Sadly, I didn’t get to see the exhibition in the flesh but I was told about it by a friend and have since had a chance to track it down online. It was such a shame that I missed it because I think it would have been a really good experience in terms of thinking about colour for this part of the course.
Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour features the work of a select number of photographers whose commitment to expression in colour was (or is) wholehearted, sophisticated, and measures up to Cartier-Bresson’s requirement that content and form were in perfect balance.
A Question of Colour included an auspicious group of contemporary colour photographers.
Initially, I was just going to include those photographers/images that particularly resonated with me but as I looked at their different styles and approaches they each offered something new. Those that strike me now, like Trent Park and Carolyn Drake, may not be the ones that have meaning a few months down the line. So I have captured them all for now, leaving myself the option for more research in future.
Happenstance led me to the BBC Radio 4 Technicolour programme while I was travelling the other week and I have since listened to the whole series. A set of short broadcasts it explores various aspects of our understanding of, and relationship to colour, covering:
The broadcasts cover everything from colour blindness to the environmental impact of the dye trade. During one interview with an interior designer she said:
Nature creates harmonious colours…nature doesn’t get it wrong.
I found this an interesting observation as it was primarily nature that I used in creating the photos for my assignment that required harmony between similar colours.
While this wasn’t a visual experience as such the debate around the socially constructed nature of colour is fascinating, in particular the notion of how or if language affects our perception of colour. I hadn’t realised if but apparently the first word we had for a colour was red, followed by green and yellow and finally blue. I also discovered that the Russian language includes more words for blue than English and psychologists are now studying whether this means that Russian people see colour differently to people with English as their first language.
It also seems that there are some women who have ‘super’ colour vision, these so called Tetrachromats can see four distinct ranges of color, instead of the three that most of us live with. If you are based in the North of England visit the BBC website to find out if you have this superpower!
If you didn’t manage to catch it the series is well worth tracking down on the BBC iPlayer.
With an aim to capture the many roles of women in society, Bohm juxtaposes the images of women that surround us in advertising, artworks and shop windows with real women living and working in the capital – revealing the contrasts, similarities and gaps between ideals and expectations of the feminine and real life women in everyday situations.
Museum of London press release
I actually saw the Dorothy Bohm exhibition before I went to the Ansel Adams show but for some reason the writing did not come easily for this visit. I think it is partly because I was disappointed and there seemed to be something disloyal in saying so. Although, the disappointment was less to do with the work and more to do with the way it has been presented. Dorothy is an important photographer but this show might have led you to think otherwise. The light levels were incredibly variable – in one corner I found it was almost too dark to see the images at all. Sandwiched between two interactive spaces and a cafe I found the leaking noise incredibly distracting.
Why bother going into this much detail about the presentation? Because for me it really highlighted the delicate relationship between photographer, image and viewer. My ability to ‘read’ the work was significantly influenced by the setting in which I found it. In this setting it was hard to see Dorothy’s work for the position it should occupy and in a sense it almost reinforced the sense of invisibleness of the women I felt in some of her images.
As a woman photographing women, I hope that I have shown in my pictures that I understand, sympathize and can identify with my subjects. I never want to take hurtful pictures. I have tried to show the contribution women make to the very diverse, exciting, colourful if sometimes stressful London life
There is a sensitivity in these images and a keen eye for the extraordinary in the ordinary. On this basis the images seem to straddle photo documentary, ethnography, and portraiture. Some of the images made me smile and overall it was good to see a show by a woman of women.
The photograph fulfills my deep need to stop things from disappearing. It makes transience less painful and retains come of the special magic, which I have looked for and found. I have tried to create order out of chaos, to find stability in flux and beauty in the most unlikely places.
After what was a pretty rotten morning thanks to train disruptions and general travel woes I was really looking forward to getting to the Ansel Adams show at the National Maritime Museum. I am not sure what I expected and I was intrigued about the link with the NMM, what I found was a truly awe-inspiring. Adams is well known as occupying a significant place in the history of photography, particularly as a consummate technician, but there was something incredibly emotional about being in such close proximity with this collection of prints.
They ranged from very intimate and small early works to enormous prints that I found quite staggering particularly in terms of the technology he had available to create them at the time.
Two things particularly landed with me on leaving the exhibition. Firstly, the notion of equivalencies that he developed from the influence of Stieglitz.
When I see something I react to it and I state it, and that’s the equivalent of what I felt. So I give it you as a spectator, and you get it or you don’t get it, but there’s nothing on the back of the print that tells you what you should get.
I was incredibly struck by his notion of representing what he felt and this was something I don’t think I had truly understood in the way he created his work before.
The other thing that I was intrigued to hear from the film clips and interviews with Adams was this notion of seeing an image in his mind’s eye before he shot it. This is something I have increasingly noticed is important for me when I am doing my assignments and I think is in part why I have struggled with some of the colour exercises. I found it much harder to see beforehand what I was aiming for. To hear him talk of not making a shot before he had seen it in his subconscious was a real revelation.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
Since finding Olivia Parker I have also come across the work of Kevin Best. I was intrigued by his portfolio because he seems to have taken the Dutch Still Life painting influence to a whole new level. To the extent that he has purchased many authentic props from the era and where these have not been available he has set about making them himself.
As much as anything I was interested in my response to his work. On the one hand they are incredibly detailed and I love the chiaroscuro so redolent of the period he draws his inspiration from. For me however, they don’t have quite the impact of Parker’s work or the delicate contemporary references Anna Zahalka used in her series Resemblance I. I really admire the quality of his work and researching across these photographers has definitely helped me to think about how my own photographic voice might develop.
Having done the exercise around multiple points and setting up a form of still life I started to do some background research on the genre. At first it made me think of Anne Zahalka’s rich and beautiful tableaus and the influences of Dutch still life painting. During a web search I then came across the work of Olivia Parker. I hadn’t come across her photography before and was really taken with her approach.
I found the ‘Still and not so Still Life’ series incredibly beautiful. In one image objects and flowers appear to tumble down the frame. Delicate flecks of colour are highlighted against the almost solid black background. Where other images initially appear more like a traditional still life closer observation often reveals something quirky, surreal or disruptive. Hearts in jars, inverted landscapes reflected in glass bowls, shards of mirror. I found them exquisitely observed and very inspirational. They really encouraged me to think about still life in a new and more creative way. To look carefully at and work with the textures, colours and shapes of the objects I might use in future.
I was deeply moved by this show and can’t help but feel it will have a long lasting effect. There was, to my view, a stronger narrative thread in the downstairs galleries but that may in part be because a number of the photographers included there were much more familiar to me.
I spent two hours wandering through and thinking about the works and their meanings before I realised what the time was, not something I always experience in exhibitions. It is a multi-layered show touching on the social, political, economic, cultural and psychological. It is also in many ways very confronting, or at least I found it to be, from the appalling injustices of apartheid to Japan post Hiroshima and the impact the US has etched on the country. It certainly put me in mind of Sontag’s point about photography as an act of aggression and how this sat in relation to the fact that the content of many of these images is dealing directly with overt issues of aggression.
As a group show it also provided the opportunity to see a diverse range of techniques and approaches to the art of photography itself. From the hyper-real almost painterly large scale works of Larry Burrows to the sumptuous colour of Raghubir Singh. The works are beautifully observed and capture both the everyday and iconic moments. I couldn’t help but wonder how much the various photographers were aware of these possible distinctions at the time. All dealt with acute issues of the human condition and I think should make us consider where we have come to in the last fifty years. It put me in mind of the TS Eliot Poem Little Gidding, the last of The Four Quartets (1943):
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
As part of my studies for this part of the course I have also been trying to look at other examples of work. This has mainly been through publications or online but I am hoping to get to some exhibitions soon. In looking at how others have handled movement there seems to be a number of possible approaches:
freeze frame – photos across a number of frames
the after effect of movement
These emerged from looking at the work of various other photographers and considering how they had handled movement. Chris Nash uses both motion blur and frozen moments of implied movement in his dance photography. I particularly like his image of Javier De Frutos in the Palace Does Not Forgive.
Perhaps one of the most famous moments of implied movement is Cartier-Bresson’s Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932. There is very minimal motion blur but a clear sense of the figure moving across the frame. I also found Conlon’s Ty Cobb Steals Third, 1910 an interesting example of the impact of movement. There is some blur around the rising clouds of dirt but a strong feeling of the movement having occured.
Finally, some of the best known examples of what I would think of as a freeze frame process must be those of Eadweard Muybridge, particularly his galloping horse.
While it is useful to think about these different approaches in my own work, reading the backstories of some of these iconic photos has been really fascinating. This small selection shows how photographing movement has been part of the photographers challenge almost since its inception. These few examples cover everything from plate cameras and cameras triggered by string to the digital technology of the 21st century. I have found it really rewarding delving into such different styles and methods.