Category Archives: Uncategorized

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. | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1997 | Cindy Sherman | Untitled Film Still #14. 2016. | Interactives | Exhibitions | 1997 | Cindy Sherman | Untitled Film Still #14. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2016].

    2. 2016. Cindy Sherman – Skarstedt Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2016].The Guardian. 2016.

    3. Cindy Sherman: Older and wizened | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2016].


A5: Project 1: Setting the scene

Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: [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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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: [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: [Accessed 27 April 2016].
  3. The Huffington Post. 2016. Taryn Simon and the Relativity of Truth. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 April 2016].
  4. TIME. 2016. Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Groundbreaking Portraits of Hustlers. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 April 2016].

Behind the Image by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana

The book is written by two University of Creative Arts staff members. Its audience is primarily students of photography. I believe it should be required reading for students starting out on a photography course rather than further into the course.

There are six chapters. It is written in a simple and straightforward language making it easy to understand. It is well illustrated with images both by the authors and other photographers where relevant. Much of the content is things one already knows. Tied neatly into chapters it reinforces this knowledge.

The opening chapter is about planning and researching proposals for projects. The second is about research methods and sources available to develop a project. There are brief descriptions of different photographic genre in the next chapter. Because of the breadth of the topics covered no one genre is dealt with in depth. This leaves the reader wanting to discover more. Blogging and information storage is dealt with in Chapter four. The fifth Chapter is about the final product. Emphasis is placed on archiving research so that it can be accessed later. Taking time to reflect and revisit images before final decisions are made. Where and how to exhibit material is also touched on. The final chapter deals with taking time to reflect on work in progress and eventually archiving it.

Each chapter ends with an activity. I did not do these activities but think they would be very useful for anyone preparing for a college degree in Photography. In brief, a great little handbook.

Project 2 Masquerades: Exercise 2 Tracey Moffatt

Tracey Moffatt, a Scorpion, used self portraiture to create a series of forty images of women born under the sign of Scorpio. The images are not a serious attempt to ‘be’ the other person rather they are a playful look at some of the external characteristics of these celebrities. Indira Ghandi’s trademark large sunglasses, Catherine Denueve’s hair roll with upturned collar are what Moffatt chooses to accentuate.

She made a contact sheet (1) of each person and shows us these with the ‘chosen’ image ringed. She then places these images on ‘appropriate’ backgrounds, in Photoshop,  to create the final image. it is all about celebrity and pizzazz rather than serious representation.

These women have two things in common, they are born under the sign of Scorpio and they are celebrities. Grouping them under their birth sign is just a way of making a ‘set’. Moffatt says she never uses single images. Her work is about narrative. What these images are about is celebrity and how the media see and portrays these famous people.

Moffatt’s cinematic experience is evident in her series.

While her photographs and films engage with many of the social issues of the present era, land rights, immigration, mass-media, globalisation they also constantlv reference and re-imagine her own past as an Aboriginal, born in 1960 and brought up in a foster home in Brisbane. Her work…..explores both “high” and “low” sources
Paul Savage, Tracy Mofatt, City Gallery Wellington (2)

I find it difficult to work out what connections Moffatt is making between her own Aboriginal origins, her past and her upbringing and this group of Scorpian women. I find the idea of the work interesting and the execution superb.


  1. Tracey Moffatt – Being – Under the Sign of Scorpio, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2005 – Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. 2016. Tracey Moffatt – Being – Under the Sign of Scorpio, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2005 – Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 February 2016].
  2. . 2016. . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 February 2016].

Review of Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes

This essay. like Death of the Author, complicates a relatively simply concept, the analysis of the image.

Barthes uses an advertisement for Italian pasta and sauce to demonstrate how we can read images. Firstly the image is ‘anchored‘ with a caption or some form of written message. This message remote controls our interpretation of the image. It is what the image author or creator wants us to see. It does not necessarily contain all the truth or all the information. It is a very biased message.

In certain images, mostly cartoons and comic strips,  the anchor is replaced by a relay. This is a written message which is in synchronisation with the image. Both image and text are co-dependent.

An image then has coded messages which give a certain connotation to the resultant composition. In his example this is demonstrated in the name of the product, Panzini, which give a certain “Italianicity” to the product for non Italians. The presence of fresh products along with the dried and tinned ones gives the impression of freshness. The way the products spill out of the string bag, on to the kitchen table, is presented in a still life style. Altogether we could almost believe that Panzini is a ready made meal, that Panzini is offering us a service.

Then there is the non coded message, the denoted one. This is simply all the elements that go to make up the image which will be present however many coded message that will be superimposed on them. In the example it is the pasta, the tine, the tomato etc.

The whole ensemble, taken together goes to make up what Barthes calls the rhetoric of the image.