Friday, 27 July 2012

Photography & Solitute

Roland Barthes' "Camera Lucida" has become one of my favourite pieces of writing on photography. I can only describe the way he writes about photography as the most beautiful way I have ever seen anyone write/heard anyone speak about the medium. He is entirely enthralled but also tortured by the visual image. I don't think he is alone in this. The book starts as so;


"One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lesson since: "I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor." Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but since no one seemed to share it, nor even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude), I forgot it."


The quote has sat with me for so long that I need to write about it or tell someone about it, what it makes me think of.

I love how he describes that once you are amazed by something you cannot lesson that amazement. The act of realisation allows for amazement, often I find myself realising something that seemingly obvious, but that doesn't cease the amaze me. 

And then what? Well I want to share it...but as Barthes so wonderfully puts, sometimes others don't share or understand 'you'. And you are touched with solitude, not enough to provoke loneliness, just enough to know the uniqueness of your thoughts and their subjectivity. 

So what are we to be amazed by? The lens shares a viewpoint that only the person behind it can discover. A photograph an insight into how others view the world. It is commonly discussed in photography how subjective a photograph is. Not often does the image portray what was "really going on" but just an interpretation of that. Once the photographer looks through the lens, chooses a viewpoint, crops and composes the image, it is subjective. Does our subjectivity isolate us from each other?

 I am not interested that Barthes has seen eyes that have seen the EMPEROR, but more the idea that through image we feel connected to each others viewpoints and that perhaps this lessons the solitude?

 Vivian Mier "April 7, 1960, Florida"

[I'm currently obsessed with Vivian Miers work, but i'll saver her for another post...

And yesterday I discovered Sarah Vaughn, life will never be the same again.]


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

"On Photography." Wearing at Whitechapel

Gillian Wearing had a recent exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (shamefully the last 'proper' exhibition I went to) and I loved it.

Arguably her most iconic image (below) featured on the advertising posters all over the tubes and first entered my photography education at sixth form where I attempted to quite literally copy her, however my sign read, "I love Vogue". Not so insightful- or was it? 
 "I'm desperate" 1992-3

The interpretive text at the start of the exhibition quoted this from Wearing;

"I'm always trying to find ways to discover things about people, and in the process discover more things about myself."

For me, this illustrates perfectly the relationship most photographers have with their subjects, their photographs, and their medium. 

This approach to photography applies especially to portraiture and leads to further questions about people in photographs. 
Walter Benjamin writes about the effect of mechanical reproduction on photography and through this explores older photographic processing including daguerreotypes- one of the earliest forms of photography. A single glass plate, with an almost holographic image on top. 

Benjamin discusses the effect of a longer exposure time. My interpretation of his writing develops into an understanding that a prolonged exposure time allows the subject to grow into the image. I love the idea that the longer we sit in front of the lens, the more of us we give to the image, and the more insightful it is.

As Wearing rightly addresses, photography is also about discovery and exploration of the photographer themselves.

A while ago I attended the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy, there was little photography but the curator had written this about the images that were presented;

"Several of his portraits are startlingly intimate, emphasising the solitude of his later life and his increasingly melancholy disposition."

The portraits were of OTHER people, and it left me wondering how an image of someone else can reveal so much about the person behind the lens, unwillingly? The idea that Degas projected so much of himself into his portraits of other people is almost unsettling to the idea that being behind the lens can be equally as revealing as being in front. 

Through photography, although a deceptive medium at times, there is no escaping a truth, whomever or whatever it may be of.

My notes from the Wearing exhibition simply say "disturbing, insightful and incredibly personal." Perhaps a relevant comment on her subjects AND her.

"Everyone should have a chance at being equal."- Dave.

 My friend David Shaw is really interesting so I did an interview with him for a Journalism Unit on my course, here it is;

Photojournalism student David Shaw has already achieved a large body of work and an identity as a photographer. Gaining his experience through a range of mostly self-initiated projects, including staying with migrants on the border of Calais, photographing resistance in Palestine and being arrested while photographing refugees in Greece. He sees himself not just as a photographer but an activist too. At a time where more students are becoming politically involved, Dave is a prime example of a student and artist who’s political beliefs and values drive him and form a basis for his projects. I met with him to discuss what his work means to him and where his passion for politics, people and photography comes from.

Dave’s work has been familiar to me for a while, as a colleague and friend I wanted to know more about how and why he chose photojournalism.

Dave begins by telling me about a school trip in year 8 and how he became the designated photographer. “I can remember really starting to think about actual pictures rather than just pictures of my mates, and I was actually photographing what everyone had had for dinner and all the different things, and making sure I got a portrait of all the bus drivers.” Despite leaving photography behind in year 8, he picked it up again in year 11. Dave was properly introduced to photojournalism at sixth form and remembers being “attracted to it instantly”. He smiles as he talks fondly about his first influences such as Robert Cappa and being drawn to this “raw” form of photography that’s “easy to read, but hard-hitting at the same time”, showing viewers what’s really happening in the world- an unveiling of the truth. 

Just like the images he’s influenced by, Dave speaks very truthfully about where his interests and beliefs lie. “I love the idea of travelling and I like the idea of photographing things I find and people I meet”, clearly an appeal of social documentary for Dave. It becomes obvious to me quickly that he has a huge sense of empathy for others and that this is fundamentally what makes Dave’s strive for awareness so important. “People deserve respect and are important, all people are born equal or should be born equal in my eyes. That’s what I want my work to campaign for if that makes sense?”


Often parents can influence your political place, so I wanted to know from Dave where his parents stood politically and if this has affected him. With a chuckle he says, “My dad’s a massive socialist and a complete lefty!” Firstly clarifying what Socialism means to him; “For me, in an absolute nutshell, its that every person whoever they are and wherever they are born has an equal opportunity at life. Everyone should have a chance at being equal.”

It is clear that this is a passionate belief of his but as he speaks about equal opportunity and struggle and his absolute intolerance for racism it feels more than a passion but a keenness to fight for a cause and do something about inequality. As we talk more about what grounds his work, the visual images I have seen begin to draw parallel with who Dave is as a person and what he stands for. 

We talk more about Dave’s political views and beliefs and his feelings towards Occupy, “I think the Occupy movement is really good, its good to organise all the squatters and people who have a really bad reputation as lazy people, sitting around and drinking beer- its really good to organise that force ‘cause it is a big force of people who are aware of the world and aware of how difficult life is for some…It’s about creating A: a sense of resistance to how people are made to live in this society, and B: to prove to people that they don’t have to live like this there is another way. I don’t know what the other way is and I don’t think the Occupy movement really know what the solution is but eventually it will happen.”

As an anti-Capitalist, Occupy embodies many of Dave’s beliefs, but there’s a conflict between two different lifestyles for him that I first sense through his confession “I still shop at Tesco’s though!” He continues to say “ I mean I boycott Marks and Spencer’s ‘cause all their money funds the occupation in Palestine but I mean I’m sure Tescos do just as evil but I can’t afford to eat anywhere else that’s why they’re so good! No one can literally afford not to eat…It’s Capitalising on a very, very basic need which is cheap food.” A valid point that I feel many politically inclined students can relate to.


Dave expresses that he feels he has to make a choice between what could be seen as an activist lifestyle and his love for photography, “I’d love to go off and hitchhike around the world and squat everywhere and eat out of bins ‘cause its everything that I believe in. But I love photography and I want to be a photojournalist and I’ve got to make that choice between being a bit of a career boy…”

As such a career driven person Dave’s focus is his photography and getting his images out there, but as he talks about winning competitions and wanting to get commissioned he stops to reiterate that although success and recognition make him “ecstatic”, Dave is firm about the importance of his work lying with the people he photographs. Whether he is successful or not, their life stories and struggles come first to him which is obvious as he talks about his “Palestinian Olive Harvest” story;

“It gets to the point where they’ve stopped posing for the pictures or they’ve stopped looking at the camera and I just become part of the whole harvest. And you know, spending time with this one family in particular. They get to know me, they get to trust me, I have dinner with them every night. I’ve sent a few photos home to them.”


As we near the end of the interview we talk a little about Dave’s up coming project photographing migrants in Malta and his next big project in Gaza and his humorous but grateful reaction to being asked to run with the Olympic Torch for his university, be finishes by reminding me again what his real cause is;

“You could spend all day setting up some sort of still life or some lovely landscape but taking pictures of people, help you learn how to relate to them and help to illustrate them and it makes it interesting…”