Category Archives: Part 5: Constructed realities and the fabricated image

A5: Project 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye

Look online at the Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye series The Fae Richards Photo Archive.

Do you have any archives that you could have access to? Might you be able to use it for the beginnings of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could come back to some day.

Before I started to investigate any archival material I might have at my disposal I wanted to know more about Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye. I watched a video about The Watermelon Woman on YouTube (1) where Cheryl Dunye talks about why she wanted to make this film. She had watched many films, made in the 1930’s and 40’s but could not find any work about black women. When a black actress acted in a film their names were often omitted from the credits. One film Plantation Memories was about a woman called Watermelon Woman. This film inspired her work – or maybe this is a fictional account of the birth of the work…..

Whatever the truth of the origins of this project  Dunye created a film about an African-American lesbian woman, played by herself, who was working in a video store and researching the life of Fae Richards, a 1930s starlet.

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that opens up questions as to what is left out of the historical record.(2)

Zoe Leonard, a New-York based photographer, created 78 fictional images documenting the life of a fictional actress, Fae Richard’s, life. (3) The work reminded me of that Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown which tells the story of a fictional jazz guitarist (9). I remember feeling a little cheated coming out of this film. I had been duped or so I thought. On reflection I began to ask myself why I felt this deception. It was a great film and it mattered not a jot that the main character was fictional – he was a superb jazz guitarist.(4)

So this brings me to the question of my own or someone else’s archives. Do I have any? Well “Yes” and “No” and “Maybe”. I am an inveterate “Life Laundress” I am obsessed with not leaving my children with a pile of material to sort out. Giving their personalities I believe they would chuck it all in the bin.

But I have done extensive research on my family. This is extremely difficult in Ireland where all records before 1864 were destroyed. The record books were sent to the UK to provide paper to help the war effort. Church records do survive but on microfiche. Many of the original books were stored in damp church premises with consequent damage. Some of the church clerks and priests did not have the best handwriting much of which is indecipherable. Some of those responsible for making these records were lazy and did not record many details. But despite all these drawbacks I have obtained exciting glimpses into the lives of my great grandparents.

My great grandfather, John Stephenson, had always been an elusive character. He and my great grandmother, Laetitia Millet, were the parents of seven children, one of whom was my paternal grandfather. The latter gentleman seems to have been a less than responsible parent leaving my father at the age of five, to be reared by his four siblings. But he is of less interest to me than my great grandparents.

On the birth of each of the seven children my great grandfathers occupation seemed to have changed. He went from being a male servant, through a period as a farmer, and this despite living in a tenement in the centre of Dublin. He finally ended up as a ships chandler, with a shop on the quays of the River Liffey in Dublin. But his life does not terminate normally. At least there is no record of when or where he died or indeed where his body was interred.

My great grandmother. Laetitia, was a very formidable woman by all accounts. She had the five of her seven children who predeceased her buried in marked graves. She even had their various spouses also interred in the Stephenson plot. But, alas, her husband John’s death is not recorded anywhere, he just disappeared….

My father always told the story that my great grandmother was French and that he remembered his grandparents speaking French together. The name, Laetitia Millet, is indeed french but, I discovered, his grandparents were dead before he was born……

I believe my great grandmother was an early feminist. On the 1901 Irish census form a widow was instructed to write widow if her husband was dead. My great grandmother wrote “Head of houselhold”. I want to know more about this woman and hope that I survive long enough to complete some research. But even if I don’t I can always construct it….

 

  1. YouTube. 2016. The Watermelon Woman – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdvGXf74GbE. [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  2. Archives and Creative Practice. 2016. Zoe Leonard & Cheryl Dunye — Archives and Creative Practice. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/. [Accessed 30 May 2016]
  3. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. 2016. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. [ONLINE] Available at: http://pitweb.pitzer.edu/glyphs/cheryl-dunye/. [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  4. Wikipedia. 2016. Sweet and Lowdown – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_and_Lowdown. [Accessed 30 May 2016].

 

A5: Project 2: Nicky Bird

Exercise
Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:
• Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
• Where does their meaning derive from?
• When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Nicky Bird

One of my fellow students remarked that this was the second body of work by Nicky Bird that he did not buy into. I am not sure we are expected to buy into any of this. I think our work is to try to understand what the artist is trying to say. I think the idea of the project was very original. Bird says that she was motivated by a desire to save these images from being lost to posterity. We only have her word for it.(1)  The original set, an African family,  that she bid for were interesting in themselves. I can understand someone being fascinated by the story behind some of these images. I am always interested to learn more about the history of old buildings. My daughter has just completed the purchase of a house which was built in 1820.  With the house went a ‘potted’ history. The story would be so enhanced by the addition of images. But there are none to our knowledge. I iive in a hundred year old cottage on an island in the south west of Ireland. I would love to know more about the people who lived in this house. Two or three of our island houses come complete with their ghosts. This phenomenon is becoming less common. Are we becoming less ‘aware’ or less in tune with the non-material.

What do we mean by status? One definition I found was:

relative social or professional position: standing

The images have their own social status whether on a gallery wall or not. The fact that Nicky Bird has used them in a professional capacity would give them a professional status.

There are several meanings contained in these images. When they were fist made they had a specific meaning for the individual or individuals in the image. They were a record of some event in the lives of those within. When these individuals were no longer around to cherish these images they were passed on or found by someone who was not part of that meaning. At a later stage the images were offered for sale on eBay. Nicky Bird was the only bidder for the images she included in Question for Seller. The images then took on a whole new meaning. They were part of a new story. From this I would conclude that their meaning derives from how, where and when we view them.

Value depends on what someone is prepared to pay. The moment Nicky Bird purchased each one of these images on eBay they acquired a value. She then worked with the images to create a new narrative giving added value to them. A purchaser would ‘value’ her artistic input and pay what they felt that was worth. Thus the image would indeed increase in value due to Nicky Bird’s input.

 

  1. photoparley. 2016. Nicky Bird | photoparley. [ONLINE] Available at: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/. [Accessed 30 May 2016].

 

 

A5: Project 2: The Archive: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin work together frequently. They were born in South Africa but Chanarin was reared in the UK from the age of five. Both work in London now.  They are distant cousins and worked as photographers and directors at Colors Magazine. They have spent more than twenty years investigating the relationship between images, truth and power. They have used photojournalism, work as curators and archives to create their projects. (1)

They founded Chopped Liver Press to print and market their books. They have published about fourteen books and received many awards. Their work has been acquired by many of the big museums and they have exhibited both as solo and in group exhibitions.

They work tirelessly to demonstrate that the viewer of images must always be aware that he or she is being manipulated by many forces. Starting with the photographer and what he ‘chooses’ to include or exclude, followed by the publishers and or editors who bring the material to the public and last but not least the political forces who use and abuse images for their own political ends.

Belfast Exposed was founded in 1983 as a response to concern over the careful control of images depicting British military activity during the Troubles

Whenever an image in this archive was chosen, approved or selected, a blue, red or yellow dot was placed on the surface of the contact sheet as a marker (1)

This archived collection consisted of 14,000 images made by both professional and amateur photographers. The images were written on, cut up or defaced by the subjects themselves or the archivists. These images were used or unused to tell the story the authorities wanted to be told or withheld if they were judged not to uphold a political point of view. Dots were placed, at random, on the negatives or images. Bloomberg and Chanarin decided that what lay under some of these dots created a narrative in itself. These round images were separated from their context but displayed as a group. They told their own story. Some of these images can be see here (2)

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.41  Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.26 Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.14

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

My selection further restricts the story…….

One of the duo’s recent projects has them using the London Archive of Modern Warfare to create a version of the King James Holy Bible. In another they were embedded in Afghanistan but instead of taking images of the war they exposed a roll of photographic paper to light, a strip per day. The result shouts louder than any made image, it is the unmade images we have to imagine. This brave work continues. It is educating us not to be ‘taken in’ by images to which we are exposed. Unlike the ridiculuous controvrsey raging about Steve McCurry’s alterations to his images. The alterations appear to me to be harmless even amateurish. (4)

 

  1. Image, Author, Failure, Chance : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. 2016.

    Image, Author, Failure, Chance : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. [ONLINE] Available at: http://broombergchanarin.com/text/image-author-failure-chance/. [Accessed 30 May 2016].

  2. People in Trouble (Dots) : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. 2016. People in Trouble (Dots) : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.choppedliver.info/people-in-trouble/. [Accessed 29 May 2016]. Saatchi Gallery. 2016. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin – Artist’s Profile –
  3. The Saatchi Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/adam_broomberg_&_oliver_chanarin.htm?section_name=photography. [Accessed 29 May 2016].
  4. PetaPixel. 2016. Botched Steve McCurry Print Leads to Photoshop Scandal. [ONLINE] Available at: http://petapixel.com/2016/05/06/botched-steve-mccurry-print-leads-photoshop-scandal/. [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  5. YouTube. 2016. The Watermelon Woman – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdvGXf74GbE. [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  6. Archives and Creative Practice. 2016. Zoe Leonard & Cheryl Dunye — Archives and Creative Practice. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/. [Accessed 30 May 2016]
  7. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. 2016. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. [ONLINE] Available at: http://pitweb.pitzer.edu/glyphs/cheryl-dunye/. [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  8. Wikipedia. 2016. Sweet and Lowdown – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_and_Lowdown. [Accessed 30 May 2016].

Research Point: Cindy Sherman

MOMA acquired all sixty nine images in the Untitled Film stills 1977 – 1980 by Cindy Sherman. Fourteen of these images can be seen here. (1) which gives a good idea of what is contained in the entire series. Sherman was only 23 years old when she started to make this series. It is about the female stereotypes of this period in the US. Because of the power of publicity and the influence of the US, especially at that time, these stereotypes were typical throughout the developed world. I was a young woman in 1977 so I can totally empathise with these images. They are almost painful for me to look at even though I know Sherman was acting the parts. The images are, for me, totally convincing and painfully realistic.

Following the Untitled Film Still series, Sherman was  Invited by Artforum to design a portfolio to be reproduced in the magazine, Sherman set out to exploit the centerfold format. (2). With the help of costume and lighting Sherman creates this series of porn magazine stars, using herself again as model. The format is large and her ‘constructed’ image fills the frame resulting in images which make us uneasy to look at. It is as if we are taking a sneaky look at the porn magazines on the top shelf in the Newsagents.

Sherman’s more recent series Society Portraits,  dating from 2008 when the photographer was 55 years old, are about how the rich age or more correctly how they try not to show age. (3) Sherman again uses herself as model and with the aid of theatre makeup she creates these grotesque aging women. This is a theme which interests me greatly. I understand what Sherman is saying with these images but I am still  revolted by them. I love the lines which time paints on aging faces. I find them a lot more attractive than the clownish makeup which some aging women paint on their faces. But I guess this is the whole point of Sherman’s work.

What is significant about this body of work is that Sherman has been able to metamorphose into these various characters and to make them totally believable. Although we know that these are not real people and the situations are fabricated, we are still strongly influenced by what we are looking at. This is the power of good constructed work.

  1. MoMA.org | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1997 | Cindy Sherman | Untitled Film Still #14. 2016. MoMA.org | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1997 | Cindy Sherman | Untitled Film Still #14. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1997/sherman/untitled14.html. [Accessed 22 May 2016].

    2. exhibit-E.com. 2016. Cindy Sherman – Skarstedt Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.skarstedt.com/exhibitions/2003-05-01_cindy-sherman/. [Accessed 22 May 2016].The Guardian. 2016.

    3. Cindy Sherman: Older and wizened | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2009/apr/22/cindy-sherman-photography-art-exhibition. [Accessed 22 May 2016].

A5: Project 1: Setting the scene

Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [accessed 24/02/14]
Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.
• What does this scene tell you about the main character?
• How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.
Make some notes in your learning log.

The young man is extremely well known in this circle of ‘important’ people. His car keys are taken from him and the car parked by some invisible person. He enters the smokey, restaurant by a back door and no one stops him. As he moves along guiding his lady friend, lackeys stand aside, open doors and move out of his way. He has done this many times before. He presses dollar bills into the hands of these security guys as he wafts along. Moving through a very busy restaurant kitchen no one pays much attention to the couple indicating that this young man comes here very often and enters the restaurant by this means every time. He is not used to having to stand in line.The chefs he knows, in the kitchen, he greets like long lost friends.

Emerging into the packed restaurant the maître d’hôtel spots the couple immediately and whistles up a table. At first glance we cannot imagine where the waiter could put this table. But it is fitted in between tables at which ‘friends’ of the young man are sitting. He greets everyone in a friendly manner. They are all dressed alike in formal suits indicating that it is an up market restaurant.

Once seated a drink is offered by a group of guys at an adjoining table. Everyone wants to keep on the right side of this young man. His companion asks him what he does for a living and he replies “I’m in construction”. This is totally laughable as he is obviously not a construction ‘worker’ he appears immensely rich. She is not convinced nor are we. But we are not meant to be. We immediately try to think of what aspect of racketeering he is involved in.

Photography, like film and unlike painting and other art forms, relies on what’s in front of the camera for its content, so the props, clothes, location and setting have to be right for the time period and the story. Setting up a shot can be an arduous job. Many photographers working in this genre (known as tableaux) produce a single image at a time.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 08.21.53

The example used for photography is Jeff Wall’s “Invisible Man” This constructed image is packed with props to suggest claustrophobia and quirkiness, The millions of light bulbs, the untidiness and the furniture all make us very uncomfortable. We feel drawn to the one figure in the image. We want to rescue him from his madness. It is an extremely effective image.

Drawing on Documentary & Art

So as Hannah Starkey, Self-Portrait 2, May 2010 112 Photography 1 Context and Narrative much as Starkey’s image is literally a self-portrait, it is also a comment on photography  itself and its ability to create a different reality.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 07.53.51

Hannah Starkey’s photographs are informed by her own experiences of a woman living and working in a cosmopolitan city. […] To create the images, Starkey uses professional actresses whom she chooses to play the specific roles required in each photograph. Starkey conceives each image as a mise en scene, a narrative fiction of everyday living.” (source; more samples here and here).(1)

Starkey also does self portraiture. I did not know this photographer before and keep going back to look at her work. I am fascinated by its ordinariness. Yet it is staged, the lighting is strictly controlled and the backdrops are very striking, often with garish colours.

I re-read The Lady of Shalott by A,L Tennyson and pasted it into my physical log as it is very many years since I first read it and I remember being very confused by its contents. It is comforting that with age things become clearer. I am not sure what was going on in Starkey’s head that she sites this poem as a strong influence. Perhaps she felt trapped behind the lens. But then did ‘coming out from behind the lens’ caused her to loose her aesthetic soul? Who knows but it adds an interesting puzzle to the images.

I am very drawn to this type of image myself and am happy I had not seen Starkey’s work before I completed by assignment 3 C&N. I might have been more influenced and less free. But the idea that a photograph becomes a kind of mirror on reality is a little disquieting. Am I worried about aging?

Tom Hunter’s work revolves around real people and their stories – but he portrays them through fiction. The real people he gives a voice to are those in his local community of Hackney.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 08.20.43

Tom Hinter resides in Hackney in London. He has a deep affinity for the place but takes issue with The Hackney Gazette’s reporting style. The stories are mostly sensational. The headlines are brutally descriptive. Hunter took a number of these headlines and, using friends who live in the area, he re-created the scenes. Each image, although supposedly depicting some tragic event in Hackney, is set up to resemble some well know ancient painting. (2). I am unsure how I feel about these images. I detest the style of the Gazette’s journalism but I am not sure if Hunter’s image do a lot to change that. The images are beautifully executed but despite this I am unmoved. I need to ponder why.

Taryn Simon

In the American legal system, one is theoretically presumed innocent until proved guilty and our mythology around fair play makes most of us trust in the rectitude of the legal process. Over the years, however, growing police authority and a vast, powerful judicial infrastructure have combined to administer justice imperfectly.(3)

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 08.25.37

But Simon’s work questions this presumed innocence. She photographed people who were wrongly convicted, on photographic evidence, and committed to prison. Larry Mayes was incarcerated for 18.5 years…

Simon’s other work, Contraband (2009), A Living Man Declared Dead Chapters I – XVIII (2010, The Picture Collection (2012), similar  documentary photography is used to demonstrate how unreal an image can be,

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s series Hustlers

diCorcia is able make photographs that MoMA’s former Chief Curator Peter Galassi describes as “operating in the space between postmodern fiction and documentary fact.” In so doing, he challenges the accepted role and involvement of the photographer in the (perhaps quixotic) pursuit of absolute truth.(4)

diCorcia went to LA to photograph Hustlers. He and an assistant approached prostitutes to co-operate in different sets he created and he photographed each one of them. On the final printed images he gives the name and details of each prostitute together with the amount he paid them. This amount would be the amount normally paid for sex with the particular prostitute. The series was made in the 90s at the height of the AIDs problems in the US. The sets and lighting are extraordinarily haunting and sensitive. Looking at these images my feeling was one of immense sadness

All of these photographers constructed or re- constructed sets to make their images. The question I am asking myself is “did I believe these images?” “did they represent reality for me?”. I think the answer depends on what I mean by real. Is a set-up image real? It is an unreal reality…..

  1. Conscientious | Hannah Starkey. 2016. Conscientious | Hannah Starkey. [ONLINE] Available at: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2005/01/hannah_starkey/. [Accessed 27 April 2016].
  2. Living in Hell and Other Stories | Tom Hunter. 2016. Living in Hell and Other Stories | Tom Hunter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tomhunter.org/living-in-hell-and-other-stories/. [Accessed 27 April 2016].
  3. The Huffington Post. 2016. Taryn Simon and the Relativity of Truth. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-vroom/taryn-simon-art_b_2654030.html. [Accessed 28 April 2016].
  4. TIME. 2016. Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Groundbreaking Portraits of Hustlers. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3803327/trade-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hollywood-hustlers-drug-addicts-and-drifters/. [Accessed 28 April 2016].

P5: Research Point: Gregory Crewdson

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be [accessed 24/02/14]
• Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
• Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
• What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

There is certainly a lot more to this work than aesthetic beauty. Crewdson is a very complex character and he brings much of this complexity to his images. He has an idea in his head which seems to be a composite of very intense feelings which he then choreographs, with the aid of a huge team and very elaborate lighting. Nothing is left to chance. The result is indeed aesthetically beautiful but completely manufactured. In my opinion this detracts from the resultant images. There is no spontaneity and I ask myself “What is the point of this work”? As Chrissie Iiles, Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art,  says of Crewsdon’s work (1) it is cinematique. One then has to wonder why Crewdson does not make films continuing and expanding his images into a movie. It would be really interesting to get to the core of what is behind these images. In a recent interview (2) Crewsdon admits:

We’re in discussions right now in terms of the possibility of making a movie — a Hollywood film. It might happen. It might not happen.

Crewsdon is the son of a psychotherapist so he was reared in an atmosphere of therapeutic analysis. He wanted to follow his father footsteps and become a psychotherapist but his dyslexia prevented him. One wonders is he trying to carry out an ongoing psychoanalysis of certain staged situations. A kind of “What if…?” situation. He says in an interview (3) he tried to make a projection of the stories he might have heard when he pressed his ear to the floorboards above where his father was interviewing clients. He seems to have been deeply influenced by his fathers work and to have carried this into his images. One wonders if his own inner soul is as tortured as his images infer or if, for him, it is the final aesthetics which matter.

Crewsdon’s work, for me, is not psychological  it is too staged and too cinematique. I would find a scene where natural or limited lighting was used, more disturbing.

My main goal in making images is to try to create something which will stand out in whatever genre in which I am working. I rarely succeed but the point is to keep trying. So if I was working in Psycho dramatic type images I would be working towards much less staged scenes. I would be even more pleased to come across an actual scene which appeared to be, or was, sinister and to photograph this. I think the end result, if the quality was good, would be more convincing but probably a lot less aesthetic.

I would have no problem with making beauty my main goal but then what is beauty? It is defined as:

  • concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty.
  • a set of principles underlying the work of a particular artist or artistic movement
  • the philosophical theory or set of principles governing the idea of beauty at a given time and place:

In the end beauty is in the eye of the beholder….

  1. YouTube. 2016. Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame | Art in Progress | Reserve Channel – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be. [Accessed 20 May 2016].
  2. Ken Weingart Photography and Art Blog. 2016. Ken Weingart Photography and Art Blog. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kenweingart.com/blog/interview-gregory-crewdson/. [Accessed 20 May 2016].
  3. Vimeo. 2016. Gregory Crewdson: In a Lonely Place on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at: https://vimeo.com/49665029. [Accessed 09 May 2016].