Category Archives: photographers

Donigan Cumming

Following my assignment 3 submission, Thou Shalt not Age, my tutor recommended that I look at the work of Donigan Cumming. I had never heard of this American photographe,r born in Virginia, in 1947. The project my tutor recommended was Pretty Ribbons.(1)

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 08.44.34
Une prière pour Nettie, Galerie Pons, Paris, France – 1995

This project concerns a woman, Nettie, who had been an actress  and a journalist and she agreed to allow Cummings to photograph her decaying body as she edged towards death. There is nothing Pretty about these images but somehow because we believe that Nettie cooperated fully with Cummings we don’t pull back from the result. Instead a sort of empathy develops between the viewer and the dying Nettie.

I wanted to look at more work by this photographer and to try to get into the reasoning of ‘why’ he took these images. In my own submission my tutor had picked up on the humour behind my own work. There is nothing we can do to avoid that march towards aging. So we can, instead, try to be amused by it. Cummigs does something similar.

There is nothing to recommend, visually, a twisted decaying almost corpse. And yet as in this extraordinary review (2) of Cummings work and his very detailed interview on Cumming’s videos, we have to agree with, Mike Hoolboom,  the author, that instead of “spitting out” and rejecting these images we keep looking.

Cummings’ ‘models’, all seem to be part of a small group of people on the margins. In the interview Cummings touches on his own, one time, addiction to alcoholism. It seems that he met one of this group at that time. They struck up a friendship. This gave Cummings an ‘in’ into the chaotic lives of these people who were living on the edge. He stresses that he always worked with them, by appointment and with their full consent, giving the impression that these people were behaving like ordinary people. I find this hard to understand.

When pressed, by Hoolbloom, about the difference between his life style and economic standards, Cummings agrees that his life is indeed very different, from that of his subjects, but he insists that his ‘models’ were always willing participants. He indicates that he always showed them the results and they signed their agreement to release the material. Cummings believes that the people involved had no opportunity to tell their stories to the world, other than through his lens. He indicates that they were at least willing, and often enthusiastic, actors in their own stories. He says he fails to understand why viewers sometimes describe his work as the pornography of misery. (2). I was unable to view any of his videos so I have to rely on the written word of others to write about this work.

It is a very frank and honest interview in which he admits to ‘staging’ or reworking many of his videos until he is satisfied that the end result presents the story he wants to tell. I could not put it any better than he puts it himself: The basic formula of my work is that the material has to carry the seeds of its own critical destruction. It is not a transparent window into otherness.(2)

In a recent article (3) on WeAreOCA, Les Monaghan, discusses the dilemma photographers face in photographing projects of this type. When is it voyeurism and when is it beneficial? I struggle with this concept.

  1. Pretty Ribbons. 2016. Pretty Ribbons. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 May 2016].
  2. Donigan Cumming | Mike Hoolboom. 2016. Donigan Cumming | Mike Hoolboom. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 02 May 2016].
  3. WeAreOCA. 2016. Photography Matters ii – WeAreOCA. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 May 2016].

Victor Burgin (1941 – ): Conceptual artist, Writer, Photographer

I am reviewing this artist/photographer at the suggestion of my tutor. I found his work really interesting not least because I was moving towards the addition of text to my images before I looked at his work. The first online reference I looked at was Galerie Zander. In “Seeing Double“(1) he adds text but unfortunately the images online were not good enough to read the text.

Further research produced a very interesting paper (here (2)) on appropiations which is defined in Wikipedia as:  the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 14.23.49

Figure1.28 Victor Burgin: “Life Demands a Little Give and Take” (1974)

The text, for this image, was given as follows:

Evening is the softest time of day. As the sun descends the butterfly bright colours which flourish at high noon give way to the moth shades. The tones are pale, delicate. These are the classic Mayfair colours. White, naturally, takes pride of place, but evening white lightly touched with silver or sometimes gold . . . The look is essentially luxurious, very much for the pampered lady dressed for a romantic evening with every element pale and perfect.

This text is about the targeting of fashion towards white people rather than black. The author asks if, without the text, the message would be clear?

In my own assignment submission I used an Dior ad to state that even models carry at least 1kg of bacteria. I was interested to see how closely it resembled Burgin’s poster “Possession” which he created


Nuala Mahon

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 14.35.46

Figure 1.29 Victor Burgin, “Possession”









Although my ‘message’  was a much simpler one and not political. Burgin was highlighting the uneven distribution of wealth in the world. Apparently his message fell on ‘blind eyes’ as very few people actually read it.

Burgin uses the above image in his exhibition curated by David Campany On Paper. (3)The blurb for this exhibition attributes the following statement to Burgin:

My decision to base my work in contemporary cultural theory rather than traditional aesthetics, has resulted in work whose precise ‘location’ is uncertain, ‘between’: between gallery and book; between ‘visual art’ and ‘theory’; between ‘image’ and ‘narrative’ – ‘work’ providing work between reader and text.

I love the idea.

Contrary to the ‘simplicity of his images to read and interpret, his essays are written in a sightly simpler style than Barthes but nonetheless they are not bedtime reading.

From his essay Seeing Sense (4) Burgin suggests:

A significant social effect of a photograph is the product of its imbrication within such discursive formations. It is easily appreciated that advertising activates such formations as, for example, those which concern family life, erotic encounters, competitiveness, and so on. The role of the veerbal in advertising will be ust as readily conceded – writing is physically integrated into nearly every advertisement. But art photographs are not exempt from such determinations of meaning, determinations which are achieved even where actual writing is absent.

Which I take to mean both art images and advertisement rely on written or implied words to project their meaning.

When discussing an image, by Garry Winogrand, of four women walking down the street passing garbage bags stuffed with rubbish, Burgin says, that we already have in mind the expression ‘old bag… He maintains

We cannot choose what we know, and neither can we choose what part of our dormant knowledge will be awakened by the stimulus of an image, reciprocally reactivated and reinforced by it.

This happens no matter how hard we try to maintain neutrality. Everything we have lived and experienced will influence what we experience when looking at a photograph.

In discussing Photography as art Burgin quotes Greenberg (5):

The art in photography is literary art before anything else. The photography has to tell a story if it is to work as art. And it is in choosing and accosting his story, or subject , that the artist-photographer makes the decisions crucial to his art.

In addition to Greenberg’s story, Szarkowski (6) talks about the sense of an image but Burgin believes we must add a third parameter which is the seeing subject, the observer of the image.

One of Burgin’s essay’s entitled “Looking at Photographs” provided me with a sore head from the level of concentration required to decipher its meaning. I decided to reread it today but in my mail this morning was a link to a Japanese photographer (7), Lukasz Palka. His ideas about reading photographs which fairly closely agreed with Burgins that to complete the work an observer is necessary, He says

The signifying significance of a photograph,……, at once depicts a scene and the gaze of the spectator, an object and a viewing subject

Burgin goes further than Palka in what he believes an observer brings to the image. He or she interprets the image on the basis of all his pre-knowledge and learning. Burgin also discusses the fact that a photograph is framed and in being framed it excludes part of the story. This is why so many professional street photographers like the Leica with the viewfinder to the side. In this way they can keep the whole surrounding in view and make the decision what to include and what to exclude in the final image.

Burgins ‘reading’ of the image, by James Jarche General Wavell watches his gardener at work, is extraordinary. One wonders if the photographer intended such a level of interpretation or indeed if that matters since the observer is part of the looking experience and is entitled to interpret as he thinks fit.

It is hard to make sense of Burgins conclusions about Photography and the codes contained therin.


  1. Works – Victor Burgin – Artists – Galerie Thomas Zander. 2016. Works – Victor Burgin – Artists – Galerie Thomas Zander. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2016].
  2. 1.3 Appropriations. 2016. 1.3 Appropriations. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2016]
  3. Victor Burgin: On Paper | David Campany. 2016. Victor Burgin: On Paper | David Campany. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 March 2016].
  4. 2016. . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 March 2016].
  5. Four Photographers by Clement Greenberg | The New York Review of Books. 2016. Four Photographers by Clement Greenberg | The New York Review of Books. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 March 2016].
  6. Szarkowski, J, 1966. The Photographer’s Eye. 1st ed. New York: The Museum of Modern Art
  7. A Photograph is an Experience. 2016. A Photograph is an Experience. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 March 2016].


Review of Christian Patterson Joan Fontcuberta and Yukichi Watabe’s work

Christian Patterson

My tutor had pointed me to Redheaded Peckerwood (1) a book by Christian Patterson about the teenage murders carried out in Nebraska fifty years ago. The book follows the path of Starkweather and Fugate, who murdered ten people in 1958, some of which included members of Fugate’s own family.

The first material I found was an interview by Daniel Augschöll and Anya Jasbar for Ahorn Magazine (2) . In this interview Patterson explains how and why the work had taken five yerrs to complete. He returned to Nabraska each January for about a week to continue his research. He met people who were willing to share their stories about the murders and to point him to other sources. He continues to find and be given material pertaining to the story. His book, now on its third addition contains some of this recent found material. He is extremely interesting on what, in his book, is fact and what is fiction. he leaves the whole thing purpously vague which I love. He also says he is not sure if his next story will be based on a true story or not. He is drawn to the idea of an invented story created to make it absolutely believable.

The interview also contains a lot of information about the making of the original ten handmade books and the eventual printing, by MACK, of the commercial editions. Everything from the cover to the inserts looks fascinating and I would so love to possess this book.

I wish I had know about this photographer before I worked on my assignment1.His work makes my little assignment look so amateur. Below is a video of Patterson talking about his book. His attention to detail and passion for his subject is evident. He openly admits it is part truth and part fiction but this does not matter to the book. It is a work with which the reader must interact. There are inserts and pages superimposed on the images. It looks splendid.

Joan Fontcuberta

Where Patterson’s work follows, meticulously, events in Redheaded Peckerwood and uses some of the actual material Fontcuberta invents ‘almost’ everything in his work. He has been exhibiting his work since 1984 (Hemograms) to this present day, the latest exhibition I could find, until I saw his work in Arles, was 2014 (Camouflages). He takes an idea or invented story and creates a whole narrative around it. Fauna was, he claimed about work he had found from a German scientist who had researched extraordinary animals. Fontcuberta added documents, research notes etc. to his exhibition, of the supposed scientist’s work, thus giving the appearance of authentication.

In “Googlegrams,” the Spanish witchking employs a freeware photo-mosaic program that composes big pictures from zillions of tiny pictorial tiles. All culled from the World Wide Web.(3).

Zoom detail of Googlegram 8: Auschwitz, 2005

Zoom detail of Googlegram 8: Auschwitz, 2005

The critic of his exhibition Googlegrams says of it that it turns your eyebrows into exclamation points of alarm and I can well believe it. While I admire his work and his creativity I cannot say I actually like it. Then I don’t think that is the object of his work I think it is done to provoke and stretch out thinking which it certainly does.

Yukichi Watabe,

A Criminal Investigation, the work recommended by my tutor,  was in fact, the only work by this photographer that I could find online. I was able to peruse the book on YouTube but found this frustrating as the written parts were not clear. A review by Jesse Freeman (4) did throw more light on the work. It would appear that the Photographer, Yukichi Watabe was allowed to photograph two detectives as they went about their work trying to solve a brutal murder in the 1950’s. The book is printed and bound to look like a police report. It is packed full of black and white images, many of the two chain smoking detectives. Some of the images are really aesthetically beautifully composed. This, unlike the other two photographer’s work is very real despite being represented in a cinematic, film noir style. I think it would be necessary to hold and look at these images to fully appreciate the work.

In conclusion I really appreciate being introduced to these three photographers’ work. it has made me reflect about truth, manipulation, and even creation of truth like images.


  1.  Patterson, C, 2011. Redheaded Peckerwood. 3rd ed. London: MACK.
  2. Interview with Christian Patterson. 2016. Interview with Christian Patterson. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 19 January 2016].
  3. JOAN FONTCUBERTA: “The Con” | #ASX. 2016. JOAN FONTCUBERTA: “The Con” | #ASX. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 January 2016].
  4. Jesse’s Book Review – A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi – Japan Camera Hunter. 2016. Jesse’s Book Review – A Criminal Investigation by Watabe Yukichi – Japan Camera Hunter. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 January 2016].