Category Archives: Part 5

EYV Exercise 5.3 – Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

Image 1

Henri Cartier-Bresson Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare 1932

We looked at ‘point’ earlier in the course, in exercise 1.2. I understood then how a tiny point in an image can draw the eye to a particular part, and how the eye then travels around the picture. In part 3 of the course, I spent some time looking at Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, in terms of the ‘decisive moment’, and I made a mind map of my thoughts about it in my sketch book. It is interesting to return to this photograph in terms of the information it contains, and the story that is created.

I was interested in Vilem Flusser’s distinction between photography and writing in his assertion that ‘when you read a sentence you read it from beginning to end in a linear way – you don’t re-read particular words again and again… but when you look at a photograph, your eye returns to certain elements … almost as if to re-experience them (Flusser 2000 in course notes p110)

I do sometimes re-read words in my favourite writings simply to re-enjoy the beauty of a particular choice of word or phrase, but never do I routinely read backwards, or read words in a random way since this would make no sense of the story. However, I agree that generally, reading is linear. With a picture, reading it in different ways, looking at the image again and again, is certainly possible, and new things can be noticed each time.

Similarly, when looking at Edward Hopper’s painting The Office at Night and Victor Burgin’s homage photographs of it, I noticed new things each time. For example, I didn’t initially notice the significance of the blowing curtains until I made further research.

There is a lot to look at in Bresson’s image, a lot of information. However, the pivotal point, for me,  in this image is the point at which the man’s foot almost touches the floor. This is the ‘gap’ that creates the suspense and leaves the story ‘open’. Like The Office at Night, we wonder what happens next – will the secretary bend and pick up the paper? will our man get wet?

From the point, my eye then travels around the image. I take in the spectator, leaning in the same direction as the main subject as if shouting ‘hurry, you’ll be late’, the multiple reflections and mirroring that provided balance in the image by making the background every bit as interesting as the main event. The symmetry of the reflections of the fence, the dancer in the background ‘fleeing’ in the opposite direction, the double reflections of the Railowski sign, static and permanent, all seem to emphasise the chaos and anxiety that we see in the leaping figure. He is positioned at the right of centre, and he is almost out of the image. I covered him up with my hand and confirmed that without him, this is a very orderly scene.

In terms of photography as story, I am interested in how a photograph ‘is more than just information – it can contain a story. And the photographer is … a storyteller’ (course notes p110)

When I look at Bresson’s image I think about the story, in terms of the moments before and after the image was captured. Why is this man in such a rush? Where is he going? is he late to meet someone, or is he simply late for work. Taken before we all carried phones, this image makes me start to picture someone waiting for him, worried? angry? The boss looking at his watch? There is a lot of information in the pivotal point, it leads to an imaginative interpretation of a story created by the image. I want to know more about this man and his life, why was this moment in time so important to him? Would it matter if he were late? Does it matter now?

Rinko Kawauch’s Illuminance, conveys information in a very different way to Bresson. See my post photography as information for my thoughts on how an absence of information can tell its own story.

List of Illustrations

Image 1:

Cartier Bresson, Henri (1932) Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare. Photograph. At: https://www.bing.com/images/search?&q=behind+the+gare+saint-lazare&qft=+filterui:licenseType-Any&FORM=R5IR40. accessed 11 April 2017

References

Flusser, V. (2000). Towards a philosophy of photography. 1st ed. London: Reaktion.

 

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EYV Exercise 5.2 – Homage

Brief: Take a photograph in response to an image by any photographer of your choice. Be explicit about what you are responding to. Add both images to your leaning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Submit the exercise as part of assignment 5.

Following My visit to Graves Gallery in Sheffield and my viewing of some of Walker Evans’ images, I have enjoyed looking at this artist’s work. In Walker Evans ‘Photofile’ (2007) the second image in the collection caught my attention:

Image 1

Walker Evans, Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929 is a view of the bridge, taken from below. The bridge may not at first be easily recognised as such since the shapes created by the viewpoint are unconventional and different to how people normally see it . The dark shape of the bridge may even be initially seen as a vertical structure, like a huge statue. The height and size of the bridge in this image is exaggerated since it appears to tower over the city, which takes up a much smaller part of the image. The viewer sees the bridge from a new and unusual perspective.

This image is part of Evans’ Bridge project, which included a number of images of Brooklyn Bridge. Another of his images: From the Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929 is taken from a high position on the bridge, looking down towards the river and shows an abstract view of the railway carriages below and a ship passing by. Other images of the bridge highlight the construction, presenting a different view of a familiar subject. By presenting the bridge in a non-traditional way, using photography not as documentary but as art, Evans drew attention to the bridge as modern and novel.

My empathy with Evans’ work follows my work on Assignment 4 where I re-looked at ordinary things in my home village. and found that they were made almost beautiful by the ambient artificial light. This gave me a new appreciation of the ordinary and the beauty that can be found in everyday things. My homage to Evans is a response to my awareness of the mundane in my surroundings and my acknowledgement of how he made the common-place more visible again.

I have driven under this railway bridge many times. If someone had asked me, I should not even have known what it looked like.  My homage photography has resulted in a new appreciation of this bridge. I was able, during my shoot, to walk over it, and to look down to the road below. I noticed things I had previously passed by, and I noticed just how many people used the bridge as a vital link across a very busy road. The bridge itself is highly ‘graffitied’ and a real pleasure to photograph.

My bridge is clearly much lower and shorter than Brooklyn Bridge, the angles and shapes are gentler, and my bridge is therefore immediately recognisable as a bridge. I believe that the internal context in my image is sufficient to enable a viewer to understand that this is an image of a bridge taken from an unusual angle to highlight the construction of it. A title ‘Railway Bridge, Stairfoot’ would add interest for local viewers, keen to recognise it, and it may be sufficient to encourage viewers to notice the bridge in a new way the next time they drive underneath it.

I hope that my image has shown my affinity with that of Evans in that it presents an ordinary (or in the case of Brooklyn Bridge, extra-ordinary but under-appreciated) but essential part of the community’s infrastructure, in such a light that it is appreciated anew.

In terms of context, Evans’ image is such an unusual viewpoint (particularly at the time that it was taken) that even with the additional information provided by a recognisable skyline, a viewer may find the title helpful in understanding the image. Internal context is provided by what is contained within the frame, and also by its title, date and name of the artist.  No further information would be needed for a viewer to appreciate the subject within this image. The viewer understands that this is an image that is drawing attention to the bridge as a construction and which emphasises it as a significant part of the landscape.

I have a copy of this image in a photo-book of Evans’ work (Evans 2007). It is presented on a double-page spread with the image on the right and its title and date in small print on the left. The external context provided by the presentation of this image in a collection like this, with other significant works by the same artist, encourages me to view it not only as a single image but as part of a body of work. The fact that is has been selected, edited and chosen as representative of the work of an important photographer, further encourages me to value the image as more than just an image but also in terms of what I know about the artist.

An understanding of why Evans wanted to take his Bridge photographs adds an additional understanding. Without the original context, I appreciate his image as an artistic presentation of something ordinarily presented from a more traditional viewpoint. With it, I understand that it was intended to display it in a new light to emphasise it as the extraordinary construction that it is rather than simply the link across the river.

The course notes ask that I consider the possibility of my camera having shooting modes that ensure perfect images in the categories of ‘beauty’, ‘creativity’, or ‘memento’ and asks which mode was used in this exercise. This is an interesting thought. I think that the unusual point of view and short focal length highlights this neglected and unnoticed bridge. Also, I think that although the straight line of the shadow on the wall emphasises the angles of the iron structure, the bridge as a whole is softened by the sunlight. I hope it also shows, through the cars and the steps leading to nearby houses, that the bridge is an important part of a local community. I think that my image therefore shows creativity rather than beauty or a perfect memento.

List of illustrations

1 Evans, Walker (1929) Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929 (photograph). At:   https://www.bing.com/images/search?&q=Evans+brooklyn+bridge%2c+new+york%2c+1929&qft=&FORM=R5IR39 (Accessed 27 March 2017)

Bibliography

Evans, W. and Mora, G. (2007). Walker Evans. London: Thames & Hudson.

EYV Exercise 5.1 The distance between us

The brief is for this exercise is to ‘find a subject that you have empathy with and take a sequence of shots to explore the distance between you’.

When you review the set to decide upon a select, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame. Be open to the unexpected.

‘Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.’ (Alexia Clorinda, in course notes, p 104)

The concept of multiple points of view, and a relationship between photographer, subject and viewer, is new to me. However, it makes sense that each part of this triangle sees the event of photography from a different perspective. The photographer will have an idea of the image she wants to achieve, the (human) subject will experience the act of being photographed in a particular way, and the viewer of the resulting image will interpret it according to her experiences. They each will have a different experience of the final image, a different point of view.

I am reminded of my interpretation of Sharon Boothroyd’s images , in her exhibition ‘They all say please’, and my observation of one image in particular: ‘There are hundreds of possibilities in this image and I would be very interested to know the artist’s intention, and other students’ interpretation of it.’ Further, I wrote: ‘This exhibition really showed me how individual photographs can tell intricate stories and how there are as many interpretations of an image as their are viewers of it’.

In considering this exercise, and the ‘triangle’ of involvement in the event of photography, I thought first of my own reluctance to be photographed, and to take pictures of people, and thought about how I could express this discomfort in an image, highlighting an emotional distance between photographer and photographer, and emphasising the potential for very different points of view.

My initial ideas included capturing my subject partially hidden, as the photographer is with her camera, suggesting a reluctance to appear in the image. Perhaps the subject could hide his face with a hat, or his hand. I felt in doing this, I would illustrate that individuals do not all appreciate having their picture taken and do not necessarily respond with a smile.

Image 1 – My select

What I intended in this image was to illustrate my subject’s reluctance to having his photograph taken, by using his helmet as a symbol of protection from intrusion by the photographer. I hoped that my capturing him doing something very ordinary, for which a helmet is unnecessary, would emphasise the intrusion. Had I captured him on his motorbike, he still may not have wanted his picture taking, but it would have been far less obvious. My subject here, clearly (I hope) is blocking out the world and suggesting a refusal to cooperate.

When I try to look at this image ‘objectively’, what I immediately observe is how difficult it is to separate what I know of my intention from the viewing experience. However, first, I see a man wearing a crash helmet and goggles while he is reading a magazine. The image is sufficiently incongruous as to make me realise there must be a message or a story. I then see a ‘Moto’ T-shirt, which I assume is significant, but I fail to make a satisfactory link. The fact is that the shirt was not a deliberate choice – my husband just happened to be wearing that particular shirt that day, but it made me think about how significant the details of an image can be. The image leaves me in some confusion but with a fairly clear sense of distance. Had I created a title ‘leave me alone’ (for example), the viewer may have more easily understood the intended message.

I chose this image as my select, not simply because it reflects my intention more than my other images (the brief was to select ‘your best shot’, not the one that matched your idea). I chose it because I felt that in some ways it was more open to an understanding by the viewer, whether it was simply seen as a comic image of a man obsessed with motorbikes, or one who was fed up listening to his wife!

Image 2

Here, I again wanted to show the subject’s face hidden in order to continue my exploration of the different viewpoints of subject and photographer. The expanse of table in the foreground was intended to exaggerate the mental distance between the parties by creating a physical distance. The large scale of the foreground flowers, although not a deliberate decision, appears to diminish the significance of the ‘real’ subject in the image, leaving me, as a viewer, somewhat confused.

Again, I have my subject in the act of doing something very ordinary, emphasising the intrusion into his daily life. As a viewer, although I have some understanding that the staging is deliberate and intended to create a message, I don’t quite get it. As the photographer, I feel it goes some way to reflecting my idea but I think I can understand that this could be seen as a snapshot gone wrong!

Image 3

My intention in image 3 was perhaps more tenuous (ambitious?). However, my husband holds, in front of his face, a small image of my mother. I wanted to suggest the distance between me and my subject by including a suggestion of a ‘generation gap’, and of the ultimate distance in death, as well as the distance implied by the hiding of his face. I wanted to show that my subject did not want to cooperate with the photograph taking and was therefore replacing himself as subject, with another. However, a viewer could not know that my mother was no longer alive and would be unlikely to understand the generation gap analogy since there is no obvious age difference between the two people in this image. It is possible that a viewer would interpret this image as emphasising the framed picture but without understanding why.

At the risk of misunderstanding Robert Bloomfield’s intentions in his image (course notes p103), my interpretation of this image as an examination of the distance between photographer and subject sees an older lady (and therefore an unconventional portrait) looking straight at the camera. The subject’s cooperative and soft gaze, directly at the photographer, shows me that she is complicit in the photography event. She is a part of the process but her smile is not a snapshot smile, it is an indulgent and proud smile, suggesting that she knows the photographer very well. This image shows the subject  as willing and complicit in the event, but conscious of the process.

This exercise was very interesting in highlighting the gap between intention and interpretation. Viewers are not mind-readers and their interpretation of an image may be very different to the intention of the photographer. I am left considering how explicit or cryptic photography should be.

As I practice analysing and interpreting photographs I understand that ‘looking at photographs can be just as imaginative as taking photographs’. (Azoulay 2012 in course notes p 103)

Thanks to my husband, a reluctant photographee.