Saturday, 16 February 2013

Thinking about Assignment 4

Have received my feedback from Assignment 3 – more of which in another post – so time to start planning for Assignment 4, which requires me to write a critical review of around 2500 words on one of 5 photographers – or a different one if they meet the criteria. The criteria are that their work should be of major standing, be sufficiently accessible to research through the Net or the library and be influential.

An interesting set of criteria but what do these terms actually mean?

Major standing – presumably this means sufficiently well-known among photographers that most would have heard of them as I doubt that the average individual could name any of the suggested photographers. In fact – there was one photographer on their list who I had not heard of – in spite of many years subscriptions to various photo hobby mags, so major standing is obviously a bit flexible.

Sufficiently accessible – to my mind this requires a lot more than just plenty of shots on Google Image search. To meaningfully review a photographers work I am going to need to reference their background and hopefully produce some direct source evidence (interview transcripts, video, writing) of their intent and influences. In truth this is the easy criteria. If i can’t find sufficient material on a given photographer they’re off the list.

Influential – again this seems a bit of a vague term. Do they mean helped steer photography in a new direction (and what if the direction was ultimately a bit of a dead end)? Or inspired lots of imitators? Or somewhere in between? How influential? And how do we measure influence?

There is also another, unspoken criteria implicit in the notes, which emerges from Assignment 5, which requires me to take 12 shots in the style of my chosen photographer. So they have to interest me sufficiently to want to engage fully with that assignment as well.

Anyway – the course notes suggest five photographers:

  • Ansel Adams: seems to hit all three criteria squarely on the head, but producing images in an Adams style seems something of a cliché, not least because his style is so intimately linked with a particular approach to landscape.
  • Robert Adams: again hits all three listed criteria, although he is clearly less well known outside of the photo-art community than his namesake above.His photo series seem interesting and provocative – investigating Man’s connectedness with, and impact on, his environment, which is something that interests me.
  • Fay Godwin: the only British photographer on the list. I’ve borrowed the two book under her name on the reading list. I feel she has elements of fukei in her work. I didn’t initially take to her work – in particular I felt that Forbidden Land was marked by naive politicising, but the more I think about the pictures (rather than the philosophy) the more I enjoy them. There is a sense of time flowing – fukei – in her images  Beyond saying it was square format B&W of rural scenes in the UK I am currently struggling to define her style, but if I can overcome that barrier there is plenty of potential material within easy reach for Assignment 5.
  • Edward Weston: Unlike the others not a “pure” landscaper. I have the Aperture monograph from the reading list and I can see that much of his work was quite exploratory and radical at the time – especially in his use of landscapes and cloudscapes as semi-abstracts. I can’t help feeling however that the theme of his work was simply photography which feels a little introverted.
  • Galen Rowell: “Who?”was my first question! His photos are undoubtedly beautiful in their use of light and colour, but I’m at a loss as to why he was included and not, say, Joe Cornish. His influence is seen in photo magazines all over the world with their encouragement to take long exposure, highly saturated,  strangely colour balanced landscapes. I’m not immune to evening and morning light, but it holds no special interest for me and I can’t imagine wanting to do a whole portfolio in that style.

I can’t help the observation that all bar one of these is dead. I find this a little odd – obviously not that they’re dead, but that there are no genuinely contemporary photographers in this list. I understand that it is important to engage with the history of photography – it feeds back to Joshua Reynolds point about understanding what has gone before to avoid  following the on old trail in the accidental belief that you’re going somewhere new. However, the tutors on the private forums regularly encourage us not to repeat the works of past masters – no matter how great. With this in mind I have identified another five  photographers that interest me enough to be considered for the assignment.

  • Hiroshi Sugimoto: not truly a landscaper – at least in the classic sense. His seascapes use landscape photography to investigate some quite deep philosophical points about time and his presentation sometimes draws on Buddhist metaphysics, which interests me. However I have followed my thoughts on this aspect of his work through assignment 3, and I’m not sure it is wise to become to fixated at this stage. I have also struggled to find much which talks about his photographic style beyond the inevitable exhibition catalogues, which all basically say the same thing. He remains a firm favourite photographer, but I’m going to try someone else.
  • Richard Misrach: On an initial reading Misrach seems, to me at least, to tread some of the same ground as Robert Adams – he is clearly concerned about the impact of man on nature. His work is more classically beautiful than Adams’, and I suspect that in some quarters it would be sneered at as “gallery photography” although he is clearly no friend of the industrial complex. He chooses to group his works in to “Cantos” which has a significance I don’t fully understand
  • Naoya Hatakeyama: like Robert Adams, Hatakeyama appears interested in the interaction between man and his environment. Among other things his Lime Works series presents the idea of the cities of Japan being the positive from the negative hole in the ground left by limestone extraction. This seems to offer opportunities for investigation through the relic mines of the Lake District. there is also a good range of research material available. The only question would be his current level of influence – although, on the basis of several exhibition in high profile galleries (SFMoMA for example) and being nominated in the Prix Pictet, he is clearly being taken seriously by the photo community.
  • Michael Kenna: I need to do a little more research on Kenna. He clearly has a reputation for exquisite printing technique, and is clearly quite popular/influential in the Landscape scene. My initial reaction however that his photos could be challenged in the same way as AA - that they are beautiful and sterile. His black and whites of Japan look remarkably like ink paintings – not clear if that was his intent or not at this stage. Whatever, I think they fall short of the beauty and insight of such works because they are too crafted and perfect.
  • Stephen Shore: suggested by my tutor in light of my interest in road images. This has waned a bit recently as I’ve been chasing up rather more abstract concepts such as time and perspective. As a result I’ve not really followed up on this lead beyond purchasing and reading The Nature of Photographs – I don’t imagine I’m the first to be a bit surprised to find that most of the photos are not by Shore

Where is all this leading?  Well in the first instance I think I’ve narrowed my choice to one of three – Hatakeyama, Robert Adams and Misrach, with Godwin as a possible outlier. So – time for some more research.

No comments:

Post a Comment