Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson one of the great composers and arrangers of the sixties and early seventies contemporary jazz music scene shot to fame with his seminal album, titled above. The luminaries that he collected for this album, including Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans and others place this album amongst the great recordings of modern jazz. Recorded in 1961, Nelson’s career last only until 1975 when he died of a heart attack. It is one of the “coolest albums” of the genre and recommended, not least because it contains some images by Chuck Stewart .

Digressions aside – the most famous track on the recording, which opens the album, has become a standard in the jazz repertoire, the composition that established Nelson’s name in the genre is in a melancholic C minor key, namely “Stolen Moments”. Nelson writes “As a player, I became aware of some of the things that I knew existed, but I was afraid to see them as they really were.” cover notes from the aforementioned album sleeve.

In photography the “decisive moment” is illusory, there is no moment; there may be a variable period when a recording takes place that smudges across time. The myth of the revealed truth in any frame at any stage was surely debunked a century or more ago. Similarly the concept of analogue photography versus digital, when all along, and today still, there is only digital photography, not just that process is initiated by the digit, but the shutter is closed, then opened, then closed. The recording, however, is every bit as analogue today with the latest of sensors as it was when Fox Talbot made his first exposures. The differences today with the “digital” camera and the “analogue” camera are the levels of remove between the eye (the mind and imagination) and the end image.  The frames of moment/time and of the encapsulated visage through the lens are the twin determinants that the artist can provide some control over; these twin choices are both in the gift of the photographer, both are conscious decisions in the process of capturing the slough of moments that will end up on the exhibition wall or, more likely, the "back up" recycle bin.  The momentary and impermanent nature of the image through the viewfinder provides the photographer with the greatest level of control over the final image; it is only these two devices, which have been ever-present since the development of the captured image, that can link the camera operator with any vestigial claim on truth associated with the end print.

Staying with today’s technology and the transience of space and time; the abstraction that divides the photographer from any final image displayed on screen, wall or the round filing cabinet are now so prodigiously wide that some photographers spend more time interpreting the physical limitations of the processes of image development more than image creation itself. To compound the lack of control, in this erstwhile manual process, is the relinquishment of the governance of truth, of the embryonic image, to the levels of abstraction, layered and blended in ways by which no single man alive can fully determine or deconstruct. The initial abstraction that removes the taker from the “reality” starts with the technology of sensor construct, the algorithms of cell composition, digital signal processing, the formulaic colour management, focus and sharpening before the finishes via, whatever "post processing" the artist feels is required, to an eventual image re - production via excursions of software, printer hardware and their concomitant profiles, ink recipes, which again the photographer may, or may not, make an attempt at craft control.

If Nelson was "aware of things that existed, but was afraid to see them for they really are" then what do we as photographers, as recordists, for recording is what we can do best, respond when we see things and attempt to portray them as they really are? For us, as photographers, the truth is an ephemeral concept, it is abstracted away from us the moment the shutter release is allowed to instigate the process of recording and every event in the subsequent in the chain of command further decouples us away from reality.
I have for a long time particularly enjoyed Nelson's signature composition "Stolen Moments", it's soulful development of the 16 bar piece is both lyrical and contemplative. It's title though now excites another lever to consider when looking for any "moment" to record. Just where does the truth lie?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughts coming together

I have gathered a number of images that describe communication devices in the village where I live, they are explicitly connecting the village and it's inhabitants to the world beyond it's boundaries. The short (still growing) list is as below.

Definitely not finished yet - need to refine to firstly ensure the assignment brief is met - may need to do some more exercises - and, ensure the underlying narrative is clearly developed. The first image linking to the last, the need for the village to communicate to survive, the insularity of the village over time being eroded.

Tracks, paths and bridleways.

The oldest means of communication (after speech of course) being travel. The tracks, paths and bridleways that, whilst now used infrequently, are still part of the fabric of the community that established links with neighbouring villages and trading . As the residents have changed and the rate of evolution seeming to rapidly increase in the last few decades, the links to the outlying villages and communities have dwindled in use. These old routes seem to offer a corollary to that change, where the tracks and public footpaths are now longer used as arterial connections they are used by the villagers to walk, to enjoy, to forage amongst the wild fruits that were sown either purposely by the former villagers or, accidentally, by those same villagers as they went about their business of communicating via trade with others.
The track on the left leads to a barn on the smallest farm in the area. The farmer (Brian) has had to supplement his income by not only taking work as a builder but, has also allowed the use by mobile 'phone companies to site their base stations and masts on his land, more later. The photograph on the right above has a curved path that leads bottom right in an arc to almost bottom left, following a footpath between Westcote Barton and Middle Barton.The image below left is the track to Purgatory, which is now a derelict settlement and the track is almost impassable through most of the winter. The triangular structure leads the eye into the image, though whilst the graphical image resolves easily, I sense a foreboding and that may be because I have heard all the local rumour about the reason for this remote settlement. That it was perhaps to do with the plague and isolationsim, certainly the nearest church yard has a covenant that forbids the digging of a certain part of the grave yard for a few hundred years yet. The photograph opposite Purgatory is Mill Lane in the centre of the village, connecting South Street to North Street. Mill lane was, of course, where one of the mills in the Bartons was sited (there were several) and, as such, was a major thoroughfare in the community. The sweeping curves takes the traveller around the "run-off" from the mill, which is still there, and, subsequently, to the ford across the river Dorn the flow of which was used to power the mill.

Signs: working, subliminal and, well, simply incorrect.

The sign-post on the image below left shows a bridleway to Duns Tew; this takes the traveller via Brian's farm (Holliers Farm) and the mobile 'phone base stations. The track is used reasonably often, that is assuming Brian hasn't placed his rather large Charolais bull in the field. The image contains a number of verticals, an implied triangle or two and the photograph is dominated by two points, the fence post and the sign post. The kissing gate below right was originally sited to link the public footpaths that crossed the divide denoted by the fence; but interestingly the rope is now tied such that the gate cannot be opened and the public is therefore ushered to a walk this side of the fence. I focussed the camera on the rope, though the knot is hidden, to highlight this idiosyncrasy, But, nevertheless, the image is constructed on two crossing verticals and the single construct dominates the photograph.

This signpost does (currently) lean this far over; it has clearly been shifted by some force or other, maybe a 4X4 reversing up the lane in which it is situated (the footpath actually leads away from the lane across the fields). There are several elements of design in the picture, but I thought it an interesting allegory for how villagers tend to give information to "new-comers". If you are a villager you don't need a sign to tell you where the foot paths are - so why have a sign? And if you aren't a villager you will need to work some stuff out for yourself! Make an investment! Those of us who have moved to a village will recognise that early (half a generation or so) alienation that comes from being a "new-comer". We have been in the village, once described by a estate agent as "the village of the damned" because once you arrive you never ever leave, for nearly 30 years. Curiously, we intend only to leave when courting our mortal coil.

The two views of the same sign post give another sense to the previous image. The signs are there for anyone else - the insiders can read the obverse side of the sign and still have a better idea where they are. I also like the way the sign bends around the corner, I have absolutely no idea how or why the signs are distorted - but there they are. Apropos the brief, well these are weak on that score I think and may be culled. Clearly there are a lot of verticals and horizontals , but they may not enough.

Bus stop

Keeping to a chronological scheme, public transport in the village is becoming another vestigial service; barely hanging on to provide a continuum that has barely lasted a century. This bus stop, one of two in the village with a roof, standing next to a "lock-up" has certain characteristics required in the assignment brief. It was/is also a meeting point, so local rumour has it, for trade in what are euphemistically termed "social" drugs. The trader arrives, in what has to be private transport, with the delivery, to meet the local market needs, just as the horse drawn carriage would have done a couple of centuries ago, with other goods I suspect.

Post box and notice for all.

The photograph opposite delivers extra in colour. It was taken to provide two distinct points - the red of the post box which matched with the red of the sign on the telegraph pole. In deriving the image in a similar treatment to the rest of the series it loses it's impact. The post box which has for a century or more been the formal means to communicate to the outside world; again a dwindling communication means, the sign however warns the the world that "This is a Country Watch Area". Who is watching whom? 
New (relatively) roads

Interconnectedness, the village has its hardware connection via the road system. I say hardware as the internet is the other way of connecting. But the infrastructure has developed considerably even in the time I have been in the village, the existence of the village is now predicated on "outsiders" coming to live in the cottages that were occupied by villagers who have either left or simply expired. The young villagers now are leaving, either to seek a broader canvass or lower cost dwellings. The road sweeps around a curve as it exits the village.
The next image of the same road a little closer to the village shows a divergence to another village, again there are sweeping curves, but I see the sign - for road narrowing" as a sort of plea to try and hold onto the people from the village, or to at least not to go at too fast a pace.                                            The photograph below is a contrary image to the above photographs in that is an entrance shot, it guides the viewer into the village. I focussed the lens on the post to the right and kept the depth of focus as short as possible singling out the post as the dominant point in the image.

Telegraph pole (interesting they are still referred to as telegraph and not telephone) with and without signs.

What I saw in the first image is the multiple use of the telegraph pole as a communicator, there are police notices, public notices, technical information notices and around the village there are all sorts of notices on these poles turning these passive erections into communicants to and for the community. However the first image, whilst it does have an array of geometric elements isn't a very strong graphical image so may be culled. However I do like the message the pole brings to communication and may seek out a better example for the assignment.

The other "pole" shots have a veritable profusion of angular, triangular, diagonal elements providing a geometrician's utopian view of the village I reside in. I notice that some need further work as they tend to suggest a less than vertical world!

There are two images amongst the "Poles"here that might stand for "single points, but the photograph below would fit the two point requirement I think. I like it because the one pole echoes the other, and there is a direct link between the two. Additionally there are plenty of examples of design that are built in via composition.

Leading to the latest communication device the mobile 'phone

The fence that separates the viewer from the mobile 'phone base station has a very regular rhythmic patten that itself provides some cover for the ventilation slits in the box, also a very set patten and the the main panels equally dividing the image into two distinct labels. Pattens and rhythms. But the metaphor of the fence keeping us away from the means of communication is very strong in this area around the twin base stations owned by Orange and T3.

The sinusiodal barbed wire offers an sensuous curve as it seeks to protect the base station from intrusive outside intervention. Whilst the mast, composed across the diagonal occupies a very dominant single point in the frame, the wisp of cloud suggesting the smoke of an overheated amplifier?

These last two photographs both offer patten, rhythm, angular elemental construction and continue with the theme of isolating the means of communication from the people who increasingly come to depend on it for that very thing. Without it, this Mercurial monument situated in Brian's field amongst the medieval tracks and Charolais excrement the village would be less stable, less integrated into the wider and narrower community and potentially more prone to further diminution and dilution.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Glamour of the Gods

At the National Portrait Gallery, and other thoughts.

Formal portraiture is a difficult genre to pull off well, perhaps no more or less than any other genre, but nevertheless the formal portraitist has something to contend with that a landscape photographer doesn't have - ego and emotion, and these aren't necessarily only confined to the sitter, because to make it work the sitter has to deliver at the time of shutter release. The sitter has to provide the artist something to work with, something indeterminate that a formal portraitist, that works in non - photographic media - paint, pencils etc, can work without for large periods of the creative process, as long it becomes apparent to the artist at some stage then it can be integrated into the study, whereas the photographer has to generate an emotional charge between artist and sitter - something has to happen between them.

The "Glamour of the Gods" show at the NPG has formal portraits of, generally (I can think of one exception) actors and actresses that "want" to project, who "want" to deliver and find a relationship with the lens, the photographer and the viewer as without it they are redundant as performers. Greta Garbo had a difficult relationship with the camera and is the only exception I know of with the "stars" of "pre-war" Hollywood that this exhibition is all about. I will, however widen the scope of this entry to include other formal portrait photographers that I have some awareness of - which may limit the breadth of the entry!

I suppose my entry into this genre stems from a strong regard for film noire, watching old black and white movies as a youth, my own predilection for monochrome work and I have loosely studied this genre for a few years and started some projects of my own which I may refer to later in this entry.

The exhibition in itself was interesting and varied (inasmuch as this sub genre can be varied) and enabled me to look closely at the print quality that so far I have only seen from reproductions in books. Overall I would say that my prejudices were confirmed and it was wonderful to see these iconic portraits in the flesh, as it were.

                                                                     George Hurrell

George Hurrell's work stood out as I expected it would and showed an artist and craftsman at the peak of his ability and his iconic images of Shearer, Crawford, Bergman, Harlow were every bit as beautiful as I had come to know. Whilst this isn't a comment of how Hurrell came to be one of the leading studio stills photographers it is likely that I will return to his work to illustrate his technique and how others adopted similar working practices in the furtherance of this medium.

When I first started to look into this genre I didn't notice how expertly these portraits of the stars had been worked, how they had been retouched, maybe that's a naive position to start with, after all it's called "photoshopping" now. But when I researched it a little some years ago I found to my surprise how much retouching had gone on. And, as always, once you know its there it's difficult not to notice it anymore. In the first couple of decades of the last century the technical quality of retouching was relatively weak and the photographer relied on heavy diffusion to disguise he imperfections of their protege stars and starlets.

An exemplar of this retouching technique is shown below.

The twin shots above have become common currency in the discourse regarding touching, however it is still interesting to see how far the studios were prepared to go to create the illusion of what they considered perfection, for that is what Gods are. Joan Crawford's face becomes devoid of wrinkles, lines AND freckles. Hurrell would ask that his sitters wear little or no makeup when coming to him as this would enable him to work things more efficiently.

These techniques were applied to both sexes and as the technical capabilities and craft improved both genders received higher levels of sophisticated retouching and whereas the male stars generally fared better it did become completely over the top in some less than capable hands by the ends of the 1930's and early 1940's. The universal process or retouching largely died out after the second war as the studios went for a more "realistic" look but is now is as pervasive as ever with Photoshop and the star machine working as hard as ever.

I'm undecided about the moral and ethical issues at work here. Clearly there are victims here, but it isn't necessarily easy to work out who. The stars? The viewing public? Impressionable youth? The impressionable?

Humphrey Bogart

Hurrell's technique developed over several decades and used quite dramatic lighting and was said to have said "it doesn't matter where the light falls, it's where the shadows land". But the whole process of star making changed after the war and with it went the 8X10 cameras for a more convenient camera capable of more shots more conveniently, allowing for more mistakes with faster emulsions, that delivered finer and more controllable grain and wider tonal range. In came colour and whilst Hurrell adopted it, the effects that he had created, along with the others of the pre-war era were never quite re-created (in my view).

Norma Shearer                                                                                  Jean Harlow

Norma Shearer gave Hurrell his first big break and there are a lot of Hurrell/Shearer shots and he loved photographing Harlow also, almost as much as she liked having her photograph taken.

I've placed an alternate portrait of Bogart with one by Yousuf Karsh. I think there is a great similarity in the projection from the print,. The portrait of Pablo Casals is a far more enigmatic pose. Hurrell wasn't about delivering the soul of the sitter, more mystique, Karsh, who by the time he got to photograph Casals was able to pick and choose his subjects and, to some extent, dictate the delivery style.

‘I decided to photograph the master of the ’cello from the back, in a partially restored abbey in Prades … lost in his music. For me, the bare room conveys the loneliness of the artist, at the pinnacle of his art, and also the loneliness of exile.’ (Karsh)

Prades is in South West France and Casals appeared there as a regular during his exile from Franco's Spain. If the viewer is in the North then the light would be coming from South West - Spain, an interesting thought. I've seen a print of the Casals and others by Karsh in the hotel in Ottawa where he had a studio for many years. That are very impressive in size and ambition.

Some views and my own interpretations:

Rebecca, left simply shot on a diagonal flow, with a single tungsten lamp above and left, creating a strong shadow, the image on the right is my take of the Louise Brooks portrait by Eugene Robert Richee, itself inspired by Aubrey Beardsley's pen and ink work (something very familiar to me from student days). Again a single tungsten lamp this time high and right. I have to say that my piece is far too fussy.

The images of Lisa were drawn from the stills of Hurrell and my attempts to add a dramatic element, as if from a film set - these Hollywood stills photographers had just a few minutes between takes to create their publicity shots and sometimes seconds!

Unlike the shots of Rebecca these were digital captures as I wanted to start to develop my re-touching skills (I also took a large number at the same session with film). Single tungsten lamp. The shot left has a Hurrell Crawford shot in the back of my mind and the opposite image has a Shearer shot where Hurrell brought her legs into view to prove that her concern over "my legs are one of my worst features" could be shot to her advantage.

Madeleine was a ballerina with the Royal and has a very significant photographic background, her father, a professional photographer, pioneered Kodak into the UK. Together with her husband, also a professional photographer combined to have her posing from the age of 3 (she didn't tell me this until the first posing session! No pressure there then!).
However, whilst the shot left, taken with a 6X6 on Ilford Delta 100 - no orthographic film for me, that laid the basis for Hurrell's early work and reputation. The second shot is from a series where I attempted to recreate some of the glamour practices from todays photographers, so digital and a lot of re-touching. I worked very hard to eliminate any wrinkles, lines, imperfections that would be anathema to today's photo stars. The link of course is that Madeline has a direct connection both with the era from which I draw inspiration - I have seen her portrait with Danny Kaye and others from stage and screen with photography being the another connection

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's all about the money

Post Modernism at the V&A

The highlight (for me) of the exhibition was the photography hall, it displayed a relatively few, but widely varied images from the period 1970 to 1990. The introduction mentioned three categories of parody/appropriation; Nature and artifice and lastly Tableau (though it was described differently – I hope I haven’t misinterpreted).

Haywain by Peter Kennard.

A depiction the Haywain by Constable with a cruise missile launch system transplanted onto the Haywain itself. The background image is a copy-print and has a monochrome/black and white delivery (there is a colour version). The image itself  i.e. without the interjection of the cruise missile – which was as much about the MoD’s beautification of the missile – could have played a Po-Mo part inasmuch as it is a clear devaluation of the original, cloned for the popular consumption in a consumer age. Constable for the people, re-packaged for a monotonic bijoux dining room?? The addition of the cruise missile added a dark humour and a political sub-text missing in most other pieces on show, both in the photographic hall and the main exhibition hall.

Carrots by Shrigley

A strategically placed carrot seed packet, clearly set at the end of a drill in and amongst some cacti in an otherwise arid desert or plain. These root vegetables need water, cacti don’t, the sun was burning down, the carrots won’t survive – the art is therefore ephemeral; a disposable item in this new consumer age. See later.

Canned Sunset by Keith Arnatt. Ostensibly the author takes discarded items from waste tips and rubbish and finds beauty in the abstracted artifice. This picture was a discarded tin can, lit and placed in what appears to be water, but could just as easily be effluent. There was another large print of waste in water that I didn’t take note of that used highly saturated colours to almost romanticise the discard of our lives.

Sarah Jones – The dining room

This picture I thought was meant to be funny, wry, ironic and worked at those levels for me. Three young females – mid to late teens – situated in a very formal, dining room. The formality of the d├ęcor, proportioned prints on the wall, a mantelpiece decorated with the trophies of staid middle class life. The dining table highly polished and pictured centrally on the table and lit quite brightly was a willow pattern china tureen that seemed to occupy the focus of their collective emotion. Two of the girls looking at it, with what could be described as disdain, whilst the third girl has her head on the table face – down, in a pose of exasperation. This was a carefully staged production. These three girls effectively saying this paraphinalia has nothing to do with me/us. Why are we here? "Beam me up". And yet this solidity of surrounding held them there. This “old – world” with different values, different histories had no relevance to the world this new generation were a part of – their clothes were of a different generation, colourful - not Post-Modernist, they hadn’t interjected any irony into their view of life and how they present themselves – they just wanted out, back to their future - were they, in fact, being "protected" from what they wanted? The image comes from a series of similar scenes using the same girls, but in different positions.

Jeff Wall’s “outburst” tableau – not on the surface a very worthy piece – need to consider further

Claire Stoppard – Scene’s of a struggle.

Like so many visits to exhibitions I started it the wrong end, not on purpose, it’s just where I seem to find myself, like a habit, and again I found after I had viewed the series I turned up at the start to then read the introduction. A dozen or so images that were carefully printed to look like working documents, not pieces of art (at least not treasured art), where placed in a line along three sides of the hall (at one end of the short hall). These black and white images where clearly meant to depict scenes of a crime - whether it was the same crime we didn't know, that was for the viewer to determine. I understand, but have never seen any to comment with any authority, that there are a lot of “forensic police” serialisations on television - CSI -  and these shots may have been influenced by them. Dispassionate shots of high contrast “scenes” with circles and arrows (reminds me of Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie) depicting evidential data for us, the viewer to consume. And I think this was the point. We were participating in one of the by-products of this new consumer age. Here were items specified, depicted, highlighted for our attention, itself an ever decreasing commodity these days, so that we didn’t have to dwell on the image too long, we, the viewer, were presented with arrows directing us to the solution. Like a modern day police saga where the science convicts the criminal with just a few particles of evidence. The viewer is served up with the incriminating evidence and can move on to consume something else, maybe with a bit more juice next time? This then wasn't irony, not humour, this was an indictment on society and a relevant one, possibly more relevant that anything in the main exhibition.

Cindy Sherman – transformation

I was glad to have seen a couple of Sherman’s pieces - this one is in the main exhibition, but there has been so much discussed and written about her work that I found very little to add. About transformation, about the shallowness of image within culture today and most certainly Post Modernist with wit and an extremely accomplished delivery.

Karen Knorr’s “work of art” – constructed as a piece of classical/proper art. The image on the left is a hair grip and the left is a pair of tweezers.

The card on the left reads: Hair Clip. Used to secure hot curlers in the hair. Rollers were electrically heated the applied to the hair, which was scorched into temporary curls. British c. 1980's

The card on the right reads; Tweezers.  thought to have been used for the removal of hair ... (I didn't note any more down - but you get the gist). This might have started as an exercise in typography, it is certainly a deadpan delivery, maybe there are more in the series - I liked the prints, I'm not sure about the wry commentary.

James Welling Platinum/Palladium. I was probably always going to enjoy this. The classical processing of a installation designed to show off a piece of objet d'art, minus the piece of objet d'art! The work involved to create a Platinum Palladium print – especially if one considers that route the artist has to take to gain the skills to be able to create a print like this AND THEN not use it to present an object, but to exhibit its absence, it’s presentation mount of velvet, which interestingly is a perfect material to deliver the Platinum/Palladium’s graphic capability. Nice one Mr. Welling.

Richard Prince – Cowboys. Another iconic photograph of the genre – and already having an ocean or words recorded in its wake.

There are a lot more photographs in this hall and some more in the main exhibition.

The rest of the exhibition.

I found it absorbing on one level and disappointing on another level and finally revelatory I was disappointed in that whilst I found a few pieces that I thought beautiful, the sketches for the “Best” store, the 3D work in wood and some, but not all, of the Kitsch tableware I didn’t come away feeling inspired about anything. I did come away feeling that I “got-it”; but I’ll come to that later.

There were a significant number of references to classical art, columnades, scrolls found in two and three dimensional work. There were also a number of Art Nouveau references, especially around the furniture pieces and homeware; for example the chest by de Bruyne(?) – Art Nouveau meets neo-classicism?!?

Fill the space! I also thought that the artists were determined to give full value for their art commissions.  Gehry’s house for example left very little space, it was his own commission I believe. It appeared as if he felt the need to deliver no space, negative or otherwise – he used it all up, filling the voids with construction as if it were all an opportunity to demonstrate his ideas.

Ad-hoc assemblies. There are a  number of “ad-hoc” assemblies, for example a “sound system” with speakers, a record deck and I assume some kind of “deck” with a guitar built in. This was clearly an assemblage with no utilitarian value, it’s point was to reflect the consumer need against the jetsam of everyday life. Whereas the chairs/stool were “crafted”. They could be used as stools  - no-one was allowed to do a weight check, but they looked more than some insubstantial creation - one piece didn’t look very comfortable but nevertheless they appeared functional. The trembly table didn’t look scared!  But it did have shapely legs – see picture below. Note the use of ironic colour (I'm being ironic here).

The sketches for the “Best” outlet were beautifully crafted – needing to depict the “installation” correctly for their client, this despite their patron being a generous benefactor for the arts.

And as we near the end of the tour we get to “Money” – to Martin Amis’ quotation about money having no morals but before I move to that I wanted to mention Takamatsu – whose beautiful images of utilitarian “machine-like” buildings, seemed less about Post Modernism and more to do with architecture mirroring the society and civilisation it was to end up in – I am sure I am missing a very big and blunt point with his work, but for me there was no irony in the art, there may be fun with the ornamentation. I did however admire the draftsmanship and wonder whether they existed before "Blade Runner" or did it (the film) influence Takamatsu?

Then……..”protect me from what I want”. Whether this was the point the curator wanted to project I'm not sure, but my overall takeaway from the main exhibition was about consumerism, about the way in which these artists had either followed the money or had tried to lead the way towards it. I didn’t feel the quelling of the old order – sure there were a lot of “ironic” references to prior movements, but irony is a weak tool when used continually and I didn’t really see any other device in the main exhibition to warrant a strong PM theme. There was a strong use of colour throughout, quirky ideas not had little functional value, but I saw no “brave new trajectory” more an assimilation into a Thatcherite grab for cash. Follow the money. 


Post Modernism may have started in the 1950’s, it may have had a natural reaction to some of the societal utilitarian injusticies built in the name of “social solution” from Le Corbusier and others, and so it should have. But this collection of pieces had no political comment that I could discern, no fight against right or left, no search for a new way other than lucre.
Who was the spirit in the machine whining for protection against what they wanted? Or was that one last splash of irony tempered by the one piece of truth I found, Amis’s view that money has no sense of right or wrong, it doesn’t care what we call it, it doesn’t have any morals and I found few to see at the exhibition.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some new ideas

I have started to look at a small corner of the village, it is about 200 yards from where I live, so no great difficulty trekking to the site! The place is at cross roads in time and the local farmer, to make ends meet, has allowed two mobile phone operators (I thought there were three) to mount their base stations there. It also happens to be on a old footpath to the next village and the new installations are annexed to a large barn that holds hay and feed for the Charolais cattle that are reared for their beef.
So the interest is focussed around the idea of communication, from the pathways that were set down in the middle ages or even beyond to the adjoining village, in this case Duns Tew. Whilst I am not totally sure about how this exercise is going to pan out I have starting to try and combine the exercise requirements, which are about elemental compositional structure and juxtaposing this with images in and around the site. We'll see what develops!

The "lead-in" shot(s). The sign post to Duns Tew and the path way to the next fence and the barn and mobile phone base stations - the beacon rising from the back of the barn. The sign post shot, whilst it has some geometric value, doesn't do enough to bring the viewer in, it needs space whereas the pathway shot has the track that leads to the site of specific interest.

I have decided that if I decide to tone then there will be a single tone across the assignment and if I make that decision then it is likely to the tone of these four immediately below.

An alternate view, with what might become the preferred treatment. The square crop is tighter and more dynamic, the upper shot seems looser - less directive. The verticals and horizontals, triangle seem stronger also on the alternate view. The shot on the right is not dissimilar that the first version but toned to provide consistency

The barbed wire stays - left - is a very geometric utilitarian structure with a number of design elements integrated in its form. The tall spindle have a triangular shape implied in their collective ends. There is a strong rhythm to the spindles and the tie ends as well as triangles associated with the main mounting pillar. The telegraph pole could well be described as a single point which dominates the image, it has an echo with the next pole, linked with telegraph wire into a  number of triangular shapes.

 The bales (in the barn) are of course horizontals/ verticals. The rotated double barbed wire exhibits curve and points and whilst it has geometrc value brings little contextual currency to this project, which is a shame as I deliberately captured this with as little background as possible to isolate it. So, there's a lesson, keep in mind the context for the shot.

The beacon below is a strong diagonal in the ay I composed it - it could just as easily be a vertical, but it would have been less dynamic and the whiff of a cloud that trails the peak of the tower adds a little drama. I think the sensual curvature of the barbed wire is a natural juxtaposition of the role it provides

I'm wondering about the shot with the curving barbed wire. Whilst I don't belong to a camera club, I have a feeling that a predictable response would be to "keep the horizon on the level" and the foreground horizon of the fence dominates and throws the image into some confusion. I'll need to think about this.

 The signpost, pushed to one side by some force or other provides a number of strong design constructs. However within a series it could tie in with the reverse of the signpost - in that it mis-directs, it mis-informs. The fencing, opposite, surrounds the "Orange" mobile 'phone base station. There are lots of verticals, lots of horizontals, a triangle and a clear composition that deflects the gaze to the right hand side of the image, away from the "Orange" mobile 'phone base station that provide essential and non-essential comunication within and without the village.

I have included in this draft a number of close-up shots to isolate some of the feelings that I gathered from the site. There are some clear elemental shapes that have come out; the diagonal beacon, the curve of the barbed wire, the combination of curve and diagonal on the close up of the barbed wire.

The shots, above and below, are of one of the fenced-in base stations (T-Mobile, I think) and I have mixed feelings about both. The mono treatment reduces the impact of the warning triangle (which I tried to include in individual apertures in the fence), however the fencing is bolder in the mono version. If anyone reads this I would appreciate their view!

These shots (above and below), from an EoD perspective are about rhythm, pattern and geometric shape but they are also about containment. The fencing to keep people away from the base station that itself enables people to get together and the couplings which tether the barbed wire around the compound. I think the shot with the single barb would be the one to keep.

Communications and communicating:

All roads lead to Rome.

I have added some photographs that have geometric shapes incorporated in roads and tracks in and around the village. I was looking for lines of construction, lines that connected this village, its people, its community with the world. So, lines of construction that were in fact lines of communication - the sweep of the road as it leaves Westcote Barton, the junction to Sandford as the two roads join exiting to the left of the image and flowing down and out. The track to Purgatory is a delightful walk in the sun and has a lot of potential for photographic study; here is a triptych made some time ago:

This maybe too small, but it gives an impression of isolation, maybe desolation for the people who lived there many years ago. However I digress. The Purgatory track photograph has a neat triangular element, together with strong "lead-in" lines that draw the viewer into the shot, whilst the heavy foliage keeps the attention moving towards the point of resolution.
The exception that I notice about these four photographs, and, when I look at others that I haven't brought to this entry, is about exit. The shots that I have taken are predominantly about leaving the village - the village is very often behind the view of the camera. The exception being the public footpath, which is a circular shot i.e. the line of travel follows the fence and revolves around the tree-line and starts to had back to the point at which it starts from, almost resolving at the point it starts from - going nowhere. I had been considering how the demographics of the village will alter as more and more of the younger generation move out to be replaced with older, wealthier people. Maybe I had exodus sub-conscienslouly reverberating in my mind as I turned the camera away from the village to watch them leave?

The road leaving (in this composition) the village to Enstone.

At the turn-off to Sandford St Martin and away to Enstone.

 A public foot-path from Westcote Barton towards Middle Barton, following the field edge and curving round from the right to the left

The track to Purgatory, right - a small settlement -now uninhabited from Steeple Barton. It gained the name of Purgatory as it was about 2 miles from the settlement to the nearest habitation and this track gets very muddy with only a small amount of rain.

The reverse of a signpost at the Sandford St Martin end of Westcote Barton. Signposts are designed to provide basic communication, the reverse shot provides no information and prevents the flow of information. Perhaps this is a reaction to the effect of people leaving the village - the road to nowhere?

The barbed wire, with a gentle sinusoidal wave seeks to protect the mobile 'phone base station, itself a communication device for the people that it is providing protection from.

Again, more fence shots. Post impressions, looking at the selection, is that I have a strong feeling of exclusion; of the architecture in this tiny area being designed to keep people away, which I suppose is as it should be. Maybe the design is supposed to be precautionary, perhaps that what was in the design brief? Rhythm and pattern on the left and horizontals on the right.

Well my first impressions aren't that good! The mix doesn't seem right and the indiscriminate processing doesn't help to pull this together as a cohesive set. I have appeared to have included too many barbed wire shots, but the bard wire is a modern invention (at least in the context of the twin periods I am attempting to link) and I see it as important. The vertical barb wire is almost a written sign, a hieroglyph, that is telling people to beware - stay away, do not come near. Right next to this site, literally adjoining this barbed area off is a gate, it can be seen in the long shot of the barn (intro shot), which has an array of signs  which are quite threatening to people who might want to exercise their right of way towards Duns Tew.

I'm fairly sure that Brian (for that is the farmer's name) would shoot a dog that troubled his very valuable Charolais cattle - except that his herd never use this field. However this pathway is on a very old route that is open to all and sundry - not sure it looks that way and when Brian gets belligerent he lets his bull loose in the field. What I really quite enjoyed about Brian's signs is that he appears to have developed his own font, clearly the "after" is very important and when I saw this I thought that he had got carried away with his emotion and forgot the "f" and had to squeeze it in afterwards, but no, there is another similar sign leading into this field that has a similar construct. I'll ask him about it the next time we get some eggs from him (I'll also ask how many dogs he's shot!).

I need to look closer for a wider range of design elements - which may come from the images that I've taken over the last couple of days - including single and multiple points and a few others.

Post addition thoughts are that my thoughts are starting to come together - I am thinking that the assignment should be about communication and it's converse. How the symbols we take for granted, roads, tracks, fences, signs etc are part of a web of communication devices and how we can reverse the interconnectedness of everything very easily either by damage or by mis-reading.