My attendance at the Photography Matters symposium was the catalyst for starting this degree. I found the presentations fascinating: it opened my eyes to just how much there was to say and learn about photography. Much of the detail was lost on me but I was left with enough to inspire me to want to know more.
Following the actual event and my enrolment as a student with the OCA, I looked forward to watching the recordings of these lectures and reflecting further on what had been said.
I record my views about each of the presentations made at the symposium, to further my learning and thinking about photography. I start with Les Monaghan’s presentation on his exhibition ‘The Desire Project’ displayed in the Frenchgate Centre, Doncaster.
Les Monaghan – Fairness and Effecting Change
Can photography change things? Les is clearly intending to send a political message through his art, one that challenges ideas both at local level and policy level by emphasising and valuing the experiences of ordinary people, and giving them a voice. This is right up my street!
His exhibition ‘The Desire Project’ culminated in 71 photographs of individuals who live in Doncaster, each one positioned high on the wall above a caption showing that individual’s response to the question ‘what do you want?’
These are my photographs of Monaghan’s work, taken with my mobile phone. You can see from the angle of view that they are positioned high up but there isn’t the sense of scale here. These images are almost life size, giving additional significance to the voices of these people.
I admired that Les was concerned about what was fair when photographing people. He actually says that he ‘lost sleep’ (Monaghan 2016) over the issue of fairness, and when one respondent said that his desire was ‘to send all the immigrants back’, Les refused to show his comment in the public space of the shopping centre that was his gallery, for fear of exposing him as a racist. Les sincerely cares about his subjects, he doesn’t want to undermine them. I admire him for knowing and remembering their names and something of their life stories. I admire him for his ethnographical approach, building up relationships with the people in the area and showing real empathy.
My limited experience of taking (candid) photographs of people has highlighted the importance to me of fairness and I share Les’s commitment to ensuring that photography is fair. If street photography is intrusive or unflattering, then I will avoid it. In completing my Square Mile assignment, I approached the owner of a pub to ask if I could photograph his land. He refused because his building plans were controversial and he didn’t want to be exploited. At the time, ‘exploited’ seemed a very strong word – after all, it was only me, taking photos for an assignment. However, I accepted his views, and I feel that a photographer must always be respectful.
Bruce Gilden is a highly respected but controversial New York photographer whose ‘in your face’ photography I find difficult to see as fair. He photographs people without their consent as they walk along New York’s streets and makes no apology for the way in which he gets very close to his subjects using direct flash in their faces to capture his unique images. I find it hard to like this approach. However, I do like his photographs!
Image 1 Bruce Gilden
Martin Parr could be seen as exploiting the working classes and making fun of working class people by showing them in unflattering situations. In ‘The Last Resort’, which I recently saw at The Hepworth, Wakefield, he shows working class people on holiday at the seaside. Yes, his photographs may show the lack of glamour experienced by individuals with limited means or aspirations, but, for me, they have an honesty and integrity that shows the subjects as strong and stoical, determined and optimistic, and I really like that.
Image 2 Martin Parr
Les Monaghan passionately wants to change things for ordinary people and believes in the power of art and social media to achieve this. I believe that by being genuinely interested in someone and by valuing their views, a photographer can increase confidence and a sense of worth among individuals and so effect change. S/he can also highlight the effects of government policies on those whose lives are affected by them most. Les Monaghan talks about his project as being a life changing process for some of his subjects.
I love this kind of ‘big’ art, I was motivated by Les’s presentation, and inspired by his photographs. I would love to do something like this that highlights the specific experiences of women in a changing but still patriarchal society.
Dawn Woolley – Hysterical Selfies and Disruptive Bodies
Dawn’s lecture was the second of the day and was concerned with the selfie in contemporary consumer culture and advertising.
Although much of her subject was new to me, I certainly could relate to her description of the exploitation of consumers, via advertising. Not being a ‘selfie person’ myself, I had not really considered the role of the selfie in consumer culture and, to this extent, this presentation was certainly thought provoking.
The main thing I took away from Dawn’s lecture was the part of her presentation that highlighted Dolce and Gabbana’s advertising use of models shown taking selfies. She described how the viewer of the image is influenced to buy the product by their imagining that the selfies taken by the models could be their own selfie image on social media. The consumer is encouraged to believe that, by purchasing the product, the selfies that they take with their new handbag (for example) will be as perfect as they imagine the models’ selfies to be. The consumer sees the potential of her/himself as the perfect image to present to the social media world.
This presentation was valuable to me for its highlighting of photography in contemporary culture, the incorporation of selfie culture in advertising, and for making me see the photograph as so much more powerful than I ever thought.
Derek Trillo – Exploring Notions of time through Experimental Photography
I particularly enjoyed Derek Trillo’s lecture, and I really liked his photographs.
Derek Trillo’s presentation focuses on the photography of architecture. He wanted to find an alternative style to the traditional ‘lifeless’ images of buildings, and wanted to show how architecture is experienced in real life by the people who see and use it.
He said that ‘the thing that is missing from tradition al architecture images is life’, and ‘architecture is designed for use – it has a function as well as a form’ (Trillo 2016). He challenges the usual images that focus just on the form: the physical building itself.
Images 3 and 4 Derek Trillo Photography Matters Symposium
The images above use ‘colour and movement and people and a bit of blur’ to present an image of architecture that is ‘lived-in’. I really like looking at these photographs.
The part of Trillo’s presentation that included his images of the Park Hill Flats in Sheffield really interested me. In part, this is because I know the flats very well, having worked in Sheffield for many years. Trillo shows images of the flats taken just two seconds apart and highlights how much can change in an image and a building in just a short period of time. The sunlight in his photographs changed significantly from one photograph to the next in a matter of seconds, lighting them in very different ways. I was reminded of our first exercise on this course ‘histograms’ where we learned that you can’t take the same image twice. Trillo highlighted images as transient and the life of a building forever changing.
Keith Roberts – Photographic Archival Intervention in the Edward Chambre-Hardman Collection
This piece of research really interested me. I was impressed by the size of Roberts’ undertaking in cataloguing Hardman’s negatives, and in his presentation of the portraits as real people with important histories.
Roberts, for his PhD research, wanted to catalogue over 140,000 portraits taken by Hardman, and re-present a selection as a final exhibition. In his presentation, he discussed the practical difficulties in terms of organisation, loss of images through deterioration, and in terms of ownership and copyright.
His motivation was to make Hardman’s work visible again and to raise the profile of the collection as a valuable historical documentation of the life of the photographer and his clients.
I liked how Roberts’ detailed analysis and interpretation of the images and associated data, uncovered a hidden history, and how the photographed or their families were reunited with the old images. Roberts’ detailed analysis of the photographs of Lieutenant JJW Davies, who sat for portraits in 1943 and in 1949 allowed informed speculation that contributes to our understanding of life at the time.
Rachel Smith – The Materiality of Images
I found some of the concepts in this presentation quite difficult. However, I understand that a photograph is a physical object in itself, an ‘object’, distinct from the subject within the image.
Smith describes a renewed interest in the physicality of photographs and suggests that this may be as a result of the rise in digital photography where the image can be seen as non-physical.
She shares with the audience the first photographs that she ever took, using a brownie camera at age 5, to illustrate the visibility of the act of taking photographs. The images are slanted as a result of her pulling the lever. She talks about how photographers have tried to avoid showing evidence of the process, but how, as an artist, she is now interested in that process and the physical signs of it.
I was interested in Anne Collier’s ‘Folded Madonna Poster’, which Smith used to demonstrate an image that reminds us that we are looking at an object and, in Smiths reference to Anastasia Samoylova’s images. Samoylova takes digital images from the internet and re-works them to produce images with a material reality. Her discussion about digital images being materialised (shown as non-permanent objects) by digital ‘glitches’ challenges the idea that digital photographs are not physical.
She says ‘as artists and photographers we can actively seek to use materiality productively’. (Smith 2016)
These presentations marked the change in my considering photography as a hobby to my beginning to see it as an academic subject full of contemporary debates and a fascinating history. The lectures were all given by PhD students presenting their advanced research, and much of it I didn’t understand. However, my listening to the recordings of the event and attempting to summarise the contributions has helped with my understanding of some of the issues, my appreciation of the debates and the position of photography within the arts.
List of Illustrations
Image 1: Gilden, B. At: http://www.brucegilden.com/ (Accessed 13 June 2016)
Image 2: Parr, M. At: http://www.bing.com/images/(Accessed 13 June 2016)
Images 3 and 4: Trillo, D. At https://www.oca-student.com/content/photography-matters(Accessed 13 June 2016)
Monaghan, L. (2016) Fairness and effecting change [Lecture at Doncaster Cast 21 May 2016) At: http://www.oca-student.com/content/photography-matters (Accessed 13.6.17)
Smith R. (2016) The Materiality of Images [Lecture at Doncaster Cast 21 May 2016) At: http://www.oca-student.com/content/photography-matters (Accessed 13.6.17)
Trillo, D.(2016) Exploring Notions of time through Experimental Photography [Lecture at Doncaster Cast 21 May 2016) At: http://www.oca-student.com/content/photography-matters (Accessed 13.6.17)