Exhibition Metropolis – Martin Roemers

Last week I went to the exhibition Metropolis, by Martin Roemers and was able to talk to him for a little while. I had already seen his work before on Lensculture and was immediately struck by the subject matter and Roemers’ way of portraying city life in a metropolis. Through the use of slow shutter speed and shooting from an elevated angle, the viewer gets to see movement, but is able to focus on the individual that is present in the street, trying to make a living, sell something, wait or living there.

In cities like this, the crowdedness can be so overwhelming that is difficult to see the individual and notice life that takes place. I really like how Roemers is able to focus on that, to show the street as a theater in which every person plays a role. When looking at the images, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the business, although it is obviously there. The blurry parts trigger my imagination to which the sharper elements give hints. It brings the city alive on a personal level. It forces me to become engaged and not be put off by the overwhelming number of people, noise, smell and threat that otherwise might have been conveyed in the image.

I had a chance to talk to Martin personally after the exhibition. I asked him about his practice and what really stuck was when he told me the importance of focusing on what you really want to photograph. I struggle with being distracted and constantly asking myself whether I should do more family photography, or invest time in getting commercial clients. Roemers is able to live of his individual work completely, which I find very inspiring. I know there are only a few able to do this, but still, it is good to think about which direction I want to go, so that I also can be better aware of the distractions on my way.

Martinroemers.com. (2017). Martin Roemers Photographer. [online] Available at: http://www.martinroemers.com/work.php?serie_dir=01Metropolis:%20ASIA [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

A Japanese Connection

First, I looked at the images of Peterson, Sobol and Moriyama without reading the articles, just to get a first impression of their work and the connections between them. I noticed they all have a highly personal, unconventional style, when it comes to both subject matter and use of camera. The images are high contrast Black and White that don’t hold on to conventional compositional rules or techniques. Images are grainy and blurred and bring about a very confusing, challenging response with the viewer.

What comes across are the raw emotions of the photographers themselves, how they perceive their reality is leading. I don’t feel the photographers ever considered if an image might be too shocking, inappropriate or sensitive. Conventions of the societies they work or live in are secondary or protested against.

All articles mention the use of the photographic language of the photographers and how their own experience of reality is the most important subject. The nihilism and existentialism is leading throughout the work. The importance of self in a failed society, the preference of working from an emotional rather than theoretical framework.

Now that I have looked at the work and background of so many different photographers throughout this part, I realize that the basis from which a photographer works, whether theoretical, emotional or conventional has an incredibly profound impact on the work.

Gbadger_sayonara.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/gbadger_sayonara.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Frenchkiss.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/frenchkiss.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Tokio_sobol.pdf (no date) Available at: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/tokio_sobol.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017).

Street Photographers

After reading the part on street photography in the reader I have been looking at the work of numerous street photographers and spent hours online, checking out their websites, read interviews and be inspired. A few of them stood out most, mainly because of their distinct style, innovative techniques and subject matter. Looking then at my own work I feel that there is so much that I can explore and practice, especially when it comes to using different photographic techniques and post processing.

I started my search on 10 Most Influential Active Street Photographers and ended up checking the work of the photographers mentioned there. The site defines ‘influential’ in terms of the amount of followers in social media, their distinctive style and innovative approach. First thing I noticed was that there are only men on the list and I wonder why. Are there less female street photographers in general and is that because of safety issues or just that they feel more drawn to other types of photography? Or is it that their work is not well represented in the photography community in the first place? Anyway, food for an other post!

John Free is well known for his philosophical views on street photography and his online courses on Youtube. His photographs have strong contrast, are BW and have surrealist influences. There’s a strong influence of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, sometimes almost exact copies of their photographs, which put me off a bit. The images have no captions and mainly focus on the connections between the visual elements in the frame. Separate subjects form a whole because of the interplay between time and place. Compositionally his work is very strong, but again, I find that he has let himself measure up against other photographers and therefor maybe has lost his own style and personality in the images.

I watched a few films on Bruce Gilden’s website in which we see him at work in the streets and talking about how he photographs, what drives him and the subjects he is looking for. Gilden has a very distinguished style; direct, close and in the face. He uses flash and a short focal range, which produce very unforgiving, detailed images of the people he meets.  ‘The viewer will always feel he’s a participant because I’m working so close‘ and ‘Flash helps me to visualise my feelings of the city, the stress, the anxiety that you find here … I look for characters, things that make an impression on me, not the average person.’

Gilden doesn’t care about ethics while he is working. He searches for the periphery, he feels good with the people he photographs. It takes a lot of guts to photograph the way he does. First of all, for bluntly photographing people with a flash in public and running the risk of them getting really angry with them, second for showing humanity in its most extreme. I don’t think I could photograph like this, because I just feel it’s not respectful, which blocks me. But I do wonder if I should force myself to just do it sometime, not be hindered by ethics, what is right or wrong, but photograph everything that catches my eye? It might turn out to be a freeing experience that might expand my own work as well.

Lee Jeffries on the contrary, ‘gives people’s likeness a greater meaning and imbues them with the iconic soul of humanity‘. Jeffries doesn’t want to exploit or steal photographs, but capture ‘real emotion’. He calls his work spiritual iconography and brings an almost otherworldly atmosphere to his portraits. Part of the proceeds of Jeffries’ photographs go to funds for the homeless. Jeffries’ work reminded me a bit of Avedon’s portraits; we don’t see the surroundings the people have been photographed in, he focuses mainly on their features with a very distinct personal style. I actually think it’s his style that gives the images the iconic sensation and not so much the people themselves. Is this a case of telling a beautiful story around a certain technique, or really wanting to show the people for who they are? If so, when and how do we actually do that in the first place? If he had used the same techniques with people who are not homeless, would the images have looked similar, would the viewer experience the same emotions?

Whatever it may be, I do think his portraits are very beautiful, Jeffries is able to bring out striking features through shallow depth of field and high contrast. His focus on the eyes give a direct emotional connection and sense of awe that I find very touching. I would like to practice using the same techniques in my portraits.

Boogie also photographs the periphery of society, but takes it to the extreme. Looking at his images in a chronological order, I notice that in his earlier work he goes out looking for subjects who are most of the time invisible in society, spends time with them and photographs them. Most photographs of the gang member are quite staged, the people show their coolness, their violent facade and stress the preconceived ideas of danger and anarchy that most viewers already have of them. Boogie photographs drug addicts in their homes, while they are using drugs. There are many close up shots of the addicts injecting themselves. Contrary to the gang photos, it seems almost that they are not aware that they are being photographed, we see kids being neglected, and the photographer wandering from one place to the other, without being directed by the subjects themselves.

Even though I have a lot of respect for the fact that Boogie is able to connect with these people, the dangers he faces and braveness of photographing what he wants, I do find his images a bit stereotypical; they confirm our ideas of gangs, their violence and behavior, the confirm society’s judgement of addicts not caring about anything but themselves, neglecting their kids and living in filth, women in Thailand are prostitutes. It would have been interesting to see more of the human side, so that a viewer can rise above its preconceived ideas, gain understanding and make an emotional connection.

A photographer that I had not looked at before that really surprised me, is Charampalos Kydonakis, aka Dirty Harrry. His surrealistic, weird photography is surprising and very refreshing. Kydonakis shows an unending creativity, using of different techniques in his photography, blurs, long shutter speed, use of flash and post processing. In his interviews, Kydonakis is very matter of factly and doesn’t delve into his motives, philosophies or ideas behind his work. He doesn’t hold on to one particular style, is innovative and very matter of factly. In his bio he states that ‘the more I shoot, the more I realize what I want from photography and at the same time the more I get confused about what I want …’ This sounds very familiar! I find it quite freeing to see people at work with so many different styles and ways of photographing. It shows that there don’t have to be boundaries to the way I photograph and develop my own work. It is an ever ongoing process without a destination, which is just fine to me.

John Free photography (no date) Available at: http://www.johnfreephotography.com (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Lee Jeffries (no date) Available at: http://leejeffries.500px.com/home (Accessed: 4 February 2017).
Behrmann, K. (2016) Dirty Harrry ‘photographic thoughts’. Available at: http://artofcreativephotography.com/streetphotographers/dirty-harrry/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Papaspyropoulos, S. and Fullam, D. (2017) The 10 most influential active street photographers. Available at: http://www.streethunters.net/blog/2014/03/26/10-most-influential-active-street-photographers/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).
Photographer – boogie photo portfolio (2017) Available at: http://www.artcoup.com/blog/ (Accessed: 2 February 2017).

Street Photography – Vivian Maier

Although I have seen trailers of the documentary about Vivian Maier, and I knew a little bit about her work, I had never actually looked closely at her photographs. Just spent the last hour scrolling through her website and I have to say that I am very impressed with her images. Apart from the quality and diversity I find the fact that she was such a private person very fascinating. In our day and age where every moment needs to be photographed and shown online, it is striking to ponder on a photographic practice that is exclusively done for private enjoyment. I wonder what her motives were, it did seem that she was a bit of hoarder, maybe she wanted to hoard her visual memories as well. For no particular reason, just to bring meaning to her life, even though it was not shared with many others.

Here are 5 images that stood out particularly for me for having surrealistic elements.

  1. The photo with the dove plays a visual trick on the viewer. Because the edges of the wall, or pavement, is not visible, it is difficult to decipher from which angle the photo is taken. This brings about a strange feeling when look at it for too long. Also the symmetric composition and strong contrast adds to the eery feeling.
  2. Because of the compression of the image, this image has fascinating layers of people, buildings and cars that are all connected and give a strange effect to the scale of the subjects. The image has a strong narrative of the old making place for the modern and humankind being in charge of it all. Because of the triangular shape of the destroyed building, the photograph has a theatrical element to it, accentuating the narrative of old making place for new.
  3. The interior of this bar is very surreal to begin with. I start to wonder immediately where the photo is taken what is exactly going on. Instead of seeing fish in a big aquarium, the bar looks out on a pool and underwater. The decadence of the bar, the idea of what can be seen underwater and implications of being locked up become very clear and give the viewer a very uncomfortable feeling.
  4. This image reminds me very much of an image by Edward Weston, where he photographs his girlfriend in the desert. Again, the shapes of the ocean, the man horizontally in the front of the frame and the high contrast give this image a very surrealistic feeling. Instead of conveying the idea of a nice day on the beach, one questions why this man is lying here and what it means. The image has a dark mood to it, even though it was taken around 12 in broad daylight.
  5. This image reminds me a lot of a self portrait of Escher and a self portrait of Rene Margritte. It plays with the way we see ourselves, how reflections can distort the way we look and who we are. I find it interesting how in this image Maier shows that she is capable of creating similar effects as such famous artists. She is aware of her skills and talents, but also shows her self image is interpretable in many ways.
Collection, M. (2016b) Vivian Maier photographer | official website of Vivian Maier | Vivian Maier portfolios, prints, exhibitions, books and documentary film. Available at: http://www.vivianmaier.com/ (Accessed: 27 January 2017)
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September 1954
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Undated
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Undated
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Undated

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Assignment 1 – Research Nan Goldin

Nan Golding had a difficult childhood. Besides all the arguments between her parents and siblings, her sister Barbara, who was her example and to whom she looked up to, was placed in a mental institution and committed suicide at the age of 19. Nan was only 11 years old. At the age of 13, Nan was kicked out of school and left home to live in a drag community, which she started photographed. From there her journey as a photographer started. ‘I don’t ever want to lose the real memory of anyone again’.

In a snapshot style Nan recorded her life and that of her friends. She believed in the ‘narrative of the self, the private and public exhibition we call being’. Her images show much of her community and give an intense insight in the dynamics between the people, their emotions and struggles. Nan called the drag community she lived in ‘her chosen family’. Her images reflect a life whose intimacy comes as close as a family life may be, showing a longing for what she had missed in her own childhood.

As personal and up and close Goldin’s work may be, the overall effect of her work gives you a more general, almost anthropological view on the communities she photographed and even her own life. As Arbus put it: ‘The more specific you are, the more general it will be’. It’s the details that accentuate the overall effect, showing that you can bring across a bigger story than just a snapshot of your own daily life.

 

Robbie Cooper – Alter Ego

Robbie Cooper (1969) is a British photographer and multi media artist whose work questions identity and its appearance in different realities. In his project ‘Alter Ego’ Cooper photographs gamers all over the world and portrays them next to their self created avatar. Added to that is personal information about the gamer and they tell what gaming and their existence in a virtual world means for them.

What strikes me about this project are the different layers of seeing and interpreting that take place. First I look at the portraits Cooper made. We see a variety of people that are photographed in different settings and poses. It is clear that some subjects had their avatar in mind when the portrait was taken, showing a clear resemblance in stance, clothing or even facial expression, while other subjects are striking opposites.  Seeing these portraits next to their self created image raise questions of how they look at themselves. What does it mean if the avatar is completely different or almost exactly the same? What is the function of gaming and being in an other reality in regards to their identity? Is it an escape, a dream or affirmation of who they are? What makes an experience ‘real’ in the first place?

I found the image of Jason Rowe especially strong and moving. At first glance we see a severely disabled boy, whose face is almost completely covered by an oxygen mask, making his blue eyes stand out, but hiding any facial expressions. I realize how freeing it must be for him to be able to walk around in a virtual reality, not be constrained by his disability and not stand out. However, of all Avatars that I looked at online, his is the only one that doesn’t have a recognizable face, but also the only one that actively waves his arm. What does this say about him and his dreams? Does his idea of what he wants to look like stop at being able to move? Can we learn from this that ability is much more important than appearance?

I read on and realize that he was born in the same year as I was. This boy turns out to be a man my age and instead of wondering what will become of him I wonder about his history and what his life might have been up till now. My thoughts get stuck in his disabilities and appearance and how they must have influenced his life.

Then his blob:

“In the real world, people can be uncomfortable around me before they get to know me and realise that, apart from my outer appearance, I’m just like them. Online you get to know the person behind the keyboard before you know the physical person. The Internet eliminates how you look in real life, so you get to know a person by their mind and personality. In 2002 at the UO Fan Faire in Austin, I noticed that people were intrigued by me, but they acted just like I was one of them. They treated as an equal, like I wasn’t even the way that I am – not disabled, not in a wheelchair, you know. We were all just gamers.” (Nunweek, 2016)

For Jason, gaming is the way to get away from people who only see the first portrait. In the virtual world they take him for who he is, mysterious as it still may be.

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Nunweek, J. (2016) ‘Alter ego’, by Robbie Cooper. Available at: http://pantograph-punch.com/post/alter-ego-by-robbie-cooper (Accessed: 19 August 2016).

Robert Howlett – Isambard Kingdom Brunel

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel – Robert Howlett (1857)

The portrait ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’ by Robert Howlett is considered to be one of the first environmental portraits in the history of photography. Brunel was the designer of the largest constructed steamship of that time and the ship was about to be launched.  This ship was supposed to be an example of the industrial revolution that took place in the Victorian times and Brunel’s appearance breathes this power and action, accentuated by his high head and muddy shoes.

Robert Howlett had just developed a new way of photographing, with collodium plates and was groundbreaking in using new techniques that made it able to print negatives on paper. He was out and about, photographing and discovering new techniques and eager to use them to their maximum potential. Robert and Isambard had a lot in common and both turned out to be at the height of their careers.

The vessel that Brunel had designed turned out to be a financial disaster and while launching the ship the cables in the back, torpedoed two men to their deaths. Howlett died soon after, presumably of typhoid.

However, the image itself doesn’t show that. By placing Brunel in front of the cables, the size of the ship and grandeur of Brunel is being accentuated. If you compare this image with another one from the series, it becomes clearer.

Howlett lets the environment accentuate the personality of Brunel through his composition. The effect is one of awe, although all perspective of size is lost and you could also perceive Brunel as a midget if you would put him in place of a regular sized chain. Was Howlett aware of this effect? If so, it adds a cynical undertone to the image, or the message of how men have invented machines that are too powerful to control, the machines take over.

Howlett, R. (1857) Isambard Kingdom Brunel [Photograph]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Howlett#/media/File:IKBrunelChains.jpg (Accessed: 16 August 2016).
Isambard kingdom Brunel – scientist of the day – Linda Hall library (2015) Scientist of the Day, 15 September. Available at: http://www.lindahall.org/isambard-kingdom-brunel/ (Accessed: 17 August 2016).
Jones, J. (2010) Isambard kingdom Brunel, Robert Howlett (1857). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/jun/17/art (Accessed: 16 August 2016).
White, D. (no date) The light shone and was spent: Robert Howlett and the power of photography. Available at: http://www.photohistories.com/Photo-Histories/51/robert-howlett-and-the-power-of-photography (Accessed: 16 August 2016).