” (Spitzer, 1975). After comparing various academic definitions of a concept, Spitzer comes to the conclusion that “this fundamental construct in the study of cognition is nebulous and unde- fined” (Spitzer, 1975). There are commonalities in all the various academic definitions and therefore there isn’t really a right or wrong answer.
This view seems to be reflected in the interviewees’ responses. Comments ranged from:
its not a movement,
its a way of working which is not easily talked about,
its a prescriptive activity, i.e. it needs to be planned out,
its a dead category,
there is more interest of the technical apparatus of taking photos,
it is preconceived – its not spontaneous,
its derogatory to other forms of photography,
there is a hierarchy of photography values and conceptual is at the top,
it is subsumed under the humanist discourse,
there is no such thing as conceptual photography – all photography is concept driven.
While all of the above comments have validity, the statement that I am more in tune with would be Oliver Chanarin’s comment that all photography is concept driven. We all start off with an idea, even if it is just a germ of one. I have very rarely sketched out a plan for a photograph – its just not the way I work. The most amount of planning I have ever done for a photo shoot would definitely have to be my A5 of C&N which was conceptual. So for me personally conceptual photography is something more abstract in idea. Its an image that has to be looked at carefully to unpack the layering and ambiguity. It could be humorous and surreal. It could also involve a tremendous amount of PhotoShop.
As can be seen below, there are many forms of conceptual photography. Chema Madoz, who is considered an international leader in conceptual photography, uses objects to formulate his concepts. There seems to be a large element of abstraction in his work. Is this a defining element of conceptual photography?
While Brooke Shaden and Renee Robyn below both build a deeper narrative into their images. Both artists’ work has a fantasy element.
The degree of planning that goes into a conceptual photography is clearly illustrated by the before and after shots of one of Canadian photographer, Renee Robyn’s images below. Robyn creates many fantasy and ethereal images.
And of course, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Wall under this genre. According to Wall, he recreates all his photographs from various scenes he has observed – using his memory as reference and not a record shot. But if the viewer is not aware of this fact, would it be considered conceptual?
How do I see this in my practice? I’m really not sure. I won’t be creating any images like Shaden and Robyn above, but as my work might end up being multi-modal there will be a fair amount of planning involved in that. I think I’ll have a better idea of where my work fits a particular genre once it starts to gather momentum.
I had my first interview today via Google Meet with Faye Cassia. Faye’s great-grandfather was one of the original ferry boat captains on the Shuswap Lake. Fortunately she gave me permission to record our conversation so we weren’t hampered by me stopping to write things down, although I did try and capture a few names as she related her stories.
She had so many interesting stories to tell from her great-grandfather who emigrated from England and went to Manitoba and then just after the turn of the twentieth century came to the Shuswap. She related some of her family history, mentioning Bill – the train robber, the Mag Fire at Crowfoot Mountain in 1967, an aunt who was related to Margaret Trudeau (cousin I think) and another family member who was related to Roald Amundsen – yes the South Pole explorer! How cool is that!! Stories of the remittance men and the draft dodgers during the Vietnam war, a woman giving birth in a snowdrift. Just so much to take in. She did mention that there is a place at the furthermost point of the lake up Seymour Arm where a collection of glass plate negatives was discovered that apparently contain photos of her descendants in Ogden City – city being a bit of a misnomer. Settlement would probably be more realistic.
My mind is literally spinning with all the little stories Faye related and I need to go and transcribe our conversation so that I can put it in order. As a courtesy I will send Faye a copy of our conversation as well. She has very kindly offered to scan in old photographs that might be of interest and I’ll request permission to use those as well. I just wish I had been able to make a portrait of Faye, but she is about 377 km away from where I live. I took a few screenshots, but don’t particularly want to use these as the resolution is not great. Hopefully I can meet up with Faye sometime during the time I work on my BOW and take her photo properly.
Globalization is the interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures and populations which is brought about by cross-border trade in goods and services, technology, information, investment and people.
The term ‘globalization’ became popular after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
Global integration took hold after the invention of the steamship and railroad and telegraph in the nineteenth century.
Globalization waned after WWI, was followed by post war protectionism, the Great Depression and WWII. After WWII, the USA took the lead to revive global economies.
Globalization encourages each country to specialize in what it does best – comparative advantage. This leads to scaled up businesses, better quality and variety, innovation and job churn (job displacement). It also helps to narrow inequality. Personally all this probably happens in an ideal world, but the world is far from ideal. Business may well have scaled up, but they have taken their business off shore from their native country, so many first world economies have now turned from being a production-based economy to being a consumer-based economy. This in turn creates stress on the population, in my mind, because those people who have lost their jobs to job churn, now find that they are superfluous to society and in turn begin to rely more on government support.
Our manual brings up a few questions to consider about positioning ourselves in photography within a global perspective.
Who is really your audience? I am a global student, an immigrant from South Africa living in Canada, studying at a university in England. My identity therefore is complex and nuanced. I make work in Canada – so does that make my audience Canadian?
To whom do you want your work to speak? Ideally, I think, I would like my work to speak to as wide a range of audience as possible. But I think that would also depend on the type of work I am making. If I am making a piece that might address a social issue, then it will probably have a smaller target audience.
What does globalisation do for individual cultural identity? Truly I really think it mixes it up. Even though I have been living in Canada for twenty four years now, I am still regarded as an outsider and I still feel like an outsider too. But the times when I did return to South Africa, albeit for holidays, I found that I was an outsider there as well. People in both countries say that I speak with an accent (neither accent really belongs to either country – it has become amalgamated). My thought process are quite South African when I am in Canada, but rather Canadian when I am in South Africa. Globalisation changes one’s mindset, you learn to see things differently. I think one loses one’s cultural identity through globalisation. This is something that I have experienced in my photography as well. When trying to draw on personal memories, the environment and the landscape are at odds with the memories and re-creation is almost impossible.
Our course manual asks us to read Allan Sekula’s essay ‘Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital’ and log our response.
As I only did a write up on the same essay for Body of Work just 9 days ago, I am going to create a short preview to the essay below and provide a link to that post here.
Essay is about Leslie Shedden’s photos of industrial and coal-mining regions of Cape Breton, Canada.
Our understanding of an archive can’t be reduced to a knowledge of economic conditions.
It is necessary to examine the underlying problems of photographic culture.
There are all sorts of archives
Archives constitute a territory of images – the unity is based on ownership.
In an archive the possibility of meaning is ‘liberated’ from the actual contingencies of use.
Some of Shedden’s photos were produced for corporate annual report, others were carried in wallets.
Photographs transmit abiding truths.
The archives is the iconic system from which photographic ‘statements’ are constructed.
Archives are not neutral.
Archives are contradictory in character.
Photobooks reproduce rudimentary ordering schemes and claim both authority and illusory neutrality of the archive.
Photo archives maintain a hidden connection between knowledge and power.
Two different kinds of books from Shedden’s photographs.
Photography is a universal language.
History takes on the character of the spectacle.
There are two ways of converting photos into ‘works of art’.
A book reproduces photos by single author -> implicit concession to a neo-romantic auteurism.
Post-romantic or post-modern reception of these photos is more disturbing and likely.
Hidden imperatives of photographic culture drag us into two contradictory directions: -> science/objective truth + art/subjective experience.
If photography’s position is common culture is problematic then need to move from art-historical bias.
Archive = divided yet connected elements of imaginary social mechanism.
Provide conceptual tools for unified understanding of social workings of photography in industrialized environment.
Neither content/forms/receptions/interpretations of the archive of human achievements can be assumed to be innocent.
The Photographer’s Gallery had a very thought provoking artist talk today. Indian, transmedia artist, Poulomi Basu discussed her projects To Conquer Her Land, Blood Speaks and Centralia. Her work revolves around the injustices Indian women are subjected to and the need for real and lasting social change.
To Conquer Her Land is about the Indian women serving in the army on the LOC (line of control, which is the border between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Because both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed countries, this no-man’s land territory is quite dangerous for women as they are subject to rape and sexual assaults. Indian women join the army for various reasons, the majority of who want to stave off being forced to marry at an early age. Some do so in order to avoid being sold into prostitution by their family members. Women are regarded as disposable property in India and therefore, many women see the army as a means of providing money for their homes, as well as a chance of freedom. Basu spent about three years making this project, which was her first major body of work.
Blood Speaks is an intensely moving and shocking piece of work. It addresses the tradition of chhaupadi in Nepal where menstruating girls and women are banished to crude huts or shelter, even stables while they have their period. This tradition is used as a weapon to shame the women into subservience, by implying that they are unclean or untouchable during this time. However while in this state they do not have access to toilets or sanitation facilities to clean themselves and are often abused, bitten by snakes (no access to toilet so they need to go in the bush), raped or even murdered. Because there are no toilets at the schools for the girls to use, they tend to drop out of school as well.
Through her photography, VR videos and installations she managed to gain sufficient support that forced the Nepalese government to make this practice illegal and it was criminalized in 2018. She related some of the reactions of the white editors at the New York Times who launched an attack on her work because she helped to get one of her subjects to a hospital and paid for the stretcher bearers to carry her two hours through the jungle to get there. The NYT tried to silence her story, but fortunately they were not successful. Although she still does do work for NYT, she now makes sure that she only works with female editors.
Basu mentioned that the world needs to realise that racism does not just happen between black and white. She says India is an extremely racist country, discriminating on people through the caste system, through the shades of their brown skin, not to mention the extreme gender discrimination that takes place in the country.
Centralia was just briefly touched upon as time was running out. This body of work is about a conflict between an indigenous tribal people who have raised arms against the Indian government. There are women guerillas in this tribe and Basu sees their role again as challenging society and fighting back. Basu reflected that India is very much a shadowed landscape and is fractured.
I could tell that these issues are very personal to Basu and she feels very passionately about them. She feels very deeply about helping her subjects find their agency to tell their own stories. Their suffering comes across very clearly in each photograph. But way she has handled the narrative give each woman worth and dignity. Poulomi and Bindi related that they had both experienced nuances of the chhaupadi themselves as they were banished from the kitchen in their own homes during menstruation. Its really difficult to believe that such human rights violations exist in this era.
I watched another SheClicks webinar this morning entitled From Idea to Book, presented by Carolyn Mendelsohn who was an award winner for Portrait of Britain in 2017 for her body of work, Being Inbetween, a five year project into the thoughts and feelings of 10-12 year old girls as they stand on the verge of puberty. She started off giving a bit of her background, moving onto some of her earlier work and other personal projects. Mendelsohn is entirely self taught and absolutely kudos to her for all her successes! Her Being Inbetween project was triggered by her own personal memories of being that age and remembering all the profound thoughts she had at that time.
She began her process by advertising, using a blog, social media, putting up posters and email. She always included the parents on all email exchanges with her subjects. When she had established contact with those who were interested in taking part in the project she sent them a questionnaire to complete as she wanted to use standardized questions, instructions, clothing (the girls were free to choose their own clothes – the parents were not allowed to have an input, interview details. There was a release form to be completed by the girls and parents. A sitting was arranged; uniform background was used in all the photos to create a sense of coherence.
Mendelsohn then showed a few of the photos she had taken, briefly telling each girl’s story. Next she ran through some ideas where one could obtain funding and listed the awards she had received for this project, as well as all publications, exhibitions and shows the work has been featured in and covered very briefly points to consider if one wanted to make a book. I was actually very interested in hearing more about this but she didn’t go into any depth at all.
Mendelsohn’s work is very personal. One can clearly see that she has spent time with each of the girls getting to know them and obtaining their trust. She made the decision to exhibit the portraits very large as she wanted to have the effect that the girls were looking at the viewers and not vice versa. The fact that they are hung above eye level definitely creates this effect as the viewers have to look up to make eye contact.
The use of a uniform background is something I might need to consider with my body of work, as I can see the advantages of removing any contextualisation of the environment. But do I want to do that? I don’t really want to invade other people’s homes with a lot of paraphernalia (not to mention the equipment investment I would need to make). As my work will involve a mixture of portraits and landscape, I think it would probably be wiser to incorporate the environment as far as possible.