Exhibition – Museum Pocket edition

After my terribly long summer break I made a few resolutions: Exercise more and go to exhibitions and art related events more often, at least once a week. And of course study harder! The exercising part has been going really well and because of that I find myself much more focused and motivated while studying and reading long and winding academic texts. It all works well together.

Regarding the exhibitions, I realize that there is just so much to do in New Delhi! Last week I visited the exhibition In the Shadow of the Pyramids, the week before that I went to Bikaner house, a beautiful colonial palace that hosts a wide range of exhibitions on a permanent basis. This day there was an exhibition with personal stories about the partition, photographs from India after independence and a very small, but amazingly clever installation of Dayanita Singh, called Museum Bhavan – pocket museum.

Let me just show a photo of the installation instead of trying to explain what it looked like!

This work shows that when you categorize objects, connect them and show them next to each other, the individual peculiarities come out, even though they’re the same objects. Through this the beauty of the mundane is shown, giving it museum value. From there they are transformed in foldable books, that can be shown at home, bringing a museum exhibition back home. I like how this process of representation and location changes the aesthetic value everyday objects.

In the other room was one photograph that find particularly striking:

 

Somehow, the elements of the room all seem to ‘tie together’ and come together in the painting on the wall, through form, texture and lines. For me it is a real example of composing a photograph in such a way that brings out the best of a space, actually changing it through its black and white appearance, bringing out an atmosphere that might not even be noticed when taking the photograph itself. Absolutely stunning!

 

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Assignment 3 – Rework – Comments

Although it’s been already 5 years since I started studying with the OCA, I feel that I am not half as much connecting with other students and making use of the forums as I should do. Because every time I do, I feel very inspired and eager to study and work more. Regarding assignment 3 I had my doubts about the documentary character of the work, so I thought I’d ask the question on the forum. I had some very insightful responses:

Clive: Looking at the images on my phone in Tate Modern they don’t look out of place and of more interest to me than some of the work I’m looking at here!

An effective series with very well realised production values. Good work!

I see no problem with it being documentary. In fact we recently discussed updating the names of the Documentary and Landscape courses to less loaded names.

Leonie: Thanks Clive, that really helps. I like the idea of widening the scope of the course. I have found myself wondering a lot about the documentary value of what I’ve been working on and this frees my mind and options even more.

 
 

Stephanie: It works very well for me Leonie. Have you looked/read Larry’s Sultan “Picture From Home”? I think that you might me interested in it and his writings about it – how it balances documentary with family portraiture.

Visually, it reminds me of Cig Harvey gardening at night somehow.

Leonie: I’ll check it out. You always have such good suggestions!

 
 

Peter: I would definitely go along with Clive’s artist’s statement idea. It is something that students take quite a time to latch onto but an artist’s statement is the place, like the introduction to an essay, where you can and should reframe the question (brief) in your own terms and put your own work into a brief context.

Stefan: I had to browse a bit – and eventually found the two PDF s, initial and final. What a difference! Looking first hat the ‘rework’ and then on the initial. The initial took me off the hook – collage and juxtaposed collection, leaving me a sense of pre-edit.
Your rework is very good, a continuous flow of mood and strong sense of ‘longing’ . That sense came for me mostly through. After that senses of regret and melancholy- did sense so much pain. That would
be rather a cognitive conclusion or better interpretation for me. Strong facial expressions – at times I was’t sure about authenticity of that expression – well to consider a ‘stage set’? Don’t known how you took those images, how long and how many in sequence from same scene. Just my personal reaction to facial expression alongside posture (perhaps biased by my professional practice)

Not sure how you photography guys are ‘defining’ documentary – a term which from my painting/ drawing perspective I see differently (even looking at painting as documentation and vice versa myself)
But it is truly documentary for me: it captures sensations associated with place in a more than representional mode. Like it very much
Wondering about your reasoning to use twilight Zones and artificial lightning – context or purpose ?

Michael:

Hi Leonie,

good to see how this project has developed…the new images extend on the themes I found most engaging from the first set-there is an ambiguity/unsettling feeling that I find effective. For what it is worth I think you are right to include the picture sitting on the grass.

I did find the red dress images a little jarring however, the one looking back over your shoulder is my favourite in the set though. It could be argued that the way these stand out as different from the rest could be the point?

Don’t have a problem with these fitting as documentary either, although as Clive and Peter say it would be good for them to be contextualised through your artist statement.

 

Stefan: forgot to add: got a Hopperesque sense (ugly word) What I mean I could sense some underlying sensations of alienation in places that are somehow close to Edward Hopper. He explored mostly public places whereas you captured private places, correct? Although, I noticed some public spaces in your work

 

Leonie: Hi Stefan,

You are right to sense this tension. All photographs were taken on the compound where I live, which has offices and houses, so a mix of public and private. Personally I don’t feel it is really my home, which adds to the estrangement that I tried to portray. However, estranged or not, it’s a great place to live :slight_smile:

Leonie: Thanks Andrew! I have to say that this course has really broadened my concept of documentary.

Thanks again for all your feedback. Back from vacation now, so time to add your suggestions to the assignment!

 

Peter: That is at least part of the point of the exercise. :slight_smile:

 

I am really thankful for all the feedback I received and good to know I’m on the right track. I will rewrite my artist statement which explains the place of the work in the documentary genre.

Ideas Personal Project

List of ideas for Personal Project:

  • Photograph and interview 12-year olds. These children are on the brink of childhood and entering a time of profound physical and psychological changes. They are very vulnerable but on the other hand so strong and brave. I took a photograph of my own 12-year old daughter which inspired me:img_5446

I will have to consider which children to approach, parents’ consent, environment in which to take the photographs, open interviews or through set of questions, etc.

  • Architectural photography: Buildings in New Delhi that show the history of the architecture, social differences, economic advance, etc. In the style of Michael Wolf, and inspired by Paul Klee. I like to focus on the lines and shapes and how adding different layers and work with colours can add a new perception of well known buildings, while still containing the characteristics of the vast variety of Delhi architecture. This is an image that I took last year that serves as a sort of starting point:

Delhi street160805-119-Edit-2

I find Michael Wolf’s cityscapes really fascinating and would like to experiment with his approach to modern city buildings and the individual. How lives are hidden behind concrete and facades that all look the same:

Michael Wolf
Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density
  • There’s a rising number of Multi Drug Resistant TB patients in India. I would like to create a photo story of a person who has suffered from this and focus on its medical, social and financial implications. I would like to make a short film as well, together with sound clips, in order to add more information and show more of the context in which the person lives.
  • Whenever I visit my home country I become aware of the fact that in India I don’t understand the conversations that happen around me. In The Netherlands I catch snippets of conversations of people eating in restaurants, talking on the phone, walking by and I often find my mind wondering about the context in which the words were spoken, and visualize the few words I heard. Taking it further, I wonder how people from other cultures or countries would interpret and visualize the words, what kind of situations come to mind when they here the snippets of phrases? So, my idea is to explore this context of imagined context and how that is determined by our own experiences and who we are. Last summer I recorded some random conversations in the streets of Amsterdam. The plan is to have somebody translate it in Hindi and ask people here to come up with a visual context of the lines, which I will photograph. A step further would be to ask somebody else the meaning of the image and see if it is anything related to what was said in the first place.

Photomichaelwolf.com. (2017). MICHAEL WOLF PHOTOGRAPHY. [online] Available at: http://photomichaelwolf.com/#architecture-of-densitiy/1 [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017].

Exhibition – In the Shadow of the Pyramids

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In light of studying the place and effect of documentary photography in the exhibition space, Laura El-Tantawy’s In the Shadow of the Pyramids was very insightful and thought provoking. It is a very strong example of how an exhibition space can provide a space and setting that empowers the documentary value of the work and touches its viewers beyond the visual experience, leaving a profound impression and insight in the theme and subject matter of the work. I have been a great admirer of Laura El-Tantawy for a long time and was very excited to hear that her work was being exhibited in New Delhi.

The exhibition consisted of different constellations of images and sound, showing images of El- Tantawy’s childhood in Egypt, political uprises taken in Cairo between 2007 and 2013 and life streaming from Tahir square, connecting memories, hopes and reality in a very personal way. The images are very impressionistic, blurry and grainy and have a much more personal voice than regular photojournalism. In the accompanying booklet Rahaab Allana questions: When such an aesthetic is linked to the question of the photographer’s intent and function, the question arises as to the place and relevance of Laura’s atmospheric, evocative, lyrical images in a media-dominated world that almost invariably upholds and valorizes ‘factual’ representation as the legitimate expression of ‘truth’. Can subjective, poetic media documentation be trusted? (Allana, 2017)

I think they can, but maybe for different reasons than for the purpose of getting factual information. Because the images are so vague, feelings and emotions that entrenched the political uprises come across very strongly. Maybe because I was not distracted by specific details in the images I felt the urgency, desperation and hope. It almost gave the same sense as when you’re dancing in a party. Movements blur, you become more introspected, but on the other hand very aware of the emotions and atmosphere around you. So in that sense I think I can trust that the emotions that are triggered in me touch the emotions that the people on the square were feeling. I read them in the images and feel connected.

On the other hand, when I read the booklet and looked at the images again, but this time with captions and in chronological order, I felt a deeper understanding and became even more aware of the desperate struggle that the country has been going through. It is interesting to notice such a difference in interpretation depending on the amount of information and context in which I look at photographs.

Knowing that the Arab Spring did not last long and has not brought the future the Egyptians hoped for, the images carry a stronger sense of nostalgia and a heavier load than if we had not known the outcome. The sacrifices we see, the hope we read and triumphant joy turned out to be for nothing, a dream shattered, a country disillusioned.

Because Laura El-Tantawy includes images from her childhood, the viewer becomes aware that the photographs are much more than a documentation of a historic event. We see the shattering of the photographer’s dreams and hope, the longing for a time when a place seemed happy and innocent, in which dreams of change came true but were soon after shattered. As is written in the exhibition’s opening line:

The beginning meets the end.
Here I choose to bury my most valued possession.
In a place I once called home. (El-Tantawy, 2017)

Laura El-Tantawy mentioned in her speech that the Arab Spring is forbidden to be talked about or taught in schools. There is a strong censorship on this recent history, actively quieting the voices of protest. However, this exhibition is proof that it actually did happen, together with thousands of other images and documents that are still shared online. Interestingly, the political attache of the Egyptian embassy was at the opening of the exhibition as well. I am not sure how he experienced the work or whether he was touched by it, let alone whether it changed his opinion about it. However, it does show that elevating documentary photography in the art scene and therefor in higher social circles provides an entryway for the influential upperclass to experience it, snobby as it may sound. I believe it is very positive for different outlets of photography, the media, social media and art scene, to live next to each other and therefore reach an as wide audience as possible.

Text on exhibition wall:

El-Tantawy’s most impressionistic views embrace the spectacle of urgency in which the humanbeing becomes an unforgettable prism of crisis, fear, endurance, hope sorrow and other states of emotional extremity.

Such acts of bearing witness also raise the question of the discursive after-life of images – theirre-purposing, re-versioning and dissemination through continually circulated digital media. One positive outcome of such participation in Egypt was the establishment of activist-driven citizen journalism organizations such as Masireen and Thawramedia, which further substatiate the power of digital platforms, a fact confirmed by one newspaper declaring unequivocally: ‘Facebook is the revolution’s headquarters’. Clearly, the coalition of such activist forums into dynamic media alliances after the government had disconnected telephone and internet corroborates social media’s potential as a mode of opposition intervention and critique.

When a people’s revolution implodes, disintegrates or fails through being crushed by a regime or through internal fracture, any digital documentation of the distortions and abuses of power – globally circulating testimonials that cannot be seized, denied, erased or proscribed – becomes a multiple utterance of a particular truth. Technology may be used by oppressive regimes to pulverize protest, but it can also be eventually used against them through the freely distributed image. The critical domain of image reception that El-Tantawy touches upon is the importance of such counter-archives at a time of immense visual democratization and distribution. (Allana, 2017)

El-Tantawy, L. and Allana, R. (2017). In the shadow of the pyramids. [Photographic Installation Booklet] New Delhi: Art Heritage.

TAHRIR SQUARE: JOURNEY: IN THE SHADOW OF THE PYRAMIDS by Laura El-Tantawy. [online] Intheshadowofthepyramids.com. Available at: http://www.intheshadowofthepyramids.com/journey/tahrir-square/018_LET_egypt-book/ [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017].

Jim Goldberg – Open See

First of all I want to say that I am always struck by Goldberg’s work. He is able to say so much with seemingly little. He really lets his subjects speak, through written text, while at the same time showing work that is visually striking. This cooperation results in stories that come straight from the heart from his subjects, giving them a voice, showing their humanity, braveness and resilience under horrifying circumstances.

I believe that the gallery space is a suitable space to show this kind of work. First of all, because of the space, there is ample room to show the work exactly the way the artist would like it to, the overall experience of seeing, listening and doing (folding the boat) while concentrating on the life stories makes a very strong impact and leaves you changed.

When people visit the gallery and exhibition they are open to experience and think about the work, I think this is more effective than if it was shown somewhere else. On the other hand, I am not sure if the audience will be broad enough to tell the story to the ones who should be seeing it.

I think it is a responsibility of schools and museums to draw as many people from different walks of life to these exhibitions. If that happens, there is even a stronger point to be made for showing this in a museum.

The Judgement Seat of Photography

An interesting read that describes the developments of Moma’s relationship and acknowledgement of photography. Even though the phases Moma has gone through are very much in line with developments worldwide, I find it striking that each director has had a very strong influence on what was presented and therefore probably on the general attitude towards and acknowledgement of photography in general.

Newhall’s vision was the further establishment of the photograph as a piece of art, which showed in the installments, treatment of the photographs and importance of the work of the individual photographer. In a sense it sped the process of taking photography out of the realms of journalism and evidence, narrowing down its audience to the more elite, changing the subject matter from documentary and journalism to the qualities of the prints and techniques, focusing on the individuality of each photograph and photographer and through that rising photography itself into the realms of art.

I just can’t image what a shock it must have been for Newhall to be replaced by Edward Steichen, a commercial photographer who was used to produce and show work for a broad audience, focused on selling a product, or telling a story. Photography was given back to a wider audience, with the focus on telling a narrative, not the individuality of the photographer or image itself. Grandiose as the installations may have been, the pieces themselves were not valuable, nor treated as pieces of art. The issue here is that the stories shown were the stories Steichen decided on, the ideas of the photographers themselves were not as important. However, they did sell, and the stories triggered an interest in photography and journalism that has had a big influence on the generation of photographers that came afterwards.

Szarkovski continues Steichens storytelling but focuses on telling a full narrative in a single photograph, elevating and revaluing the photograph itself back in the arts’ scene and bringing back a focus on the individual qualities of the photographer. However, Szarkovski holds on to quite strict definitions of what a photograph should be and what it should hold, and is therefor quite exclusive in its curation of photographs, and might consequently have a preached a restrictive view on the meaning of photography and which works should be considered good and art.

After having read both articles, I am more aware of the powers that defined the place of photography in art, exclusivity versus access of a broad public, which narratives are told and by whom, the voice of the individual photographer and the role of the distribution of images and the context where this takes place.

With the rise of internet and the possibilities for photographers to market themselves or enter the art scene has changed dramatically. Besides being dependent on curators, a big emphasis lies on the behavior of followers and their taste on social media sites. It will be interesting to see how museums respond to this added element that defines the curation, success and sales of photographic work.

Phillips, C. (1982). The Judgment Seat of Photography. October, 22, p.27.

Benjamin, W. (2010). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Lexington, KY: Prism Key Press.

 

Documentary in the Gallery Space – Cruel and Tender

A few things that I find very interesting about this exhibition:

  • Through categorizing the photography in themes instead of artists, viewers are guided in discovering the meaning of the photographs in a certain context instead of the characteristics of the work of a particular photographer. It triggers viewers to make comparisons and discoveries that otherwise would not be made and puts iconic work under a different light. The photographs start to function as a response to each other, which layers new meaning and insights in the work and practice of the photographers.
  • Rineke Dijkstra mentions how men and women responded opposite to the ‘mothers’ series. How the men thought it was not alright to show women while they were so vulnerable, while women were relieved to see images of these life changing moments in which they are hardly ever seen. The discussion of whether showing and looking vulnerability enforces or weakens the vulnerable is a very interesting discussion.
  • Fazal Sheikh shows that the value of taking time to photograph a subject matter and involve the subjects in the process itself. His images are very powerful, I think also because the sitters were empowered by the process of being photographed itself. I am very impressed with the care he takes to do justice to the individuality of each refugee, giving them back a right of existence, even though they don’t have any place to go to.