This weeks work on photographers and film togheterh with the whole idea of citizen journalism has had me thinking in a few different way. Never have we had such mistrust in the media as we do now and I am not always so usre if the idea of citizen journalism adds or subtracts to that. Is the gnereal public more inclidned to trust jourlaism if it comes from citizen journalisist armed with iphones or are they more trusting of known journalists. I guess if it comes from whence you look at the thing. On the one hand, if you are more inclined to believe a certain president, then sure, you will believe the citizen journalism if it extends your view of the issue, if the issue was given by a journalist and the viewpoint was the same then you would believe it too. I guess what I realised is that Fox viewers believe whatever Fox says and MSNBC and CNN viewers like to believe what their news anchors tell them, they are watching the shows to affirm their beliefs, not to search for new ones. Week 3
Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park, New York: footage was broadcast live from the site by bloggers Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Citizen journalism can become a problem though. It is too easy to fake digital content these days and the reality of the situation can be misinterpreted by them and then reinforced by the newsmedia who, due to massive cutbacks, dont have the manpower to be everywhere and cover every story.
One of my main issues that I personally have is that of the democritisation of photography. Now that everybody has a camera, everybody can take a picture. The problem is that everybody takes mostly mediocre images. And the public has become so used to mediocrity that they dont seem to understand or recogise what good photography is… “Naah, I could have taken that photo..”
But that is probably something to rant about another day.
The interesting thing that happened today was that in my planning and talking about my planning I came to a bit of a breakthrough due to the people that was on the group with me. Over the last few years I have been doing a series of photos on domestic workers in South Africa.
During this I showed an image that I have completed and an image that I was busy working on. After a bit of chat with the group I realised that by over sterilising the image through photoshop I actually took away a large part of what makes the image effective. This will be especially interesting in my continuing work with social groups as by using the fracture look I will be able to increase the tension in the image.
This weeks reading has been very interesting but I will get to that later. The first thing that we looked at was the way photography tends to cross disciplines. As such I have had to look at my various inspirations. The first and easiest inspiration that comes to mind is of course the movie and tv world. As it is made of moving images it is easy to see how the two would inspire each other and there is a genuine feedback loop between the two where famous DP’s would say they were inspired by photography and photographers would say they were inspired by movies. As I have discussed in the forums I have a great admiration for Roger Deakins and his work in film but I have to also look further than just that. I have in the past taken inspiration from famous portraitures like Grant Wood’s America Gothic. This is one of the interesting things about photographers. We are all image junkies. We actively search images that work and inspire us. Are the images as on the nose of an inspiration as the example here? Probably not, but our ability to retain images are what makes us photographers in the first place. When we have a lot of images rambling around in our heads we will see and recreate some patterns as it suddenly looks familiar, consciously or subconsciously to us, and familiarity works and gives you comfort. This is especially something that happens quite a lot with fashion photography. As the photographer and the stylist prepares they will no doubt have a wide range of images they are working with and use on their art boards for scamping or examples. Even though it is subconscious some of those images will be retained and will, for good or bad, be recreated in at least some of your images. The great thing about fashion photography is that it is up to more than just the photographer. True fashion photographer is an collaboration between photographer, stylist, make-up artist and model. That is 4 people that can make or break the shoot. You end up and interesting mix of ideas. Although the photographer has and always will have (unless it is for advertising purposes) the last say the input of others in a shoot will have an effect on the directorial view of the photographer. This is some images I shot a number of years ago. It is something that I shot without doing mood boards or scamping yet I subsequently found images that I clearly have based this on subconsciously. It has been interesting to see other students use the images subsequently in scamping and moodboards without realising I took the images.
Grant Wood's American Gothic and my subsequent image
This brings us to the reading and I took special note on the article by David Campany: Safety in Numbness. Even though I started off disagreeing with him on certain aspects of his ideas he did convince me in the end. Documentary photography has changed in the last few decades and to a large extent this is due to the easy use and spread of video camera. These days a video, if it is not live, can be shot, edited and spread online (twitter) within in a few minutes. Even still from video is frequently used as images in news stories. The news media’s consumption of video shot by both professionals and amateurs are insatiable. Compared to this the spread of photography is slow. Photography, even though it can be spread digitally, is best consumed through print. With print media getting less and less money there is a drastic reduction in the money that can be spent on images. The media’s move into the digital world also now has opened the door to what used to be print-media now also using video. This has meant a massive reduction in staff photographers and paid assignments as the video has already captured the action. This is where the idea of “Late” photography comes in.
Simon Norfolk. Afghanistan Tearoom
Photographers go in after the battle is over to capture the extent of damage, the human suffering, the aftermath. What was traditionally documentary photography has not become art photography, and it used to not only inform like documentary photography but also to move past the print world into the art world. Photographer Simon Norfolk is an interesting example of this. After the war in Afghanistan he documented the damage and left overs with careful and slow large format exposures. Pictures of burnt down tea houses and buildings remind of the Valley of the Shadow of Death image as shot by Roger Fenton in the Crimean War. These are cold or late images, images that document the war without the action but still have an emotional impact.
Simon Norfolk. Afghanistan: Chronotopia
Although Norfolk’s images still showed a time and place that is recent and real Gregory Crewdson’s images have gone larger. He stages cinematic scenes in surburbia to create drama and his own short form narrative. In his own words he is searching: “My pictures are about a search for a moment—a perfect moment”. A short moment it might be though but through his (sometimes disjointed) sets of images he tells a story not unlike Norfolk.
Gregory Crewdson, Various Exhibitions
A further example of this is the images of Stan Douglas who, using much the same techniques as Crewdson chooses to recreate “hot” moments using “late photography. His recreations of events like the Gas Town riots are then shot and displayed in massive formats. This then increases its immediacy and the impact it has on the viewer.
Stan Douglas Gastown Riot
The interesting thing for me is that there seems to be a stronger crossover between photographer and director than ever before. Although Norfolk does his work alone both Crewdson and Douglas has massive crews that assist him. They use very large 4K movie lights to light their sets and as such their photo sets sometimes resemble movie sets more than photosets. They are also meticulous in the set-up of their people in the images, placing each person in a shot for a reason.
Stan Douglas on the set of Gastown Riot
This is a direction I am very interested in. In the past few years I have done varoius small DP jobs as well as some directing and i am strongly thinking of using some of these ideas in my final project. Even though I will take inspiration from these projects I am leaning strongly towards a project away from the historical aspects of the work above but using it more as a comment on social justice and social structures within South African society.
Thinking about the what constitutes a global images was actually more difficult than I thought. The problem is that there is actually a surfeit of what can be considered “global” images mostly thanks to our use of social media. The first thing that really comes to mind for me when we talk about global images happen to be advertising related. Few industries actually make their money from promoting and using global images the way the advertising industry does. If we look at Coca-Cola adverts for instance it can be seen as having created and maintained a global image through their careful manipulation of what they want their image to portray. If we close our eyes we can see any coca-cola advert. It will always have happy people in it, they will always be smiling or laughing, sure the ethnicity might change but the picture stays the same. That is in the end the goal of advertising. They are selling you something to aspire to, whether this is having good times drink a soda or a buying that new pair of jeans that GAP has in store for a limited amount of time. The advertising industry uses easily recogniable global images to strengthen their brand. They do this through repetition of logo placement, colour scheme and background. In the end they want you to recognise the image and know what the brand is before you even see the logo. Although this can be seen as global images the view and the talent of the photographer is very much of lesser import than the image that the brand creates through careful planning and research.
Chanel Campaign 2013 as shot by Karl Lagerfeld
Easily recognisable images are something that I personally feel is becoming more prevalent. The spread of photography in the 1800’s, even though it was slower than what we now see, can be seen to be just as rapid as we see currently. Photography became a shared resource, something that anyone could do and share. This is much the same as it is today. Photographic trips to underpriviliged communities have changed in the last few years. Whereas no-one had access to cameras a decade ago the prevalence of smart phone photography has become such that there is no more “mugging” and posing when a camera is taken out. What was seen as special a decade ago now has become mundane. These images are all shared in much the same way that images was shared 200 years ago. The speed of sharing and the circle of sharing might be faster and wider but the impact from the easy spread of images is much the same. Do all these images have the same emotional or social impact though? It is easy to point out the Nick Ut image from Vietnam but with the deluge of images we are subjected to today is it is still the truly horrifying image that leave us reeling and will leave an imprint in our brain. The image of three year old Alan Kurdi’s body on an Italian beach, the detainees at Abu Ghraib, the assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Anakara, these images connect with us on a different more emotional level than the thousands of social media images we see every day. Yet there are other images, less graphic and shocking that these that also stick in the communal psyche and play an important role in the power of the global image. The pertinent question, past the obvious answer is still why do these images have such a lasting power over people. Even though the Nick Ut image had a video that showed everything that happened while the image was taken that was not what we remembered. Our brains seem to have less ability to retain information if it is in the form of a combination of sight, sound and movement. This shows me that the photography will and still will have an important role to fill in the world. Even what can only be seen as unimportant stock images like the boy with the girlfriend looking back has gone viral and has become a easily recognisable and much copied image. The lasting power of the global image will stay even as it is being adapted to suit everybody's needs or agenda. This might be the single biggest reason that might still trip photography up. As images spread across the globe the original truth of the image can be used or warped in whatever way people want. Images can be photoshopped and text added to give it a different meaning. Even though it is not photograph’s fault its accessibility to “fake news” creation will always cause problems in the digital age.
The gunman gestures after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, at a photo exhibition in Ankara on Dec. 19, 2016. Burhan Ozbilici—AP
Looking at my own images critically in the last few months I have come to realise a few things. My portraits as such specifically sometimes to fall in the category of “photographic document” where the subject and the photographer has not real contact. I would like to think that unlike the old document style of photography as used in Victorian times my photos are not subject to the blatant condescension that theirs were prone to but more gentler, more questioning. The photographs do exhibit a defined state of ‘window” rather than mirror. As can be seen from the images that I took for my still continuing photo essay Domestique. The images, even though they are and include the background and locations of the subjects, isolate the subject from the background, even though they exist in it and are part of it it is still not theirs. This was done on purpose in the planning of the images to highlight the strange dynamic that domestic workers inhabit where they spend more time in houses that they work in than their own. This juxtaposition of time and place I felt I highlighted.
the body of 3 Year Old Alan Kurdi (still taken from video)
Pamela. Domestique by Theunis Stofberg
Mona-Lisa and Oliver. Domestique by Theunis Stofberg
The images are definitely part of what can be seen as “document’ and I feel easily recognisable as a portrait of someone in a time and place. In discussion with my tutor Michelle she did point out to me that my predilection for keeping the background blurred and only focusing on the subject in portraiture can sometimes be wrong. As discussed with her the images of the couple living next to the railway line would maybe have been stronger if we did see the burglar bars on the windows, the dry and dusty garden. It is definitely something I will have to think about in the future as my portraits are sometimes just off the cuff events and it maybe needs some more thought during the process to get the right results.
Living next to the Railway by Theunis Stofberg