Sunday, December 27, 2009
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Saturday, October 3, 2009
27 September 2009
Helmut Newton was quoted as saying, “Any photographer who says he’s not a voyeur is either stupid or a liar.” (PhotoQuotes). That sounds harsh, but in many ways Newton has a point. It’s a stretch to apply this statement to all photographers, but when referring to those artists who include human subjects in their work, Newton’s idea can be defended. Observation of people and photographic recording of them need not appeal to prurient interests to be voyeuristic, even though some accuse Newton of exactly that. An implicit aim of any photographer is to create a desire in others look at their work, to make pictures that beg for a viewer’s gaze. This is true whether or not the photography is done discretely or openly. The audience of photography actually participates in voyeuristic behavior as much as the photographer. It does this by looking, examining, studying the pictures and the people contained in them. In fact, if a photo achieves only a fleeting glance, rather than “the gaze”, it may be deemed a failure as art. If a photo does not ignite the urge to look at it for longer periods, it will be forgettable from any perspective. So photographers in their shooting, and those that are intrigued by seeing the work, participate in a synergistic, voyeuristic dance.
To support this thesis I shall broaden the accepted clinical notions of the definition of a voyeur from someone habitually engaged in spying on intimate behavior for reasons of sexual stimulation. Instead, let us consider the simple etymology of the word, from the French voyeur, “one who looks” (Webster). In popular thinking the voyeur does not actually relate to his subject, but does want to look, often from a distance or obscured in some other manner. Sexual stimulation is not a necessary component of voyeurism, just the want or need to look at a sight that is somehow unusual. In this definition, those drivers that slow traffic to a crawl so as to observe an auto accident, which always happens on busy throughways, are exhibiting voyeuristic behavior. They cannot control their need to gaze at the aftermath of an incident that may have been very tragic. This inability to divert a gaze and simply drive on normally equates to the idea of staring at a newspaper photo of the same scene. This also is an implicitly voyeuristic act of both the newspaper reader and the photographer that made the photo. This act, looking at or photographing the accident, does not have obvious sexual connotations in most cases. Perhaps within the realms of the subconscious, in some Freudian or paraphiliatic personality, a sexual strain could exist. For example, the rare case of someone with a fetish for bleeding, unconscious persons may be stimulated by such a scene . But that would certainly be very unusual and deviate from the majority of those gawking at the crash only for reasons of curiosity.
So it is with photographers, how different artists frame the objects of their vision merely defines differing points of view. One artist may focus on a world of victims, another on a world of elitist luxury, still others, the natural beauty of youth. Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus, though exploring similar avenues, viewed them differently. Diane Arbus had a distinctly pessimistic view of a world primarily inhabited by freaks and misfits, a world where oddness was everywhere. Diane could make a crying baby look frightening. The fact of Diane’s suicide actually protected her work from criticisms of insincerity or voyeuristic lack of compassion. Because of her tragic death, her work was seen as a devastating comment on our society. Almost as if her death proved her taking the pictures to be immensely painful, dangerous to her own survival. (Sontag 39) .
Andy Warhol, while sometimes visiting similar subjects, viewed them in a different light. In his films, Andy’s freaks, his drag queens and hustlers were portrayed as comical, fun and entertaining, even in their own, sometimes tragic, circumstances (Sontag 45). Not the threatening or bleak message we get from Arbus. In Andy’s films and photos, he gave us inside looks at a world that we might not have otherwise known without peering through his lens. Andy loved to watch others, photograph them, film them, but he always stayed aloof and detached while doing so. In many ways he was the ultimate voyeur, always at the party but never really part of it. I think it interesting that he was drawn to personalities that lived very exhibitionistic lives, they were his easy marks and great fodder to hold our attention.
Merry Alpern, in her work “Dirty Windows” photographed her subjects through a window and by leaving the window frame in her pictures she emphasized her distinctly voyeuristic method. She photographed the back room of a stripper club with a long lens, and in the process, she captured different illicit activities, from drug taking to prostitution. Although the graphic nature of her photography reveals sexually charged behaviors, I doubt that it can be considered to be sexually stimulating. They show the dark underbelly of a rough, crude exploitive world that is not sexy although it is inherently about the industry of sex (Caniglia). Likewise, when Diane Arbus shot a stripper in her dressing room displaying her breasts, it was in the context of her small, claustrophobic world, devoid of glamour and removed from sexual appeal. In contrast to Alpern’s subjects, Arbus usually had hers stare directly, if awkwardly into the lens, very aware of it’s presence. The voyeurism, if it exists with Diane’s work, is more with the viewer. The viewer peers into a scene where Diane’s presence was announced and open. Alpern shares the voyeuristic aspect in a more balanced way, allowing the queasy discomfort that window peeking might bring to be transferred to her. She was the stealthy one. We are allowed the indulgence of guilt free voyeurism because it is clear Merry has taken the blame for the breaking and entering.
Merry Alpern continued to hide her lens in her next body of work, published in a book called “Shopping”. She went to the mall with a small camera hidden in her handbag and photographed those engaged in shopping. She wanted to explore her own feelings about the materialistic act of shopping by studying vicariously the behavior of others engaged in this. The work was compelling because her pictures seemed to capture private subtleties of behavior in public places that would have not occurred if her subject knew they were being photographed. For example a woman’s futile pinching of the fat on her thighs while trying on clothes. As we look at her pictures we participate in Alpern’s secret study along with her, we are the hidden camera in her bag.
Is this voyeuristic behavior on the part of photographers and those that look at their photos immoral or in some manner perverse? I really don’t believe so, I think it is a normal component of the human psyche to be curious and try to satisfy it. And does spending time taking, displaying, and looking at photos lack “socially redeeming value”, an elusive quality that was once used to isolate pornography from socially acceptable art? What is the redemption in exhibitionistic social networks where people put online pictures of themselves involved in any manner of activity, and inviting freely, voyeuristic participation to complete the equation? I am not saying that Alpern’s work or Facebook, for example, lacks social value, on the contrary I feel both offer a lot of positive impact on society. Facebook is social by definition, it is designed to connect people. Saying that it lacks value would be analogous to saying human relationships lack value. Regardless, the differences that exist between photography, Facebook and those less platonic, actual relationships with physical human contact, leave room for debate as to the degree of value. But despite ambiguity of degree or definition, voyeurism and it’s facets including surveillance and exhibitionism, is no doubt a strong part of the work of artists such as Alpern as well as the phenomena social networks.
The idea of the closed Facebook network, available only to friends in a defined social circle, such as a specific school has gone by the wayside due to the choice of it’s users. It is now obvious that much of the content of Facebook is in the public arena. It’s not difficult to find a way to access to those once “protected” neighborhoods. The thin veil of privacy has been abandoned as a naïve moment that has been outgrown by the selection of options available to it’s users. Everyone is a friend of a friend of a friend, so everyone has access, much like the internet as a whole. Before video chat there was simply chat, no images. Privacy was preserved and voyeurism was not inherent. Like the old New Yorker cartoon of two dogs talking, one says to the other “On the internet they don’t know I’m a dog!”(scher). Now, in the Facebook era, that sense of privacy has evaporated, we know whether or not you are a dog. And that is because you and your friends now upload images which expose you to almost anyone who wants to look. That evolution is not seen as problematic to younger users. They were born into the free and open exchange of identity in public forums and don’t fear the potential pitfalls of such activity. They feel they know how to navigate around the land mines of pedophiliacs, identity thieves or others with depraved intentions. I am currently working on a project that involves this very idea, the idea of freely surrendering privacy to the world at large. My work involves displaying my personal Facebook friends in a public forum outside of Facebook to emphasize that Facebook itself has actually become an open public forum. That privacy in these social forums, if it ever really existed at all, is now lost.
The work of installation and video artist Julia Scher predated the Facebook culture. She is known for her installation work like “Security by Julia” circa mid 80’s to early 90’s where she focused on the surveillance culture. The culture of proliferation of security cameras in buildings and in public places, watching and recording whatever was occurring. She often invited viewers to actively participate in the surveillance pieces with soothing voices, baby blankets or other enticements (Johnson). Scher’s work is analogous in many ways to the seductive attraction that Facebook offer it’s users, i.e., many friends, a “safe” environment, an ability to watch and be watched by others. Voyeurism, surveillance, and the irony of private identity made public by choice... these are themes explored in my work and by many contemporary art photographers.
Lauren Greenfield is another artist that draws us into gawking at modern social cultures with her lavish photo and film studies of visually and emotionally provocative subject matter. From essays on bulimia, to materialism, to excessive behavior, to the Hollywood youth culture. Lauren sees, shoots and shows us the behind the scenes of worlds where we might not otherwise go (Greenfield 5-6). Like the view through Merry Alpern’s dirty window, Lauren shows us places we haven’t seen. Why are these thin girls starving themselves? Do these kids really live for the next outfit and spa session? What is it like growing up in Hollywood? Lauren provides visual examinations of these subjects and others that we devour with fervor. In seeing what we haven’t seen, on some voyeuristic level, we find satisfaction, even if it is only our curiosities that are satisfied.
So, if much of photography is built on aspects voyeurism, what do we call photography that is genuinely exploitive and is designed to objectify it’s subjects simply for sexual gratification? For example, up skirt internet sites that sell images taken from unaware subjects to those that want views of underwear or hidden flesh.
This is also voyeurism, but explicitly so. It falls into the definition that is used in clinical psychology, voyeurism as the act of looking at intimate scenes for the purpose of sexual stimulation only. Not the popular definition which does not require sexual gratification to be the key element, but may leave room for degrees of sexual interest as tertiary.
In “On Photography” Susan Sontag emphasized her view that photography is aggressive by nature. That the taking of pictures is a forceful act that rips a bit of soul from the subject. I agree that from a voyeuristic perspective, this is true as well. The artists discussed here in the context of this topic all use this aggressive medium of photography to steal glimpses of private realities and then share their hard fought for revelations. And we gazers of the fruits of these voyeuristic endeavors, also share in the same voyeuristic frailties through the very act of looking, and sometimes looking a bit too long .
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. 1st. New York: Dell Publishing Company, Inc,
Greenfield, Lauren. Girl Culture. 1st. San Francisco: Chronicle Books,
"Quotes Helmut Newton ." Photoquotes.com. 18 Sep 2009. Web. 1
"voyeur." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online.
2 October 2009 http://www.merriam- webster.com/dictionary/voyeur
Johnson, Ken. "ART IN REVIEW; Julia Scher - 'Security by Julia.
XLV: Security Landscapes'." New York Times (2002): n. pag Web. 2 Oct 2009.
Caniglia, Julie. "Merry Alpern." ArtForum (1999): n. pag. Web. 2
Saturday, September 12, 2009
AIB Residency Summary
Algirdas J. Nakas
Q: Where can one get creatively nurtured, inspired, prodded, befriended and challenged?
A: A 10-day residency at Art Institute of Boston.
The simple truth is that I experienced all of the above and more at my first residency in Boston. That is not to say it was in any manner easy. On the contrary, it was anything but. I furiously took notes, sketched, photographed, changed my portfolio exhibits, and participated in appropriate ways in numerous critiques, talks, seminars, field trips and other presentations and events, (I even emceed during the group 1 introductory talks!). Returning home, I was left somewhat overwhelmed by what I had just experienced, but filled with the anticipation of the work ahead of me. As I navigated each day’s schedule, I felt like I made the most out my chance to meet many people and hear their ideas. I participated fully in all of the scheduled events and I know I have taken a solid first step into this new journey into my soul. My goal is to assess it’s condition and reveal it through my art. AIB is giving me an opportunity to edit and sharpen a barge full of experience so that I might speak with refreshed specificity in my artwork.
The residence for me can be broken down into a number of distinct elements: 1) critiques, 2) artist talks, 3) seminars, 4) special events (time based work , meetings with faculty and advisors, and introductory sessions), 5) field trips, 6) free time and meals times.
I will describe my experience at the residency in that order.
The critique experience was exhilarating…both on the giving and getting ends of the equation. I was in with a group of very creative photographers and media artists that had some astounding work to show. Although I am a group 1 newbie, that didn’t deter me from sharing my opinions with my crit group. I am not a newbie to art or a newbie to life, so I felt as though I could offer some relevant, thought provoking comments and spoke freely and honestly. Fortunately, the work I was critiquing was very high caliber and there was no need for any strong expressions of negativity. I felt like my peers were very receptive to my ideas.
As for my own work, the graduate students were equally gentle for the most part, and I sensed that the originality of my work intrigued them. One difficult assessment I had to digest was from Liz Schrenk, an acquaintance and a graduating group 5er. She said the word “creepy” came to her mind as she viewed my photos of adolescents descending an escalator after a senior prom. This comment was helpful since shooting kids of any age, in almost any context can raise questions. Are the photos exploitive, could they appeal voyeuristically, or in other ways not intended by me? This is something I am concerned with and probably requires more study on my part. Also brought into question during most critiques of my photography was the question of the lack of model releases. This is a problem I must solve to continue similar streams of work with young people. It will require obtaining releases from parents or guardians to display the images of their kids.
Then there were the critiques by faculty members and photographers, Oliver Wasow and my advisor, Oscar Palacio. Both of these artists seemed impressed especially by my work involving the kids on the escalator. Oliver liked the play of camera awareness versus lack of camera awareness. He also loved the mat finish, 20x40 poster printing by Costco. Oliver was also interested in my thoughts about the Photoshop color work done to give the pictures a hand tinted appearance. I wanted the pictures to have a washed out feeling to express a sort of “been through the ringer” emotion. Oliver felt the work was strong and even showed the work to other faculty members. Oscar Palacio commented on the witness aspects, the apparent surveillance style of the photos as indicated by the camera angle from above…and the longish distance from the subjects. For Oscar the more appealing photos were the ones where the subjects either ignored the camera or were unaware of being photographed. In fact, he suggested I edit out the ones where camera knowledge in the subjects was apparent. Oscar felt I should pursue the idea of private information in public spaces with a sort of detached, surveillance like approach. I found this interesting. Despite the knowledge I have of my subjects as one of their teachers, I often feel very aloof from them as I shoot. I observe expressions, movements and behaviors in a very removed, almost machine-like way. Similar to an impartial security camera, I feel non-judgmental, simply recording “facts” of reality. That is basically my modus operandi, and I find it intriguing that Oscar wants me to focus on and develop this aspect of my style.
I was also extremely fortunate to have personal critiques from established visiting artists and academics as well. These included Sarah Charlesworth, Cory Arcangel, and Jan Avgikos.
The question of model releases was also raised by all of them, but besides that they differed quite a lot with suggestions and reactions. Sarah felt I should continue in the same vein and that I was fortunate to have access to the students I often photograph, but she felt I might refine, polish, and plan my work to better effect. Cory, on the other hand, disagreed and liked the rough lighting, candid, immediate, appearance of my work and felt it should continue that way, especially in light of my affinity for today’s Facebook culture and internet networking in general. Jan agreed more with Sarah on this point, but I choose a sort of middle ground. That is to say that I feel my projects could be better planned, but the spontaneous appearance of the work should be preserved as much as possible. I have already purchased a new SB-600 flash unit for future projects and a new Nikkor ultra wide-angle lens. I know I can use this hardware in creative ways to produce stronger finished work. I have begun some test shooting with this equipment to good effect.
The Artist Talks
One of the important features of the residence is the artist talks by visiting guest artists and graduating MFA candidates. I attended all of these that I could, missing only 1 group of grad talks when I had to make a choice between attending simultaneous events. This is something that I would like to see changed in the program. I regret missing any of the live talks, even though recorded versions are available on DVD. Despite missing 1 group I was treated to a wealth of fabulous talks and Q and A sessions by gifted and experienced artists. Without going through a detailed list of each speaker I would like to note that Cory Arcangel, Wendy White, Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Calabrese and Laurel Sparks all gave interesting, memorable presentations. I loved Laurel’s rock and roll aesthetic and attitude and I especially related to Cory’s sense of making the most from what is in front of him on the web and from his own previous experience. I found myself taking notes at all of these talks…but not sure if I will really reference them. I may opt to try listening without notes during my next residence.
Group 1 students are all assigned to Critical Theory with Stuart Steck. He is a wonderful teacher and every moment in his seminars was time well spent. Stuart is not afraid to entertain comments and participation and the group did wander into areas of study that may not have been intended, but were always valuable and worth examining. I admire Stuarts ability to field questions, digress and examine ideas about theory as they arise within the discourse of the seminar. We looked at modern and post-modern art and talked about the artists and the historic relationships of their work.
My other seminar, although it was also not an elective for group 1 students, would have certainly been one of my first choices anyway. It was Visual Remix with Oliver Wasow. Oliver has his finger on the pulse of internet networking and content. He offered a fascinating view of what is going on in that universe today. This is a world that I frequently inhabit and reference in both my teaching and my fine art photography, so I was really excited to be in his seminar. We also examined copyright issues and took a field trip to the Young Contemporaries art exhibit.
The Special Events
By special events I am including viewing screening of video work by AIB students, introductory sessions and meetings with Judith Barry, Louise Goldenberg and Jan Avgikos regarding program feedback etc. Also advisor meetings with Oscar Palacio to discuss mentorship, my work and MFA program requirements.
Meetings with Judith and Louise about the program were positive in the sense that it seemed as though comments by students were really heard and considered.
My meetings with Oscar Palacio were productive and concise. I feel lucky to have Oscar as an advisor since I sense he understands where my work is coming from and this was apparent in our succinct meetings. There didn’t seem to be the need to spend too much time on clarifying our thoughts. Communication was there. He gave me reference to study, recommended 3 books to read (which I have purchased and read) and went over and ok’d my photo project ideas for semester 1.
Oscar also approved my mentor selection for semester 1, Christopher James. I will be spending a week with Chris next week in Maine. I value his feedback and am sure it will help me get off to a good start at AIB.
The Field Trips
Field trips that were sponsored by the residence included the Museum of Fine Art trip to view the great Renaissance painters of Venice; Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. It was wonderful to listen to Tony Apesos offer his highly informed comments about the fabulous work on display by these important painters. I also enjoyed having some time to sketch as I was wandering the exhibit.
Another trip was with Oliver Wasow’s seminar group to the Young Contemporaries exhibit that included work by many current and former AIB MFA students. It was a wonderful show in a huge, interesting space. It is always great to see the work of friends and acquaintances on exhibit.
Trips I managed on my own included the very moving and provocative Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA. I found this especially relevant in light of the surveillance focus of my own work. Also a visit to Isabel Gardner’s home to see her art collection displayed there.
I’m glad I made the effort to get there for my first time.
I should also mention that I attended the graduating student exhibit at Lesley in Cambridge as well as the exhibit and graduation event at Beacon Street.
The Mealtimes and Free Time
Beside the consumption of food, mealtime gatherings also gave students and faculty a chance to get together and react in a casual, friendly way. This was important in forging new friendships and academic relationships and provided me with quite a bit of interesting conversation and discussion. It was also a time that Louise used to go over scheduling points, etc.
I also used this time to meet with former students of mine who are currently undergrads at AIB. They saw my work and I looked at theirs and we had lunch and caught up. That was a fun and worthwhile facet I managed to carve out during these meal time moments.
Another mealtime was spent on a personal photo expedition around Fenway Park. I simply
Walked the neighborhood and took hundreds of photos of Fenway from all angles (see my blog for some of these). This an important time for me since it gave me time with myself used just for picture taking.
Lastly, some well worthwhile free time spent was at the Kareoke dinner party. I won’t describe this too much other than to say a little fun is always good.
In summary, the residence was rewarding for me in every detail. I believe I genuinely made the most of my time in Boston. It is my intention to continue this path toward my MFA. Making the most of time as I work with my advisors and mentors toward my degree.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Snapshot: The state of mankind (or a portion thereof) An analysis of critical thought in relation to
7 September 2009
In reading published critical thought about photography as art, I notice threads that seem to bind my own work. I am vigilant to note intellectual interpretations of stylistic elements found in the work of others that echo in my own. One of these elements is the photographer seen as a detached documentarian of a moment, object or event. Another is that this photographic process occurs usually in public spaces. Whether the subject has knowledge of the camera or any measure of emotional involvement with the photographer is unimportant as long as it is not evidenced in the photograph itself. It is photographer as a self automated machine more than a human participant in the event of creating an image. Much like a surveillance camera mounted in a public space, ignored or unnoticed by those that enter it’s frame, constantly recording intimate details that can be innocuous and/or deeply provocative and unique. But often revealing volumes, or at least glimpses, of information concerning the present state of it’s subject. The information primarily refers to what is gleaned about the subject’s identity. That is who, what, where and why, and the relationships of the subject to those questions.
In the broad context of the medium one could interpret this method as a sort of negative voyeurism that exploits a moment, while doing nothing to improve it for the better. Like pictures of starving children shown without giving information as to how to provide aid. However, the conscious awareness by others of a subject made possible by a photograph may be a precursor to change for the better. Just as AP photographer Nick Ut’s picture of screaming children napalmed during a US bomb raid in Vietnam was instrumental in hastening the end of that tragic conflict when it was published on the front page of the New York Times.
My own photographic work has elements of a reportage approach. Though the public scenes and story’s evoked by my frames may not resonate with the urgency of news events, they do show moments that may give pause to an observer, evoking or answering questions. Perhaps even effecting a change of mind. As I read the critics that dissect the work of others whose pictures have similarities to mine, I am both reminded and newly informed of views that give context and meaning to this way of working, adding confidence and validity to my approach.
Because of the assigned brevity of this thesis, I will limit my remarks to a few critical readings and photographers that resonate with me. The critics referred to include Liz Wells, David Campany, and Charlotte Cotton. Photographers discussed are Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Hannah Starkey, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfield, Gregory Crewdson, Larry Clark and Nan Goldin.
In 2000, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, already known for shooting people in public spaces, rigged some construction scaffolding with photo flashes triggered by New York city passersby. Photos were taken of different subjects over a two year period. They were framed tightly in a head and shoulders composition through a long lens without their knowledge and without opportunity for them to compose themselves in any manner. The resulting pictures gave intriguing looks at people who appear lost in thought, or otherwise detached from the photographer and therefore the viewer of the picture (Cotton 46). The series and a book of these pictures known as Heads, was more elaborate than his earlier work, also shot in public, because of his strategic placement of flash lighting and lens setup was much more staged (Campany 29). The series of portraits also became controversial because it tested, quite unintentionally, an artist’s license to shoot in public places. Lorca diCorcia was sued by the subject of one his photos, and the case ultimately went to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. His right to photograph in public for the purpose of making art was upheld there (Gefter). In my own work, After Party Escalator, a 2009 self published book and a 20x40” color series of 9 prints, I also captured mostly unaware subjects leaving a high school senior prom at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford Connecticut. I stood above a down escalator and shot 100 pictures from above, most students did not realize the presence of my lens and those make for the most interesting shots. Though less elaborate than Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s heads, this work allowed one to look long and hard at a brief but telling moment of the subjects world revealing something of their human condition .
“After Party Escalator” "Head No. 13, 2000,"
by Algirdas Nakas. by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.
The work of Hannah Starkey and Gregory Crewdson, as well as more recent work of Philip Lorca-diCorcia, give us a seemingly candid, detached vision of our world that sometimes looks like a newsmagazine report or at other times, surreally haunted Wyeth-like versions of a photographic “Christina World”. Although their work is highly staged, planned, rehearsed, and preconceived, it appears natural. It looks like one is peering into a captured moment of a scene that has great significance, and has actually occurred. Gregory Crewdson’s black and white Hover series are works that are entirely staged but look like they actual occurrences. These “happenings” were shot from a crane far above the scenes and well isolated from them. What their importance actually could be is at best conjecture. Just as when Wyeth posed Christina in a field, her strained longing for home evoking an existential desperation in the viewer, despite the fact that the painting was contrived to appear as a moment that must have, in fact, occurred. This premise of ambiguous yearning also inhabits Hannah Starkey’s staged c-print, Untitled, 1997, an interior view in a diner of what appears to be a woman grasping at the image of her face in a mirror. She is observed blankly by another diner patron whose image is reflected in the same mirror. The story is unfinished, left dangling to be completed only in the speculative observations of a viewer. Importantly, in relation to my own work is the apparent realism that exists in the frame, despite the staging. In describing this image, David Campany writes:
“Starkey has developed an understated and poetic approach to everyday situations. Placing the camera at the edge of the subjects personal space, she depicts moments of absorption and reverie, states in which looking becomes curious and open ended. This is clearest in her images of young women whose actions seem to be both self conscious and unconscious. Starkey’s photography is a staged naturalism that seems to echo this state of mind”. (Campany187)
“Untitled” by Hannh Starkey “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth
Similar to Starkey’s approach, in one of my planned semester projects I will stage natural looking situations that revolve around high school students and their cars. I will show students congregating with their personal transportation after school in the senior parking lot, leaving the symbolism or story within the photos open ended. I will edit from the series any shots that indicate consciousness of me, the photographer. I want the images to reflect a discreet surveillance of seemingly “real“ moments in the after school lives of these adolescents. My intention is to reveal information about the evolving identities of these youths in relation to their cars.
Like Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld, I tend to photograph everyday subject matter without idealizing it. Sternfeld’s book, American Prospects, published in 1984 depicted ironic moments in contemporary encounters with nature. The images were created to show ironic or randomly surreal events often in rural landscapes (Campany 192). His photo “Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, 1979”, was elaborately designed to appear both incongruous with the setting, but also to appear as an actual news event that might make the local newspaper. Complete with an elevated point of view of the event showing an elephant lying on a country road with a parked sheriff’s car and a truck that appears to have been carrying it. There is also a group of about 12 people standing around observing the scene. Just as Sternfeld, Stephens Shore does not idealize nature like does the work of Ansel Adams. Rather, Shore’s landscape photos refer to location as context for their actual contemporary usage. His picture, “ Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13th, 1979” shows the grandeur of the national park setting but unlike Adams, depicts vacationers in the foreground using a beach on the river for social bathing (Campany 192-193). I visited Yellowstone National Park several weeks ago and found myself compulsively shooting the impact of, and the human use of the park, intentionally framing tourists and handrails with an emphasis rivaling the landscape itself.
“Asian Tourists, Yellowstone, 2009” by A. Nakas “Merced River, Yosemite National Park,
Calfornia, August 13th, 1979” by S. Shore
In somewhat of a different vein, I am drawn to intimate work of Nan Goldin and Larry Clark. Although not as related to my work since they are both very close to their subjects in terms of experience as well as proximity. Still, if not much commonality, there is admiration. Goldin’s book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1983, is a visual diary of her own life. She is actually the subject of the photos along with her lover. Goldin opens the door to her bedroom and her life, and in doing so, presents a universal theme of codependency that is cathartic in it’s strength and clarity. Clarks work, Tulsa, containing images of his friends, that he began shooting in about 1963 while just in his twenties, is like Goldin’s work, highly autobiographical. A number of years later Clark published Teenage Lust, which contained graphic images of teens shooting methadrine in sexual situations (Cotton 148). Although my work often uses adolescent subjects, the only autobiographical aspect of it that I can claim is that, some 40 years ago, I also experienced those sometimes difficult teenage years and teenage angst. Rather, I consider the strand that connects me to Goldin and Clark is my interest in honesty, even if it can be brutal. The difference between us is that rather than autobiography, I use simple surveys of people in public places from detached and somewhat distant points of view. Goldin and Clark were literally in the frame or just outside of it.
What my photographic surveys discover about the state of mankind may be noticed or not. Still, just as the artists before me, and those that are still working, I am driven to continue recording our condition and striving to show it to others. Hopefully my efforts may contribute on some level to our betterment.
Campany, David, ed. Art And Photography. 1st. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2003. Print.
Cotton, Charlotte, ed. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 2nd. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006. Print.
Gefter, Phillip. "The Theater of the Street, the Subject of the Photography." New York Times Arts 03 19 2006 1. Web. 19 08 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/arts/design/19phot.html?_r=6&oref=login&pagewanted=all
Wells, Liz, ed. Photography: A Critical Introduction. 3rd. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.