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Mediated Reality

How do we experience the world today? Much of what we see and hear is, in a sense, not real. While the images we see reflect light much the way the object photographed would, and while the sound waves we receive through our radios and televisions very much resemble those we would experience while standing in front of a musical performer, the experience is a very different one. Much of what we experience on a day-to-day basis has been recorded, broadcast, translated, and re-translated a number of times before it even reaches us. Our experience of the “thing” is mediated, however, we do not perceive the mediation, but rather the “thing” itself. In the case of the photograph (QUOTE ABOUT HOW WE EXPERIENCE WHAT IS IN A PHOTOGRAPH AS THE REAL. IT IS NOT A “PHOTOGRAPH” OF A PERSON, BUT THE “PERSON” THEMSELVES)

MARSHAL MCLUHANS IDEA OF THE TRAVEL BROCHURES AND HOW WE EXPERIENCE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Eugene Atget and “Documents for Artists”

In the 1890s, a little known photographer began photographing in the streets of Paris. He would claim not to be an artist, but rather a documenter who set about to make images to be used as aides for artists. Over the course of his career he would shoot 10,000 images of Paris, creating one of the best historical databases of a specific place and time period ever.

Eugene Atget was born in 1857 outside the city of Bordeaux. Early in his life he had a short-lived career as a sailor on liners that were crossing the Atlantic. He quit being a sailor / cabin boy to pursue his passion for acting, although he was not very successful at that either. At the age of 40, Atget decided to take up photography.

He and his wife settled in Paris in the 1890s and around 1895, Atget bought his first camera. He began photographing using a wooden large format camera with a rapid rectilinear lens and used 18 x 24cm dry glass plates.

Over the course of more then 30 years, Eugene Atget relentlessly photographed the streets of Paris. Much like a location scout does today, Atget’s intention was to create a “database” of images. Artists, mostly painters whom painted their scenes from photographs, would come and search through Atget’s archive looking for scenes they wanted to use. Atget would then sell them a print of the negative for their use.

Google’s “Street View”

On May 25th, 2007, Google introduced the world to “Street View”. This was a new way of looking at maps (and was integrated with their “Google Maps” website. The process was vast yet simple. A Google “Street View” car would drive every street in a given area. This car would have a 9-way camera attached to its roof. At measured intervals, the camera would take an image, tag that image with GPS coordinates, and upload the image along with the location information to Google’s servers. Then, using the coordinates that were logged with the image, a specific spot in “Google Maps” would be associated with that set of photographs. Once enough of these photos had been uploaded and stitched together, it would be possible to virtually “drive” the streets of a given area. However, what Google was inadvertently doing, just like Atget, was recording a specific place during a specific time period with great detail.

In addition to the general public, Google’s “Street View” has become a popular tool with artists and internet enthusiasts who try and find interesting moments that the cameras have accidentally captured. These enthusiasts will spend hours searching through the streets documented by Google looking for oddities.

Google and the “decisive moment”

In a 1957 Washington Post interview, Henri Cartier-Bresson described the impetus behind the “decisive moment”:

There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.[1]

Google’s cameras abolish the notion of the artist’s creativity defining the “decisive moment”. Google’s “Street View” cameras are not operated by humans (other than the on/off button), they are robotic and know nothing about being “creative”. They measure the distance that the vehicle they are attached to has traveled, and once they have traveled the predetermined distance, they take a photograph. Google’s cameras capture events as they happen to pass by them.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

While there is no longer an “artist” to lend their creative eye or influence to the capturing of the image, the “decisive moment” still happens. Michael Wolf commented on this in an interview with the British Journal of Photography in 2011:

[I]t’s just a matter of being and doing something long enough that you’re going to come across almost everything which happens in life. It can be a cat falling out of a tree, it can be a woman giving birth, it can be a man stealing something (shoplifting), a father shooting his son in the back. Everything is possible and everything will be recorded if the cameras are out there at some point in time.

Wolf's A Series of Unfortunate Events

These “decisive moments” exist everyday, but it used to be that a photographer could not be in so many places at once or capture so much photographic material in a lifetime as Google can capture in a day.

Michael Wolf’s Paris Street View

Michael Wolf is a German born photographer. He had been living with his wife in Hong Kong and had been photographing the condensed and drastically expanding city space. In 2008, his wife was offered a job opportunity that she was unable to refuse. Much like Atget did in the 1890s, Wolf and his wife relocated to Paris. Wolf needed something to photograph. His photographic work had always centered on his location, however, to Wolf, Paris was uninspiring.

Wolf's Architecture of Density

He had been interested in Hong Kong mainly because it was expanding so fast that the city didn’t know what to do with itself. Marc Feustel wrote about Wolf’s Architecture of Density and interest in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong and China, where Wolf has shot several series, are places of flux: the architecture and structure of their cities is constantly being reinvented and there is little sentimentality about the preservation of traditional architecture. The buildings in these cities are replete with fascinating details as they wear the signs of their inner life on their surfaces: pipes emerge from walls at random, telephone wires are tied in inextricable knots and balconies are transformed into overflowing outdoor storage units.[2]

Now Wolf found himself in a city that “shows few signs of contemporary life on its surface”[3] and, to a great extent, had not changed architecturally in the last hundred years. (Attesting to the speed of Paris’ architectural development is an anonymous quote generally attributed to Marcel Duchamp stating, “The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges”).

Atget and "Street View"

There was also a fear in the back of Wolf’s mind. Everywhere he looked he saw a photo that he had seen before. Whether Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or any number of famed photographers that had taken the city as their muse over the past century had taken it. So he retreated inside, not knowing what to do with himself, until he discovered Google’s “Street View”.

Joel Sternfeld

Google had just made the “Street View” platform available to France and Italy in July of 2008, which marked the first introduction of the platform outside of the United States. Wolf decided that this was an avenue that he could exploit in an effort to explore the city in a way that the Masters before him were unable to. He gradually traveled down all of the streets in Paris, not by walking them, but by sitting in front of his computer screen and looking at the imagery that Google had captured. He began to look for images that were out of the ordinary, images in which Google’s cameras had unintentionally captured a “decisive moment”.

Wolf's "A Series of Unfortunate Events"

He began to photograph these scenes. He did not simply record them by taking a “screen shot” or marking the scene on a map and posting it for others to see and visit themselves. Instead he got out his 4×5 (???) view camera and took a photo of his computer screen. He photographed the found scene as he would have had he been there, witnessing the “moment” first-hand. An important element when looking at the photographs that Wolf captured is that he does not try to hide the fact that the images he was shooting were on a screen. In fact, the elements of Google’s virtual world (the graphic, directional arrows, street names, and vehicle paths) were readily identifiable, not just as the virtual world, but as Google’s “Street View”.

"Paris Street View"

This is important because it clues the viewer into the fact that these scenes were not witnessed by the photographer, but rather by a robotic camera. It also has the ability of placing the viewer in the “real” space. This is because in several of Wolf’s images, he has included Google’s screen text that gives the street names, addresses, or intersections where Google’s cameras were when the “Street View” image was taken.

Michael Wolf’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Redefinition of “Street Photography”

Michael Wolf speaks of his Google Street View work from Olivier Laurent on Vimeo.

Recently, Wolf’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a derivation of his Paris Street View series, garnered an honorable mention at the World Press Photo Awards. This is an interesting development for an association like the World Press Photo because Wolf’s photographs are hardly the type of “documentary” photography that World Press Photo is know for recognizing. Wolf talked about the honorable mention with the British Journal of Photography. Wolf says,

I think it’s absolutely astounding, I won First Prize twice in the competition in 2005 and last year, but this honorable mention is worth hundred times more to me because it’s such a conceptual leap for the World Press jury to award a prize to someone that photographs virtually. It’s mind-blowing.

 


[1] Bernstein, Adam (August 5, 2004). “The Acknowledged Master of the Moment”. The Washington Post.

[2] FOAM International Photography Magazine. #22 Peeping. Spring 2010.

[3] FOAM International Photography Magazine. #22 Peeping. Spring 2010

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Mediated reality

I am specifically interested in the mediated coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The idea that the way that most people experience national tradgedy (dating back to when tv news coverage was invented) is through the media. Most people around the world experienced the events on September 11 through their television sets. (The word television is interesting in itself, the idea of transmitting vision, as if the viewer was actually witnessing the events first hand–Greek tele (τῆλε), far, and Latin visio, sight (from video, vis- to see, or to view in the first person)). This also holds true with a number of other events including the Hindenburg, the moon landing, JFK assassination (and subsequent assassination of Lee Harvey Oswold), the Challenger explosion, and Princess Diana’s Death.

I am also interested in our experience of others’ experiences via the Internet, although I am not sure how much it will fit into this particular paper. Facebook allows us to “keep up” with events that our “friends” are experiencing. What interests me most are parents that put up images of their children. What interests me so is that I experience this child growing up. Over the years, as the parent continues to put up images of their child, I become familiar with the milestones in that child’s life. If I ever meet the child, I will have a back history of that child’s life, even though it is the first time I have met them.

Some of the texts I have been looking at are Benjamin’s Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction, Sontag’s “In Plato’s Cave” from On Photography, Mcluhan’s Understanding Media, Anneke Smelik’s Mediating Memories (which deals with 9/11 spectatorship), a number of essays from various authors from the book The Spectacle of the Real: From Hollywood to ‘Reality’ TV and Beyond (which I just found) including “Media Culture and the Triumph of the Spectacle” (Kellner), “‘Just Like a Movie’?: 9/11 and Hollywood Spectacle”(King), and “Teratology of the Spectacle”(Lockwood), and the writing of Guy Debord, although I haven’t found what I want yet.

I will be looking at two artists that work with ideas of mediated reality in two very different ways. The first (and where much of my interest lies) is Charlie White and his very small series Everything is American. In Everything is American, White uses moments that he feels are moments of shared cultural trauma and recreates these images. These include the Manson family murders, Jonestown, and the US gymnastics team.

I will also be looking at Michael Wolf, specifically at his series Paris Street View. In Paris Street View, Wolf travels through the streets of Paris using Googls’s Street View technology. When he comes across scenes that he finds interesting, he photographs the screen of his computer, further cropping the image and taking it out of context. He relates what Google is doing with Street View to what Atget did with his camera in Paris. Google has documented every inch of Paris with their cameras, which are not operated by humans, but by computers instead. A human simply drives up and down the streets while a computer makes images at regular intervals. The computer system also uses an algorithym to blur out any human face that it sees (so as to protect privacy). He says that his photos are documents of himself “discovering the city [of Paris] photographically on a virtual level”. (BJP Video Interview)

Feminism and the Post Modern

Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema” has been something I have been interested in for a long time. The idea of the Male Gaze has interested me even while I was involved in fashion work in Minneapolis.

For the readings this week, Mulvey’s essay was contrasted with Craig Owens’ “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism.” While Mulvey uses psychoanalysis to look at how the male gaze has propogated itself in cinema of the time, Owens looks at how feminism can be looked at from a number of different viewpoints (thus the postmodernism) and how it has been (but should not be) grouped into a single category of the disenfranchised.

To make this point, Owens uses an example of how ‘feminism’ has been lumped together. He notes that, in regards to liberations or self-determination movements, a prominent male critic has proposed this list, “ethnic groups, neighborhood movements, feminism, various ‘countercultural’ or alternative lifestyle groups, rank-and-file labor dissidence, student movements, single-issue movements.” The problem with this line of thinking, as Owens points out, is that there is no ONE feminism, and that there are many different facets. Too many to simply be reduced to one group. I think that feminism shares the same problem today. When someone says the word “feminism” or “feminist”, a certain image pops into one’s head of a group of “rowdy” women burning there bras (which supposedly never actually happened). The general public today misunderstands the word and simply groups all “feminists” together. Not understanding that there are a number of different levels.

I also think that there has been much progress made from the women’s movements of the late 60s and 70s. And I think because of that movement, people seem (at least the young people that I am around) to reject the notion that the kind of feminism that existed then is no longer needed. I’m not really sure where that notion came from, but it seems to be persistent. I think it is somewhat related to the notion that since Obama was elected as President, the U.S. no longer has a race problem. I am not sure where that came from either, but I think they are related.

Owens also talks about specific artists working with the female image. In particular, he mentions the work of Rosler, Sherman, Kruger, and Levine. I found his critique of their work quite interesting as well.

I have always liked the work of Cindy Sherman. Although, of her work, I have always liked her black and white film stills the best. The idea of the female posing for the camera in those images intrigues me. Mostly because she is putting herself in the image, turning herself into the director that ‘casts’ her from a male’s point of view. Helene Cixous wrote “One is always in representation, and when a woman is asked to take place in this representation, she is, of course, asked to represent man’s desire.” This goes directly back to Mulvey’s point that “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female”, where the female is “simultaneously looked at and displayed.”

With regards to Levine’s work, I had not thought of it in the way that he thinks of it. I had always seen Levine’s work critiquing the idea of the reproducible in contemporary culture. Hence her use of appropriation in her work (as her work). I had never thought of her stealing authorship from male photographers. As Owens says, “she expropriates the appropriators.”

 

Week 12–Docu

WFPL

The first thing that I needed to do with the reading this week was look up what the Worker’s Film and Photo League was. From what I could find, the Film and Photo League was a group of photographers and videographers who began making documentary photographs and films that were supposed to bring light to class inequalities and instigate social change. Their intentions were to:

awaken the working class, to support its political activities through meetings and boycotts, and to establish a film and photo school that would produce and exhibit politically committed photographs, newsreels, and films. (Barsam, Richard M. Non-Fiction Film: A Critical History)

Both readings this week deal with the idea of the documentary photograph and it’s ability to create social change. I feel like neither reading believes that the documentary vein of photography can create any real social change. Some of the reason for this is pointed out in the Sekula reading when he is recalling the “coal mine” he visited at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. He says:

“Hoarse-voiced men–retired miners– led the tourists through a programmed demonstration of mining technology. when the time came to deal with safety, one of the guides set off a controlled little methane explosion. No one mentioned black-lung disease in this corporate artwork, although the evidence rasped from the throats of the guides.” [emphasis mine] (Sekula, 131)

Coal Mine Exhibit

What struck me as interesting was the mention of “corporate artwork.” The inference is that the reason that black lung disease was not mentioned as a safety hazard was that whoever had funded the exhibition did not want it mentioned. Most likely because an energy company had donated the money (in some round-a-bout way) that paid for the exhibit in the first place. Sekula again mentions this corporate influence specifically when talking about Hare’s work. He says:

It is unlikely that this work will ever be exhibited at the Rockefeller-backed Museum of Modern Art, which is, after all, a cultural edifice built on Standard Oil Profits, notwithstanding the “relative autonomy” of John Szarkowski’s cultural decisions. (Sekula, 135)

I had never really thought about these financial considerations in great detail, even though I worked at a museum and we actually talked about these things in our meetings. I think that this is also relative when talking about the coverage, at least in the early days, of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many of the media companies have financial connections to the banks that the protesters are criticizing and while the reporters may have been interested in reporting on the movement, those financial pressures may not have allowed it.

I think a more obvious version of this would be Fox News in general. They have a specific agenda, which is pushed by their owner. Either you say what he wants you to say or you are not on the air. Personally, I think that the media lost any illusion of non-biased reporting (not that there ever was actual non-biased reporting) a long time ago.

And if it is not too off tangent, this same type of relationship can be seen with Congress. I know that the readings were specifically referencing media, but I think it is worth noting that when the average personal value of a U.S. Senator’s assets is $50,000,000 it may actually be against their own best interest (those who actually write the laws) to reduce the income disparity between rich and poor.

Jacob Riis

I also thought Rosler’s idea that the only reason that documentary stories (which neither writer seem to care much for) are only published–not to raise awareness about a problem that affects a lower class–but to awaken the self-interest of the privileged. Riis and Hine’s work seemed to fall into this category. Since it is the privileged that own the media outlets, read or see that media, and have the power (or governmental control) to actually change situations, it is in their best interest to keep the lower classes (which greatly outnumber the higher classes) just happy enough that they don’t revolt. So when things get slightly too bad, social documentary wakes the elite up and they realize they must slightly correct the problem, but just enough so that the lower classes stay where they are.

Chauncy Hare

I found Hare’s work of particular interest. While he still relies on the same pictorial mechanisms that other documentary photographers have relied, he differs when it comes to “his identification with it’s inhabitants.” While he shows his subjects with “dignity and grace”, he also captures captures the idea of “something flawed, something invaded by the horrific sameness of a consumer culture.” I think this type of work become relatable because it is so recognizable to a sizable chunk of the population. I also think it can be successful because it can be read two different ways. The work can be somewhat ambiguous about the exact meaning. That ambiguity can help it get by the powers at be. I also see this same type of ambiguity in the work (and the way he talks) of Paul Shambroom.

Paul Shambroom

Hare’s work can be seen as different from those wandering the streets of the Bowery photographing unconscious drunks, mostly because he knows his subjects. He can relate somewhat to them as he is from the same industry and has worked with the people that he photographs. It is this relationship that allows him into the personal spaces of the workers. Access that would be denied (and misunderstood) to most others.

 

 

Week 11 – Topograph it!

This weeks readings focused on the idea of the photograph as a document, a reoccurring theme indeed.

The first two readings focused on Timothy O’Sullivan and his survey photographs from the West. The Kelsey reading was an overview of the history that O’Sullivan had with several of the western surveys, but in particular with Wheeler’s surveys. It focused on how O’Sullivan attempted to use the photographic medium as a documentary device as opposed to one that was meant to capture beauty. The reading goes on to contradict this first argument. It was interesting to hear about how the photographs were used to persuade congress to give more money to the surveys. It occurred to me that the same thing is happening in today’s world with space photography.

Photographing galaxies, though the photographs are beautiful, seem to be more about gaining public support for space exploration then they are about actually learning something. While there is some data that is garnered from the photographs (such as light shift and different types of radiation emitted) the actual learning comes from the data collected by non-visual apparatus, which is often represented in the form of spreadsheets and graphs (which is completely foreign to most of the general public). Photographs are something that the public (and those handing out the money) CAN understand. So, like O’Sullivans photographs of unmapped territory encouraged congress to give money to the surveys, space photographs are NASAs way of securing that same funding for the unexplored territories of today.

I found one particular idea in the Krauss reading intriguing. That was the idea that these photographs were never intended to end up in a museum, yet that is how they are presented today. The original use for the photographs was a the very least promotional material and at the very most a record of scientific exploration. But photo historians try desperately to infer menaing on the images when, perhaps, there is none to infer. Peter Galassi said about his exhibition Before Photography (exhibited at MoMA):

The object here is to show that photography was not a bastard left by science on the doorstep of art, but a legitimate child of the Western pictorial tradition.

There is a need by the art academics to impart some sort of pictorial meaning on these early images. Krauss says:

Having decided that nineteenth-century photography belongs in a museum, having decided that the genres of aesthetic discourse are applicable to it, having decided that the art historical model will map nicely onto this material, recent scholars of photography have decided (ahead of time) quite a lot, For one thing, they have concluded that given images are landscapes (rather than views) and they are thus certain about the discourse these images belong to and what they are representations of.

Krauss also talks about Atgets photographs of Paris in the same way. Atget’s photographs were a catalog of Paris and it’s changing landscapes, they were not meant as artistic expression in the way we think of it today. They were meant as inspiration for others. And from what I remember, he was somewhat upset when some of the photographs were published as “art”. About Atget’s photogrphs, Krauss says:

And it seems very clear that Atget’s work is the function of a catalogue that he had no hand in inventing and for which authorship is an irrelevant term. The normal conditions of authorship that the Museum whishes to maintain tend to collapse under this observation.

I think the same can be said of the somewhat recently discovered portraits of Disfamer. Disfarmer’s portraits were never meant to be shown in a gallery setting, he was just simply a portrait photographer. But we as an art world have given validity to those images as art, and that is what they have become as a result. They have been commodified.

Back to the space photos for a moment, it makes me wonder if some day they will be looked back upon and exhibited in museums?

William Jenkins’ introduction to the New Topographics show continues in the document vein. For much of the introduction, Jenkins seems to be proporting the notion that the photographers in the New Topographics show take photos that are emotionless and capture things “as they are.”

He does say that “what a picture is of and what it is about” are two very different things. He goes on to say that Ruscha’s images of gasoline stations “…are not about gasoline stations but about a set of esthetic issues.” One of my favorite quotes that relates to the photo as document is in relation to a previous exhibition a the International Museum of Photography titled “The Extended Document”:

Such concerns stemmed from a recognition that it is precisely photography’s pretense of truthfulness, its assertion of accuracy that gives it the ability to mislead so effectively. The issue was not that photographs are inherently untruthful, but that the relationship between a subject and a picture of that subject is extremely fragile. The simple task of describing something photographically requires that this delicate coherence be preserved.

Jurovics goes on to contradict and criticize Jenkins’ introduction. Although he praises the show as “arguably the greatest show never seen” he thinks that because of Jenkins’ introduction, the meaning of the photographs in the exhibition has been tilted. Jurovics says, “New Topographics has become a shorthand, suggesting photographs made with a dry and restrained formal style.” But therein lies the problem. The photographers classified as part of the New Topographics stressed great meaning and emotional depth in their photographs. However, both because of the way that Jenkins describes the photographs in the introduction and the photographers use of subtlety, much of that emotional depth is lost on the general public. Lewis Baltz is quoted as saying:

I don’t think people find the content of these photographs to be the sort of thing they care to look at or think about. Perhaps people will see the work and wonder “What possible reason could there be for anyone to spend this much time photographing this stuff”–and maybe that might draw them in deeper.

Week 10 – I’ll Be Watching You

This weeks readings focused on the idea of the constantly surveilled. Mostly on the idea of policing and prisons and the ideas of keeping a watchful eye on the public. It is an interesting thought at how much easier it would have been to commit a crime such as murder 400 years ago. There was no forensic science, photographic documentation, linked information databases; and no real organized police force at all for that matter.

I found the Sekula reading the most interesting. The reading begins with the idea that the new medium of photography can be used positively and negatively. He says, “We are confronting, then, a double system: a system of representation capable of functioning both honorifically and repressively.” (Sekula, 6) While there are great benefits to the new medium, such as the ability for the poorer classes to be able to afford (in some cases) to have portraits made of themselves for the first time in history, the medium can also be used to repress the public by documenting them. Much of the article was about the men that were trying to find a way to photographically determine a person’s propensity to commit a crime. And more so, to identify those who had already committed crimes and ascertain if they had committed multiple crimes. This eventually evolved into the current ‘mugshot’. Marcus Aurelius Root, a portrait photographer in the U.S., argued:

that convicted offenders would ‘not find it easy to resume their criminal careers, while their faces and general aspects are familiar to so many, especially to the keen-sighted detective police’. The ‘so many’ is significant here, since it implicitly enlists a wider citizenry in the vigilant work of detection. (Sekula, 9)

The idea of the citizens becoming the policing mechanism of society is interesting and goes back to the ideas raised in the Foucault article. This is the idea that everyone is watching everyone else, and if you as a citizen always feel as if you are being watched, you will be less likely to engage in unmoral activities.

The idea of the cataloging of faces still makes it’s presence felt in the numerous amounts of IDs we are forced to carry for various activities. We need a license to drive, a passport to travel, a student ID for school, a U-Pass to ride public transportation, and many of us have work or gym IDs that also use this same type of photo making. All of these things are supposed to PROVE we are who we say we are, which again comes around to our emphasis on the ‘truthfulness’ of a photograph.

 

The idea of the composites done by Galton was another interesting experiment. He was focused on the idea that if many faces were blended together, a common type would emerge. This can be problematic as he was trying to distance the Anglo-saxon race from others, but the notion is still interesting. This type of work still makes an emergence from time to time. Recently, National Geographic did the same type of thing in order to introduce the world to the most common human face, which ended up being a Han Chinese Man.

The first part Foucault’s article about the plague interested me as well. The idea that the plague is a good thing politically because it allows the government to control it’s citizens. And more so, because of the fear of the plague, the citizens are willing to submit to that control. I find this interesting when looking back at the U.S. over the past decade. After 9/11, there was much fear among the citizenry. This allowed the government to put in all sorts of laws that would restrict the freedom and allow the government to more closely observe and track those citizens. And most willingly complied out of fear, using the rational that people with nothing to hide should not be afraid of being watched.

Unfortunately for me (because either I forgot to highlight it or I can’t find where I high-lit it) I cannot remember where one of my favorite quotes from the readings was. The quote was something along the lines of “our society is not one of spectacle, but one of observation.” (Someone, somewhere) I remember thinking how interesting a notion it was given our culture’s focus on media today. The idea that with Facebook, Twitter and the multitude of other social networking sites we are constantly (willingly) submitting our private movements and information to we are now willing and want to be observed by as many people as will watch.

 

 

Week 9 – PoMo

This week was Post-Modern (postmodern) week. All of the readings were heavily focused on architecture instead of other various art forms.

I found the Jencks piece to be a really great summary of the history of how we came to Post-Modernism, and there were some really great points about art in general in it. One thing that came up in all of the pieces was the idea of the new killing the old and taking it’s place, only to be killed off itself.

When talking about Modernism, Jencks says that originally Modernism “claimed to be democratic and creatively open…But then they became part of the establishment and intolerant in their own way…and it took on the elitist forms and values of its predecessor.” (Jencks, 11) This theme was also emphasized in both of the Jameson readings. Jameson states that “Not only are Picasso and Joyce no longer ugly, they now strike us, on the whole, as rather “realistic,” and this is the result of a canonisation and academic institutionalisation of the modern movement generally that can be to the late 1950s.” (Jameson, 4) Just like with any generational thing, the new soon ascends to the rank of the old, and then is replaced by whatever is new at the time. This happens in families, politics, and product lines.

Jencks also sets out seven ‘stages’ of PoMo. These stages are:

  1. Prehistory: 1870s to 1950s
  2. Postmodern seen as Modern in decline, 1950s to 1970s
  3. Post-Modern as the counter-culture of the 1960s
  4. Post-Modern as pluralist politics and eclectic style, 1970s and early 1980s
  5. Post-Modern Classicism, a public language, 1979 to present
  6. Critical Reactions to the condition of Postmodernity, 1980 to present
  7. Critical summaries of the Post-modern paradigm, 1988 to present

What was interesting to think about here is what modernists were doing during these stages? Modernism was and still is being practiced. He talked about how some of the stages of PoMo overlapped, but did not talk about Modernism overlapping with it.

Jencks also talks about pluralism being a significant part of the PoMo tradition. While me mentions that Modernists were all about control and a single viewpoint, Post-Modernists practice pluralism. In contrast to Modernists, Jencks says about Post-Modernists,”they seek plural codings, and over-codings, precisely the multiple communication his aesthetic of the sublime rejects.” (Jencks, 16) He went on to say,”This open pluralism, both political and cultural, was one of the great accomplishments of the 1970s.” (Jencks, 25)

What interested me was how much of society, not just the art world was moving in a postmodernist vein. I have never looked to apply the postmodernist label to societal aspects outside of the art world. And while Jencks’ piece mostly focuses on architecture, visual art, and literature, he does a nice job for me of summing up what was happening in Western society on a whole.

Something else that came up in both the Jencks and Jameson reading was the notion of parody vs. pastiche.

Parody: a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece ofliterature or writing

Pastiche: a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly orchiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.

Jameson provided a nice description of the two and how they are different, which was really helpful. He talked about pastiche specifically as being dry. He talks about how “a good or great parodist has to have some secret sympathy for the original.” (Jameson, 16) Whereas pastiche is neutral in it’s use of other motifs.

I think a good example of pastiche is the comparison of the Graves Portland Municipal Building and Gehry’s own house from the Crimp reading. The reading is not really a compare and contrast, but rather two examples of different ways that postmodernists use appropriations from the past.

Graves draws from a number of different eras. Although the building is not really a parody. It is not critiquing the outmoded architecture of the past, but rather acknowledging a past we all know. Basically, this building (like all buildings) is a conglomeration of what has come before. But instead of trying to escape the past and create “something new and never seen before”, he is simple acknowledging how we have come to this point in time (in architecture).

Gehry does something a little different. Although he is still appropriating, he is using that appropriation in a more literal way. By using an actual house from the 1920s as the base of his house, he is directly acknowledging the past, and instead of demolishing it, he is building upon it.

Just to finish up, the Jameson reading had a really interesting sentence in it. He says, “for some reason, we were unable today to focus on our own present.” (Jameson, 20) That just really struck me as accurate.

Week 7

con·no·ta·tion

a : the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes

b : something suggested by a word or thing

de·no·ta·tion

: a direct specific meaning as distinct from an implied or associated idea

Defined by Merriam-Webster

What Barthes brings up in The Photographic Message is how photography, unlike any other medium, is to merge the denotation and connotation. He says:

In short, all these ‘imitative’ arts comprise two messages: a denoted message, which is the analogon itself, and a connoted message, which is the manner in which the society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it. This duality of messages is evident in all reproductions other than photographic ones…(Barthes, 17)

Photography speaks to the viewer in a way that no other medium can. Drawing, painting, sculpture, and any other medium, no matter how well it is crafted that can match the exactitude of photography. And even if an artist was so talented as to reproduce the real world with the exactness of photography, there would still be a questioning by the viewer as to it’s authenticity as a record. This is because the human hand was involved, and when the human hand is part of the equation, the viewer first sees subjectivity.

Photography is interesting in that it speaks truth to the viewer. No matter how implausible the photograph, the viewer wants to believe that the photograph is a record of an event. This is both because of the precision that photography records events, and the amount of time that it takes to record those events. Because even if a painting is photo-realistic, it still took time to make. Most likely it took days if not weeks to paint, so how could it be an accurate record of an event?

"Obsession de la lévitation (Le Saut dans le vide)"

This is the special gift of photography. It is the ability to capture (for only a small moment, and in great detail) an event that will never reoccur. What sets it apart from film (which also captures events) is that a photographic image can be examined over and over again (theoretically for eternity). However, and this is still part of it’s gift, it also has the power to deceive in a way that no other medium has ever been able to duplicate. Barthes says:

The methodological interest of trick effects is that they intervene without warning in the plane of denotation; they utilize the special credibility of the photograph – this, as was seen, being simply its exceptional power of denotation – in order to pass off as merely denoted a messaged which is in reality highly connoted; in no other treatment does connotation assoume so completely the ‘objective’ mask of denotation. [emphasis mine] (Barthes, 21)

One of my personal favorite artists used the ‘special credibility of the photograph’ in one of his most well known works. In 1960, Yves Klein published a one-day only, 4 page newspaper (also a medium known for it’s credibility in reporting events that ‘really’ happened) called Dimanche. On the front page was a photomontage titled Obsession de la lévitation (Le Saut dans le vide). Yves Klein was also a master of judo (a yodan to be specific) and had told a number of people that he could fly. This image was to be offered as proof of his ability to fly. In reality, there were a number of his judo students holding a tarp to catch him, but they were taken out of the image.

However, even when a photograph is composited, and even if the viewer knows that it is a ‘fake’, there is still a ‘realness’ to it. That is because all the bits an pieces of a composited photo still happened. Even in a ‘fake’ image, “the photographer had to be there (the mythical definition of denotation)”. (Barthes, 30)  The recorded events may have happened at different times and different places, but they all had to be recorded, and they are all records of events. So the question is then, that even in a composited photograph, could the artist say that this event happened? After all, it did happen, just at a number of different times and possibly places. A composited photograph is just a collage of reality.

Susan Sontag reinforces the notion of photography’s ‘special credibility’. She says, “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.” (Sontag, 3)  Photographs are like small windows into the past through which we peer. We as viewers want to believe what we are seeing, we want to believe the pictured event took place, that the pictured people were there. She would go on to say:

But despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority…the work that photographers do is not generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth. Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. (Sontag, 4)

Even when a photo has not been composited, or ‘faked’, the image is still not objective in the way the viewer understands it. It is not a complete representation of reality. It is a small segment, of a tiny moment in the past.

The ideas that Sontag presents of ‘events’ is interesting. Because of photography, we (the makers and viewers) no longer see life as continuous. Instead, we see life as a series of ‘events’ that took place and were recorded, that in the future we can look back upon and be assured that our lives were lived. She says, “Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions. The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing.” (Sontag, 11) She would go on to say that even, “After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed.” (Sontag, 11)

The idea of death has always been a fear of humans, and all animals for that matter. A primal instinct built into our genetic code makes us want to live, and to do everything we can to live as long as possible. The idea of the photograph is a way to make those around us who are gone (either permanently, or just absent for a time) seem close, because to the viewer, the photograph represents the person. The same way that photographs of an event in our lives make us nostalgic for a time we remember as being better than today. This is probably why “People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture takers, at home and abroad.” (Sontag, 10)  Those of us who did not have our lives recorded from our very births want to make sure that, in the future, we will be able to have a record of our exploits. Photographs offer that option. Sontag says, “Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had.” [emphasis mine] (Sontag, 9)

In the end, we want to believe and we want to remember. We, as both viewers and makers, rely on photographs to help us do both, even though they really do neither.


Week 5 – [reality]

The Punctum Pierces Barthes

This week was all about Barthes and his writings in Camera Lucida. I remember reading this book in undergrad and not really understanding anything. I feel like I got more from it this time, and I feel that the Perloff reading actually made much more sense of the Barthes reading.

Barthes believes several things:

  1. Believes viewers look at photographs as the real objects, as if the objects represented in the photograph are the actual objects
  2. Death is the eidos of the photograph
  3. Barthes is particularly interested in the ‘punctum’ of a photograph
  4. He likes listening to cameras
  5. He doesn’t like to be photographed

I’ll get back to Barthes in a minute.

Mr. Bayard

Amelia Jones briefly delved into the issue of truth in photography with Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-portrait as a Drowned Man. I find it funny that one of the first instances in the history of photography was the first instance of questioning truth in a photograph. I am not sure if Bayard wanted that effect (I think he was rather after a critique on Daguerre’s quick rise to fame and the support from the French government of Daguerre over Bayard) but whether he wanted it or not, it is there. Ever since then, truth in photography has been questioned. However, what I find fascinating in current culture is that, even though many people claim to know that images can easily be manipulated, how easily photos are believed.

'Hacked' Twitter account. September 11, 2011

This can also be said for social media within news organizations. Recently, news organizations such as NBC have had their Twitter feeds hacked into and false news ‘tweeted’. Although it is not photography, I think it is still pertinent to the conversation because it speaks to a culture’s willingness to believe what they think are credible sources, and the general population wants to believe photographs.

What I was happiest with this week was my introduction to the work of Christian Boltanski through Marjorie Perloff’s piece. I really find his work interesting especially in relation to the reading for this week. This is where the Barthes reading and Jones reading come together for me. Boltanski’s work deals specifically with the authenticity of the photographic object. The idea of photography as record.

Les Suisses Morts

Boltanski also has the same notions about death in photographs that Barthes does. Perloff summarizes this by saying, “When we look at a photograph of ourselves or of others, we are really looking at the return of the dead.” (Perloff, 2) This is because, as Barthes points out, “What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” (Barthes, 4) Boltanski takes this literally with his work Les Suisses Morts, in which he hangs obituary photos of 3000 Swiss citizens. About the work (and death in general) he says,

We are all so complicated and then we die. We are a subject one day, with our vanities, our loves, our worries, and then one day, abruptly, we become nothing but an object, an absolutely disgusting pile of shit. We pass very quickly from one stage to the next, it’s very bizarre. (Perloff, 10)

What Barthes said about the medium of photography is what Boltanski is saying about life. One day we are an subject, and the next we have changed to object. In the eyes of Barthes, this is the same as having your photo taken. At one moment you are a living breathing subject, then as your photo is taken, you are transformed into an object, forever captured.

I will continue to look into Boltanski as I find both his work and his personality in general extremely interesting.

Week Four – The Museum

The readings this week were fairly interesting to me. There were a couple of spots that were of significant interest to me.

The first was in the Looking At Photographs reading. On the second page of the reading it is mentioned that Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (director of MoMA at the time) once said that, “his chief interest was in contemporary things before they became respectable.” Personally that sounds to me like what a museum should be interested in. The idea that a museum deals with art for art’s sake, as opposed to a gallery taking a commercial view of art, seems like it makes sense. After all, museums are supposed to house the history of art. But what I am wondering is how much that is still the case.

On the acquisitions side of things, I remember hearing stories from older photographers who just walked into MoMA and got a meeting with Szarkowski; and during that meeting Szarkowski would just buy prints straight from the photographer. It doesn’t seem that really happens anymore. It seems today that there are so many committees that need to approve acquisitions (and it seems that those acquisitions can be fairly political) that it is hard for a large museum to be on the cutting edge of the art world. There also seems to be much concern with archivability  of materials or not knowing how to understand new media, that much of the cutting edge in contemporary will get passed over in favor of older (and more expensive) work from more established artists.

On the show side of things, museums have to plan their shows so far in advance that usually nothing in the show (even if it is of contemporary artists) is younger than three years. And with the pace that contemporary art is moving, and with the amount of work that artists are able to put out, three years seems like an eternity.

It seems to me that galleries are in a much better position to exhibit work that is at the forefront of contemporary art. At least this is true for the artists they choose to represent. Because they have a group of artists that they are representing, they can show new work within a year of it’s completion. And although their motives are to sell and not to establish a ‘history of art’ it still seems that they are in a better position to exhibit art that is happening at the fringes.

I am just curious when all of that began to change.

The second was in Szarkowski’s Introduction to The Photographer’s Eye. He says:

Photography had become easy. In 1893 an English writer complained that the new situation had ‘created an army of photographers who run rampant over the globe, photographing objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes, under almost every condition, without ever pausing to ask themselves is this or that artistic?’

 I am curious what what this English writer would think now. It is somewhat comical to me to think of the “photographers who run rampant over the globe” with their large format cameras and glass plates. That doesn’t seem at all easy or fast to me. Now we are in the age of the digital point-and-shoot and the camera phone. I am willing to wager that more photos are created in a single day now than were created in the entire year of 1893. And it’s not just the vast amount of images being created, but more so the vast amount that are being shared. While this particular writer thought there were a lot of images being created in 1893, there was no good way to share those photos with very many people. Now it is possible to share images with thousands (and in some cases millions) of people just minutes after the image / video has been captured.

Just something I found interesting.