Monday, 28 November 2011

Seminar 5 - ‘The Contemporary Urban Environment’

The city as an environment can be difficult to locate in that it exists as a shifting and fragmented entity. The city has no fixed identity and cannot be approached from a ‘mere’ singular point of view. Contemporary photographers critically explore the city in its endless multiplicity and find new visual methodologies to translate their concepts. Rut Blees Luxembour, Richard Wentworth and Vera Lutter are just some of the photographers that have photographed the urban space with different approaches, but also by having several similarities. Here I am going to deconstruct and analyse the different approaches that these photographers have used to photograph the urban environment.
Rut Blees Luxembourg, ‘Piccadilly’s Peccadilloes’, 2007

British Modernism 2006 by Rut Blees Luxemburg is one of 10 new works depicting Piccadilly line stations as part of the centenary celebrations. The images have all been taken at stations designed by architect Charles Holden. This image shows Cockfosters. 
Holden’s vision was one of modernity. His bold and dynamic buildings, built on the back of rapid developments in technology, science, literature, art and social strategy, still stand as monuments to the ambitions of a generation of people in pursuit of a better future.
Blees Luxemburg is best known for her photographic works that explore the ambitions and failures of the modern project in Britain. Her particular interest is in revealing moments where this history appears in dense layers within the physical forms of the location.

Rut Blees Luxembourg, Feuchte Blatter (Moist Leaves Moist Sheets), 1998
Rut Blees Luxembourg, Die Ziehende (The Wandering Depth), 1999

These two works by German artist Rut Blees Luxemburg are part of a body of fourteen photographs, titled Liebeslied (Lovesong), taken between 1997 and 2000. Influenced by the German Romantic poetry of Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843), the images present an intimate portrayal of the London landscape at night. Shot using a large-format camera using long exposures, the images capture the melancholy stillness of the city illuminated by the glow of ambient street light. Glossy surfaces of water shifting over concrete and leaves reflected in a puddle; reveal the power and beauty of the natural world emerging through the filter of the urban environment.

In ‘Liebeslied’ Luxembourg found herself drawn to spaces where nature somehow still managed to exist within the city, and where it also controlled her work through its cycle. She had to wait for it to stop raining, so that the puddles’ surfaces was clear and not broken, to reveal what was reflected in them. So nature dictated a different kind of rhythm to her, which she finds is really important: to help her connect with nature, but in whatever perverse way it still existed within the city.

All three of these images by Luxembourg show a similar response to the city, using puddles to create reflections of buildings and the urban city space. Her first image ‘Piccadilly’s Peccadilloes’ is a much clearer image whereas the other two are more blurry which gives them that melancholy feeling. Lutter and Luxembourg both use long exposures to create their images, making their technical approach and final outcome look similar. Both photographers work look unrealistic, they don’t capture any real detail of the urban space; they are either blurred images or just a mix of different tonal shapes.

Richard Wentworth ‘Making do and getting by’ 1999

The series ‘Making Do and Getting By’ observes the ingenuity of humankind in the appropriation and adaption of everyday objects for new uses, new meanings, and new narratives. He uses photography as a means of documenting what might be called 'the sculpture of the everyday': A wellington boot becomes a doorstop, a cup becomes a window prop and a brick and piece of board become a ramp. 'i live in a ready-made landscape', he remarked early in his career, 'and i want to put it to use'.

Richard Wentworth is best known as a sculptor whose work tends to focus on the idea of transformation in alteration and juxtaposition of everyday objects. Looking at his works our perception of our world is changed too, because of the alteration of the connotations of those objects and their inherent symbolism. 

Wentworth’s approach to the urban space is very different to Lutter and Luxembourg as he looks at simple everyday objects that would often go unseen by people in an urban environment. Lutter’s approach to photographing the urban space is like a stereotypical city, with its tall buildings, cars and street lamps. Luxembourg photographs the city but not with the stereotype approach like Lutter, he uses puddles to create reflections of buildings and city surroundings.

Vera Lutter ‘333 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL’, 2001

The Museum of Contemporary Photography commissioned Lutter in 2001 to turn rooms in Chicago office buildings into camera obscures and photograph Chicago’s downtown. Chicago’s buildings have long been photographed – this vertical city on the prairie, with its blocks of abstract grids, has held great attractions for the camera – and Lutter’s pictures, with their sweeping verticals and repeated rectangles, play up these aspects. The Chicago photographs show the presence of old and new buildings, compressed into a grid of overlapping planes.

Vera Lutter uses the most basic means of photography to render the world she depicts – and photography itself – unfamiliar and new. The tool is the camera obscura, the optical principle of which holds when light passes through a small aperture into a darkened chamber and an inverted image will appear on the wall opposite the hole. Lutter hangs black-and-white photographic paper on the wall to capture the image. The resulting pictures are one-of-a-kind paper negatives.  As such, the tones on the paper are reversed – the daytime sky appears black, dark buildings appear white – and the image itself is inverted and upside-down. 
Positive becomes negative, objects in motion disappear, and the scale of the print is much larger than the usual photograph. In these images, we are made to realize that the techniques of photography are in no way hinged to its assumed visual conventions, and this realization should carry over to our viewing of the other pictures all around us.
Because of the small aperture necessary to keep the image in focus, her exposures are essentially long, from an hour or two to several days or even weeks.

Vera Lutter, San Marco, Venice, XX: December 3, 2005


The photograph of the San Marco, Venice, XIX: December 1, 2005 by photographer Vera Lutter reinterprets an iconic city. Lutter used the same optical device that once aided Venetian artist Canaletto: a camera obscura. The method allows her to take days-, weeks-, or months-long exposures, which she then develops and leaves as irreplaceable negatives.

Compared to Luxembourg and Wentworth, Lutter used a camera obscurer to create her images. By doing so her images don’t show as much detail as a normal photograph would. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Environment; Task 1

My initial idea was looking at the affects humans have on nature, by capturing simple images such as footprints in the mud and littering which had been left by people walking by. But once I got my negatives back and made contact sheets I decided that the images weren't really portraying what I wanted them to, so I developed the concept further. 

After experimenting with my first idea it led me onto another idea which was to photograph objects that wouldn't usually be in certain environments, although I liked this idea i felt that it wasn't strong enough so I developed it further to create my final idea. 

I liked the concept that there is no such thing as naturally structured, as to structure something means to purposefully make something in a particular way. This got me to thinking about the environment and how there are certain places that have structures which are not natural. So I started off by taking pictures of car parks, which i had the influence by Dan Holdsworth project 'autopia' where he took photographs of roads and places which have certain structures to. I then experimented with taking photos of environments and landscapes which i felt had a purposeful structure, places which were not naturally structured. 

For example i shot gardens that had been landscaped, public parks and housing estates. In all of these places i felt there was no sense of atmosphere especially in the housing estates where every house looked the same and had no character. Unfortunately the film came out blank so i had to re-shoot, but by re-shooting it gave me fresh ideas which i ended up preferring to my original idea.

After coming up with my final idea i researched into photographers to help inspire my final images. I looked at Dan Holdsworth’s project ‘Autopia’ and’ Megalith’ which i found led me to thinking about environments which have certain structures and beauty behind them. 

I also looked at Eva Strenram ‘Landscape with Cameras’ which isn’t much to do with structure but when i originally shot for environment i took photos of CCTV cameras in the environment as i felt they had something to do with modern day landscapes. CCTV cameras are a big part of modern society they are almost everywhere you go. They add to the atmosphere of an environment, giving people a feel that they are constantly watched even in the most unlikely places. I also like how she has photographed the same area but showing different cameras, it gives it a different perspective.

The Object; Task 1

Rather than looking into a current issue in the news I looked into a more personal issue relating to how the media constantly highlights the problems of anorexia and obesity. Several model agencies and advertisement use size 0 to create a world of ‘perfect people’ showing that being such small sizes is the right way to be, but who has the right to say that small is ‘perfect’. The media also talks about the rising cases of obesity in the United Kingdom and how there are so many health problems occurring because of this. What the media fails to show is the feelings and emotions of the victims who are incurring this illness or health issue. So after developing this idea and experimenting i came up with my final idea which was to use certain objects to recreate the idea of ‘Body Image’ by using objects such as a mirror, a manikin, a tape measure and pills to create the feeling and show the emotions of the victims. 

contact sheet
Here is a quick contact sheet of my final photos, but they are the wrong way round, the body should be on the right hand side.

Whilst doing this i had to think carefully about what kind of objects would be suitable to this idea so i researched into anorexia and obesity and found that often people struggling with weight often hide away from mirrors and are constantly measuring themselves, to see if they have lost or put on weight. Often people struggling with anorexia use diet pills to help lose weight more quickly, which is why i decided on having pills in my final shoot.

this was my setup when i shot my final shoot, i took a picture to remember how everything was done, so if i needed to re-shoot i would know exactly what went where.

First off i started by just researching the concept of what is the 'perfect body image' to see what i could find. I found articles talking about how anorexia and eating disorders are key issues in having the perfect body image. 

I then found this images on the internet, its a persons body but only focused on the waist part. This helped with my final shoot as i decided that the waist is a part of the body is often measured a lot when it comes to losing or gaining weight. So I then decided to use the waist part of a manikin to represent the body. 

Another example i found of a woman using a certain position to hide her body from the camera, and the vague and dull lighting shows she doesn't want her body to be fully shown which could mean she has issues with her appearance.

Final Images/Prints

these are my final prints for object, you cant see them very well as they are just pictures of the prints so the colouring is off kind of off. Its just a rough idea of what my actual final outcome looks like.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Deconstructing Environmental Photographers

The Flatiron Building or Fuller Building as it was originally called is located at 175 fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, New York City and is considered to be a ground breaking sky scrapper. The Americans regarded the building as the icon of a city being modernized and therefore it resulted in many different photographs been taken by several photographers. I am going to deconstruct and analyse the photographs that were taken by some of the photographers. 

Edward Steichen, 'The Flatiron Building, New York' 1905

In Steichen's image of the flatiron building he added colour to the print by using layers of pigment suspended in a light sensitive solution of gum arabic and potassium bichromate. This photograph is the quintessential chromatic study of twilight -indebted with its composition to the japenese woodcuts. It is also a prime example of the conscious effort of photographers in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz to assert the artistic potential of their medium. Steichen has used a straight on camera view, looking directly at the building but from a distance, across a river. Also by having the tree across the frame this may suggest that he didn't want to focus on the building entirely. The way Steichan has used twilight in this image gives it a sentimental feel, which is different to say Gropius' image where he has an architectural approach to photographing the building.

Alfred Stieglitz, 'The Flatiron Building' 1903

Using contrast with the natural shape of the tree, bathed in snow and the evening light, the building is an element of quiet beauty creating a photograph of soft tones and simple shapes. Stieglitz argued that photographers dealt with the same concerns that modern painters considered when translating the influence of Japanese prints from painting and print making to photography which was both modern and artistic to do. He also tried to represent the Japanese wood block prints by using specific camera techniques and camera angles. Stieglitz uses the snow and trees to create a sentimental feel to the photograph, also the building becomes the background to the photograph whilst he focuses on the snow and simple shapes of the surroundings. 

Alvin Langdon Coburn, 'The Flatiron Building' 1911 

Coburn would often look down from the top of a sky scrapper to create a series of images that attempted to create pictures which emulated the cubist movement. His technique of changing the perspective of a scene by pointing the camera down also created images that had no horizon creating a more abstract image. He followed the movement of photographs looking like the visual styling of paintings by using a slight camera blur affect on the photograph. Coburn also uses a tree in his photograph like Steichen which could also represent the idea that the building wasn't the main focus of the photograph. His approach is very similar to Steichen with the lighting and camera position, creating the same outlook of the building.

Walter Gropius, 'The Flatiron Building, New York' 1928

The angle that Gropius has used in this image reveals that he found the Flatiron prow-like profile irresistibly exciting, despite the buildings old fashioned decoration. Gropius' architecture background makes him photograph in a way which makes the building look as flat as possible. Also by having a certain camera position and angle he has used focuses only on the Flatiron building making it stand out and look iconic. Compared to Coburn, Stieglitz and Steichen photographs, this image shows the building more clearly as it is the main focus of the photograph.  

Walter Evans, 'Flatiron Building seen from below, New York City' 1928

[Flatiron Building, Seen from Below, New York City]

Evans uses a camera position from below looking up at the building making it look iconic and important to the 'new modern america'. compared to Steichen and Stieglitz approach of making the building have a sentimental feel , Evans has focused on the modern feel that the building brings to the people of New York. He also uses a lamp post and sides of other buildings to create a horizon and frame for the photograph. Evans' approach and camera position is completely different to the others, creating an image which has a definite  perspective of looking up at the building from the street below. Whereas the others have simply photographed the building from a distance or straight on.

Berenice Abbott, 'The Flatiron Building' 1938

In this photograph Abbott's has captured the buildings symbolic status with her foreshortened truncated view that converted the building into an 'arrow in space'. She demonstrates her principals of documentary photography, it serves a record for the future and has content or meaning. But Abbott did not intend her content to express feelings. By using smaller surrounding buildings it shows the scale and iconic presents of the building. Like Evans she uses a low camera position looking up at the building which symbolizes the 'new america' with its  iconic building. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Jem Southam, 'The Pond at Upton Pyne’

Jem Southam’s series 'The Pond at Upton Pyne’ captures the evolution and transformation of a small pond near Southam's home in Cornwall. Photographed over a period of seven years, the images document a specific passage of time while also revealing the contentious relationship between humans and nature. Structured into three sections, the series takes on narrative qualities through the repetition of objects and places that continuously reemerge to inform previous works. he observes the balance between nature and man's intervention and traces cycles of decay and renewal. His work combines topographical observation with other references: personal, cultural, political, scientific and psychological.


 I found this quote from an interview with Southam, which i thought was important to describing this particular series; ‘My overall artistic intentions are to make work that explores how history, our memory, and our systems of knowledge combine to influence our response to the places we inhabit, visit, create and dream of. Regarding my strategy well that's simple. Once fixed on a site, i revisit it regularly, and gradually assemble a body of work that is a response to a slow absorption of the site.' 

His work has a very close relationship with humans and how they affect nature. He constantly mentions how he has a connections to the places he shoots, saying how once he has shot them, he has to go back regularly. I also think these images become a personal and intimate part of his life, he becomes involved in the environment like he is leaving his own trace.

He also mentions the narrative structure depends on the relationship with the site, in this series he says that the lives of particular individuals have been instrumental in shaping the pond. 

I feel these series of images have a picturesque look to them, capturing nature and its beauty. His work also emphasizes the sense of change and development that occurs in the environment over several years.