Week 3: Hunters & Farmers

Winogrand once said, ” You’ve got to deal with how photographs look, what’s there, not how they’re made.”

(Diamonstein and Callahan, 1982)

As already seen, my working practices are varied and for a long time, I lacked identity as a photographer.

During the duration of this MA, I am finding more and more that I fit within the notion of conservation photography. That being the telling of stories that promote nature and seek to find a more harmonious way of living under natures wing.

To this extent, ironically I see my practice as being in the context of the hunter. I actively seek out life and natural scenes and record them as honestly as possible – whilst using some creative flair to aid the narrative.

My audience is split between those who have synergy with natural living and those who wish to learn more. I also plan to develop work to aid the spreading of the conservation message when looking at arguments such as countryside culture, overfishing, plastic pollution and wild hunting.

As a hunter, my weapon is my camera and my prey is ‘the unseen nature’.

When we look at the use of visual referencing within visual art, we find a lot of work takes inspiration from the world around us. The module example of the Shrek movie is just one of many examples where art imitates art imitating real life.

This reproduction of inspired ideas often furthers the original vision, or when in the context of a big cartoon Oga, often help put cultural messages across.

I feel it is important for my own practice to a least consider what has gone before. I was once told by my grandad that ‘ no artistic idea is unique’ and I am finding that to be very much reality. In my view, art for the sake of art represents the farmer – the creation of content that has originated within the depths of imagination.

Whilst this has its place, I don’t feel at this time that it would work for my own practice.

Bill Viola is very much of an inspiration of mine. A recent BBC documentary on his exhibition at the Albert Hall showcased just how much work and development goes into his practice.

It explored Viola’s way of seeing and looked at how he has developed his own practice over the years. Spanning a number of years, Viola’s concept for the Alber Hall project was largely inspired by reducing his gaze down to small scenes and one-off encounters. This helped to focus the work into a very powerful set of video and imagery that would not have been achieved had Viola focused on a wider context.

Granted it is often difficult to see where his original ideas and references came from, but when viewed subjectively I do feel that his work does encapsulate cultural ideals. Whether this is a live example of the punctum effectively breaking the studium is likely to be more a result of the individuals own religious connotations. For some, this work may well reach the level of punctum.

With inspiration from religious contexts driving his Albert Hall exhibitions, it can be seen how he has woven in such stories into a work that often inspires. However, it can also be argued that the very religious tales he is portraying are indeed just that, tales.

This opens the debate around fictional documentary and staged photography. The creation of work representing reality and yet is fake. Either deliberately constructed for an audience, or reproduced/photoshopped to create a lie that is passed off as real. The more common of the latter is the use of photoshopped images or staged images that are entered into competitions.

There are now numerous examples of fake images being selected at competition level that are then rejected when the ‘truth’ s found out. With the development of digital media, it has now ben easier than ever to produce fake art, intentionally or to trick.

In a wider context, it could be argued that fashion and commercial photography often carries with it an element of staged work. The advertising image where every pixel is scrutinised is often the one showing the ‘ideal outfit or lifestyle’ Yet it can be argued that the image itself is portraying a fake wold into which many aspire to travel.

There are many examples when this is not the case. The recent loss of Karl Lagerfeld has left the design world with an irreplaceable hole. However, as a photographer, Lagerfeld was very skilled at recording images of his and others, design work. The images he developed demonstrated that it is possible to produce visual work grounded in reality.

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Fig 1

I see the work of Sugimoto Dioramas as sitting very much within the realms of the farmer. He does have a very good ability to observe, study and capture the essence of the subjects in his work as naturally as possible. However, for me, they lack a spark of reality and come across as static museum scenes. These take away something from the image that has an impact on the mental narrative.

This, therefore, means I do not see Sugimoto as a convincing natural wildlife photographer, but rather someone who is reproducing scenes observed from beyond the camera lens.

downloadFig 2

I see some comparison to Sugimoto in the work of Jeff Wall. In this, we find Wall developing methods of creating images that are a freezeframe of time. This generates a scene that is, more often than not, an almost impossible collection of events all occurring within one frame.

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Fig 3

Where Sugimoto produces dioramas that are attempting to be real life scenes of natural history and sciences, Wall produces works that are, frequently, representations of day to day events in people lives.

Both create images that are famed for an audience, both focus on drawing the viewer into a scene that the viewer then has to work to make sense of. But both do so in very different ways to achieve the same goal. Wall with his use of posed people and sets, Sugimoto with the use of taxidermy and background scenery.

From my point of view I like and enjoy both works, but feel that Wall’s approach is slightly more in line with my own practice ideas. The use of living subjects is for me much a more rewarding constructed approach. It carries more challenges that can only push my own practice forward.

Winogrand to me represents a balance between the hunter, farmer and an example of where such collaboration between the two results in exceptional works. 

Garry-Winogrand_-New-Heaven_-Connecticut_-1970_1

Fig 4

After passing away at the age of 56, it was discovered that Winogrand left behind some 6,500 undeveloped rolls of film. Considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Winogrand developed a style of photography that had immense power, but yet the photographer himself was almost never in the limelight, carrying a sense of passivity.

Able to catch a scene in a split second and in a way that freezes the emotion and often spiritual nature of the view, Winogrand was often described as a poet of American life. In the mid 60’s he was in his prime. It is at this time that we see the best works.

One of Winogrand’s strengths was that he had no fear of failure and would use this approach to his advantage. In my view, this is a real strength and one that I have some similarities with.

The ability to take a photograph without fear that the image will be ‘useless’ allows for some to be both a hunter and a farmer. The creation of works that are both descriptive and symbolic can indeed be achieved.

 


References 

Images

  • Fig 1 – Lagerfeld, K. (2015). Anna Ewers, Numéro. (source media) 
  • Fig 2 – Sugimoto, H. (1976) Polar Bear. (source media) 
  • Fig 3 – Wall, J. (1993) A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai). (source media)
  • Fig 4 – Winogrand, G. (1970)  New Haven, Connecticut, posthumous digital reproduction from original negative. (source media)