A couple of months ago I gave the work made during the Tower of London residency the title Other Histories. I came to this title while thinking about the hierarchy of historic importance within a heritage site. In such places there exist the histories that are represented as part of the nations past (kings, religious figures, battles etc) but within a historic site there also smaller histories, everyday events and minor places. It seemed to me that while working at the Tower I was exploring this hierarchy and making images that represented other stories about the Tower of London.
I chose this title unaware that the Artist Joachim Koester (whose work I admire and have also written about on this blog) had an exhibition planned for the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh with the title Poison Protocols and Other Histories (which opened in August)
image from 'Tarantism' - Joachim Koester
I’ve been reading the blog of the National Media Museum recently and its a really good online resource. It seems that the majority of museums and galleries use blogs to promote new shows or exhibitions, where as the Media Museum takes you behind the scenes and shows you the work they do that you may be unaware of.
Here is a really interesting post about work to recreate Henry Fox Talbot‘s historic book The Pencil of Nature.
Its fascinating to think that this book introduced the idea of photography, explaining concepts that seem simple to us, such as the fact that, unlike painting, the time needed to make a photograph does not increase with the number of people in the image.
‘The idea of beauty is completely arbitrary. Duchamp saw this clearly and acted on it: you don’t put an object in a museum because it’s beautiful; an object is beautiful because you put it in a museum. Everything is photogenic once it has been photographed. The successful mission of photography was to deliver the world and all its contents into the category of the picturesque.’
– Lewis Baltz
(full interview can be found here)
GABRIEL OROZCO, 'Cats and Watermelons', 1992
I found this very short clip of the Artist Gabriel Orozco talking about the role that photography plays in his practice. I am particularly interested in the way he talks about the photographic image and sculpture. This is, in some small way, similar to how I see the work I have made for the Tower of London residency: images of objects that when framed and photographed become sculptural.
I also share his feelings about not always carrying a camera. In many ways, always carrying a camera, always looking at your surroundings through a lens, viewfinder or LCD screen stops you seeing a place. Recently I have started visiting places I find visually interesting with a notebook and writing a description of it rather than going straight for the camera, in this way I notice different things and have a different experience of the place which then informs the work I make of that place.
Im not a big fan of things like flickr (the photo sharing website) for reasonsthat will be made clear in this post, but I have recently discovered a project on it called ‘The Commons’. This project is a collection of photographs from the ‘ world’s public photography archives’ available for anyone to view online, taken from participating organizations such as the Imperial War Museum, The National Galleries of Scotland and the Library of Congress.
There are some great photographs on here, but what I find really interesting (and equally annoying) is the comments attached to each of the photographs by the flickr community. It reminds me of how the old Camera Clubs operated (pre-internet), members would have one of their photographs displayed for the rest of the club who would then give their opinions on the work; what made a good photograph had strict rules: horizons must be straight, things must be in focus etc etc.
The comments on ‘Flickr: The Commons’ vary from interesting to just incredible. For example here is a photograph of the Photographer Frank Hurley (mentioned in a previous post) taken between 1911 -1914.
Frank Hurley washing cinematograph film on the "Aurora" from the collection of the State Lbrary of New South Wales
One of the added comments reads : ‘Tilt a boat straight ,that’s will be a great shot.’ (sic)
Im afraid that this unnecessary advice will probably fall on deaf …. well actually dead ears.
‘There is something abominable about cameras, because they possess the power to invent many worlds. As an artist who has been lost in this wilderness of mechanical reproduction for many years, I do not know which world to start with. I have seen fellow artists driven to the point of frenzy by photography.’
– Robert Smithson, ‘Art Through the Camera’s Eye’, c.1971
I’m in the middle of reading this essay about the work of Robert Frank and William Klein by my old History of Photography lecturer Gerry Badger. The essay (The Indecisive Moment: Frank, Klein and ‘Stream of Consciousness’ Photography) looks at two key books in the mediums history – Frank’s ‘The Americans’ and Kleins ‘New York’:
‘these two books introduced a new kind of attitude into photography. The work was rough, raw, and gestural. It was spontaneous and immediate, highly personal, echoing both the uncertain mood of the era and the characteristics that marked much of the art – especially the American art – of the 1950s.’
One of my favourite photographs from Klein’s ‘New York’ is this one, ‘Hamburger 40c’ (1955):
Badger is obviously interested in the way these books captured something of their time, 1955, a period of growing American wealth, the emergence of Jazz and the Beat Poets (Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ has an introduction written by Jack Kerouac) all underpinned by the deep psychological unease and even paranoia of the cold war.
With this in mind I am looking at our present moment of world history with its financial problems and ever increasing distrust in the establishment – government, banking, big industry and the media, an I’m wondering if the photographs I see so much of in galleries and museums show any reflection of the era as the work of Frank and Klein did in their time. Im not talking about overtly political or direct photography (here for example), but more about subtle, allegorical work. What photographic artist will stand out as capturing something of the uncertain essence of this time in a way that will become clearer as we move into the future ?
Its turning into a rough week, both professionally and personally (without going into the details). I’m back to my role at the college for a new term and it feels like everything is happening at once (like that description of Time and Space – one exists so that everything doesn’t happen at once and the other to stop it all happening to you).
Almost as if to balance this out I stumbled across the work of Yamamoto Masao.
His work is beautiful and sparse, its not the best word but I dont want to use simple because I think when they are seen as an installation in a gallery they would be anything but simple. They are beautiful though.
His work is also interesting in reference to my recent words on the photograph as object. It’s strange how things work.
This picture alone makes me feel a whole lot better about the world.
by Yamamoto Masao
On friday of last week I dropped off the 15 photographs that will make up the exhibition at Spectrum in Hove for framing. The framing process changes the prints from photographs into 3D objects that have a different presence altogether, I am hoping that when they are hung on the wall in the correct order and position the effect will be something like how I saw it in my mind when making the edit. Of course the fact that I didn’t now where the photographs were to be shown prior to the edit and printing process plays its part in the success of the final work.
Since I completed making the photographs for the Tower Residency I have become more and more interested in the sculptural quality of the photographic print; the photograph as physical object, and the way it changes through handling over time. For example : a photograph carried in a wallet of a loved one begins to wear due to its everyday closeness to the owner, it begins to bare the marks of its attention.
When I was a student a much respected photography technician retired, he was a very interested in the explorations of people like Scott and Shackleton. My year grouped together to buy the technician (John) a print of one of the photographs taken by Frank Hurley during Shackleton’s ill fated expedition of the South Pole, as a leaving gift. You could clearly see in the bottom right hand corner of the print a smeared thumbprint that was on the original glass plate negative. John explained that before Shackleton’s team abandoned their wrecked ship Endurance Hurley was told to select only a few of his glass plates to take with them. These thumb prints would have been where Hurley had held the developed glass plate while deciding whether to take the image or leave it (Shackleton actually smashed the ones left behind so that Hurley wouldn’t be tempted to go back for them).
These damaging marks have added to the image an extra layer of the photographs history.