Week 5 – Reflections

This week I have continued to struggle with the notion of narrative and making my images work as a set that has a structure.

In this week’s webinar, I showed some of my river images and the same reaction was received. That being ‘great pictures’ but what are you trying to say.

I am still at a loss as to how best to frame my work in a context that makes sense. There are so many ideas and so many possible options that I feel that I can not move. I may have indeed over thought the options to a point where I now have too many.

Paul was supportive as always and has suggested keeping things small. Focusing possible on one location but at differing times of the day. I like this idea and have started considering how such a study could work.

As part of my research, I came across a BBC series ‘The Worlds Most Photographed’ from 2005. This is a study of a number of iconic images. On watching the series I have started to see some links between my own practice and some of these stories. Most notably the episode with Dennis Stock and James Dean.

In this Stock worked with Dean to document his life and travels, especially those visiting his home town in Indiana, then on to New York and LA. These images, most of which were shot as they happened and not staged, became some of the most iconic images of Dean ever recorded. They also made a powerful statement of the changes within cultural America and a gaze upon the way fame changed Dean.

Part of Stocks methods included images of Dean at his family farm. This took the ‘filmstar’ out of the gaze of celebrity and into one that was much more relatable to most people.

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Fig 1

I am struck by the power of this image, the focus on Dean and how he seems so out of place within the frame. The image itself attempting to show Dean as someone from the land but instead shows, to me, just how far away he has moved since his move to fame.

A staged picture maybe, but this was part of a sequence taken by Stock as Dean walked around the family farm.

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Fig 2

The image above summarises for me just how detached Dean was from his family and from knowing his own self. I agree with the Stocks view that this image speaks of a barrier between Dean and his home. Dean instead looking like a stranger walking past a random house.

This to me starts to reinforce my practice of not staging images but instead reacting to the here and now. The photographer’s gaze has to be an ever evolving, ever watching one. If not seems like this would be missed.

Such an example of this sits with one of Stocks most iconic images, that of Dean in Time Square in New York.

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Fig 3

Again this image was taken by Stock as it happened, with no formal warning or planned action. Dean simply walking up the street to meet Stock at the same time it started to rain. The image speaking more than ever of how lost and lonely Dean had become.

Ironically this scene of isolation and destitution of the man has been celebrated as immortalising his persona. The argument here is that often, instead of trying to help people who come across as lost and isolated, we revere them. Their self-destruction, therefore, becomes an inevitability.

Stocks images for me are very relatable and I am drawn to the isolation, coldness and the unfamiliar way that Dean is portrayed. Knowing that these images are a product of reactive photography is much more appealing now than ever.

Much of my own practice is based on this reactive gaze. Collecting slices of time that can speak for the river and its journey. However, I now see that I have been too willing to show the lighter more ‘fluffy’ side of the subject. Instead of being more empowered to show the reality and impact that cultural subjugation has had on a very natural present.

It seems for me the solution sits within the subjective and ethereal rather than the objective and warming approach that I have been taking.


References 

  • Stock, D. (2015). James Dean. 1st ed. New York: Thames & Hudson.
  • The Worlds Most Photographed – James Dean. (2005). [film] Directed by K. Misrahi. USA: BBC Arts.

Images 

  • Fig 1 – Stock, D. (1955). James Dean on his uncle’s farm. (source media) 
  • Fig 2 – Stock, D. (1955). James Dean on his uncle’s farm. (source media) 
  • Fig 3 – Stock, D. (1955). James Dean walking the streets of Time Square. (source media)