Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle’s work exists on the borders of photography and conceptual art. Her work is rarely aesthetic in the pictorial sense, but setms from her curiosity at realising an idea or action.

At the core of Calle’s work is a child-like curiosity with life and people. It’s not so much about making art as allowing herself to be taken on an adventure by an idea.

  • Her work sometimes raises ethical issues related to privacy, and in return she is very open about her own life.

I think that if you are going to intrude on someone else’s privacy, even if you are doing that in a public setting like a street, then you have to be prepared for other people to do the same to you.

  • What are your moral feeling about following a stranger to make photographs of him?

I feel that following a stranger and taking photos of him is something that I would not be comfortable doing.

Taking photos of people without them realising it, is the basis for Street Photography. Actively following someone in order to take photos of them borders on stalking them.

If you worked for a newspaper or magazine then taking photos of people without their knowledge is part of the job but for someone who doesn’t work in that profession or following someone who is ordinary, is an intrusion on their privacy.

It’s something that I’d feel morally uncomfortable doing.

  • Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different position than you are accustomed to when making photographs.?

In a few weeks time I will be travelling to Finland and staying in Lahti in the Lakeland area. After I’ve finished the triathlon I’m there to do I’ll have a chance to explore a bit of the area by taking a boat trip. Taking photographs while afloat isn’t something I get a chance to do on a regular basis.

  • Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to?

At work our communications department make use of photographers for some publicity work. Changing role and taking on one in that area would provide me with access to aircraft, ships and other vehicles, at various stages of development, that I wouldn’t normally have access to.

Picture Analysis – Laura Letinsky

Have a close analytical look at the photograph above by Canadian
photographer Laura Letinsky. You can see a larger version at
http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/ill-form-and-void-full (note: image is no longer available at this location).
There is something immediately uncanny in this photograph and in
much of Letinsky’s work. Firstly, notice the planes that make up the
background and the area on the lower left of the picture. These ‘surfaces’,
on which there are objects, shadows and cut-out pictures of objects, create an odd sense of space which you can only partly identify as a table
scene, a meal. There appears to be a slanted table top seen from the
side in the middle of the area on the left, but this surface is uncertain,
reflecting some of the objects and not others.
The objects themselves are simple, everyday items: two spoons, some
fruit and cherry pips. But the shadows and perspective of these objects
is inconsistent. This plays with our sense of dimensionality, the way we as
viewers orient our viewpoint on the scene depicted.
Some of these objects appear to be ‘real’ in the sense that Letinsky has placed and photographed them herself, whereas others have
been cut out of magazines. Notice that these cut-out objects had been
photographed from different viewpoints (and in a different time and
space), which Letinsky has tried to incorporate into the perspective of
her own ‘still life’ scene. The spoon on the far left appears to rest on the
surface and take part in the scene and the other spoon appears to hover
above the surface and has no shadow.
How many things in your own life are real in the sense that they are in
front of you physically? And how much of what you experience and
know comes through representations? Do you play sport, spectate or
watch it on television?
In her previous work, Letinsky used left-over meals, plates and cutlery
to indicate a scene, event or relationship going on beyond the view of
the photograph, turning viewers into detectives looking for clues and
connotations. Meticulously placed dishes express the thoughts and
emotions of the ‘character’ who placed them. In this work, she extends
this by looking at the ways people incorporate representations and
collective fantasies into their ‘reality’.
Have a look at Laura Letinsky’s website lauraletinsky.com. Also look at the
still life work Bungled Memories by David Bate at www.davidbate.net. For
a seventeenth-century comparison with Letinsky’s work, you can look at
the paintings of Pieter Claesz here: www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-4646/still-life

Write about the following issues in response to Letinsky’s photograph.
1. Visual description (objects & background/space)

Laura Letinsky → ILL FORM AND VOID FULL (2010) is an image of a white space containing a table covered with a white cloth that hides the legs. On top of the table is a white glass sheet, on which have been placed a number of objects. These include two pieces of orange fruit, some cherry pits, two spoons, one silver, the other slightly darker looking,  containing some sort of red objects, at the back of the table something that could be a small, white plate with more cherry pits resting on it and a curved object near to the two pieces of orange fruit.

2. Composition/design/arrangement

The image has been composed in such a way that it represents part of a meal or snack. The focus is on the bottom and middle left of the image but primarily the middle left.

The space being predominantly white, attention is drawn to the objects on the table and away from the majority of the space.

The table appears to be in the corner of a room as the light on the right hand side of the image gives the impression that there is a wall at an angle from the wall behind the table. However, close examination of the image doesn’t show any obvious line that would mark a corner.

The top of the table is sloped at a downward angle.

A reflection of the orange fruit can be seen in the table top and shadows of it are cast on the wall behind it.

A shadow from the curved object also appears on the wall. The spoons and small plate, however, have no reflections, or in the case of the spoon on the right and the plate, shadows. There is a very faint shadow of the handle of the spoon on the left on the wall behind.

3. Sense of space or ‘dimensionality’

The majority of things in the picture being white gives a sense of openess and space. The coloured items being so small this sense is added to. However, it is not possible to be sure whether this is a normal size room or a model of one.

4. Connotations

The images leads one to thinking about food and meals. The plate and spoons suggest that a meal may have been, or is in progress. The spoons hanging in the air and the cherry pips falling off the table suggest sudden absence, as if someone has rushed away from the table.

The cleanliness, as symbolised by the whiteness of everything, and the lack of clutter or mess, suggest an environment other than a domestic one, perhaps a high class restaurant.

Research

David Bate | BUNGLED MEMORIES (2009) has produced a series of images of household objects which have been broken and then photographed in colour on his kitchen table. These images are similar to Letinsky’s work in the simplicity of the arrangement and items being photographed. Although there is a sense of space in common with Letinsky’s work there is not sense that the images have been adjusted using photos of other objects.

Claesz’ paintings Still Life with a Fish, Pieter Claesz., 1647 (s.d.) and Still Life with a Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz., 1627 (s.d.) are similar to Letinsky’s work. Although in both these examples there is no sense of space, the paintings are filled with objects, there is still a sense that something isn’t quite right when you look at them in detail. Shadows don’t always go in the directions that you would expect, if an object actually has a shadow. Claesz I feel had an easier time with achieving the effect that Letinsky has because he would have been able to put shadows wherever he wanted, if indeed he added them to an object at all.

References

  1. David Bate | BUNGLED MEMORIES (2009) At: http://www.davidbate.net/ARTWORKS/BUNGLED-MEMORIES.html (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  2. Laura Letinsky → ILL FORM AND VOID FULL (2010) At: http://lauraletinsky.com/photographs/ill-form-and-void/ (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  3. Still Life with a Fish, Pieter Claesz., 1647 (s.d.) At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-1857 (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  4. Still Life with a Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz., 1627 (s.d.) At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-4646 (Accessed on 2 August 2018)

Zelt (Tent)

Zelt or Tent is a work by Swiss artist Roman Signer. This particular sequence consists of a serie of images in which a man is seen running from a text which then explodes in a burst of flame and smoke.

For this Picture Analysis we have been asked to think about the following questions:-

Would this work have been as effective if the camera’s viewpoint had changed with each shot?

Changing the camera’s viewpoint for each shot would not have resulted in a piece of work that is as effective.

Changing the viewpoint would alter how the figure and the explosion are seen and interpreted.

For instance if the camera had been moved closer to the figure and the explosion there would maybe have been an increased sense of danger from the explosion but how we see the figure would also be different. Closing on the figure would make them seem bigger and give a sense that they are approaching the viewer more quickly that they in fact were.

In the same way moving the camera further away would lessen the sense of danger, as the explosion would seem smaller. It would also make the figure seem less in a hurry to leave the vicinity of the smoke and flames behind them.

Changing the position of the camera from one side to the other would lessen the impact of the explosion in relation to the figure. The distance between the figure and the explosion becoming much more visible and any danger they might have appeared in from the front view would be less from an angle.

What encapulates this sequence, make it seem like a finished piece?

The tent standing alone in the field with no indication of what it happening is a good start to the sequence. Going beyond the final image of the explosion would start to be a bit of an anti-climax.

The mushroom shape of the explosion has that atomic bomb look and with the total destruction of the tent hints at the total ending that the detonation of a nuclear weapon can have.

What do you think are the influences that led to this work?

swissinfo (2014) describes an exhibition of some of his work at the Kunstmuseum St Gallen, the article also includes snipits from an interview with him.

Signer is an artist whose work is well known for its use of explosions. ‘”An explosion is not, for me, destruction, but a transformation”‘ he is quoted as saying in the interview. ‘”One form becoming another does not always have to be destructive.”‘

During the interview he also indicated that he dislikes being referred to as ‘”an artist of explosion”‘.

I feel that with this particular work transformation is what influences it but also Signer’s dislike of being seen as someone who is known for his explosive works.

Do you think these influences affect the way we see it?

If we know what influences went into creating a piece of art then I think it has to influence how we see it. If we know that the artist was in pain when we they created a work then that will infuence us and we will somehow see that pain in the piece, if they were happy then we will seek out that influence in even the darkest of creations.

With Signer’s Zelt knowing that his work is influenced by transformation then it influences how I see the piece.

When I look at the series of images then I see the tent as a place that provides shelter, but then changes very quickly, to something that is life threatening and dangerous.

His dislike of people seeing him as an artist just for his explosions makes the running figure representative of this dislike. The figure running away from the exploding tent feels like the artist trying to distance himself from the work he is known for.

I also think that how we view a piece of work is influenced by our own thoughts, ideas and feelings, and that is something to be aware of because it can make us see meaning in pieces of art that weren’t there when created by the artist.

References

  1. swissinfo (2014) The subtle and moving art of Roman Signer Available at: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/retrospective-of-a-trailblazer_the-subtle-and-moving-art-of-roman-signer/40577228 [Accessed 27th February 2018]

The Conversation

The following picture analysis is of Michael Buhler-Rose image The Conversation from his project Constructing the Exotic.

The image can be found here (https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/337318).


Question 1

Write a visual description of the photograph above (see links) using short phrases and descriptive words. The four key elements you should descibe are:

Facial expression, posture and gesture, clothing, location

A group of women sit and stand outside a building in a wooded area. A group of four women are on the left of the image. Three of the group are sitting, one if standing with arms folded across her chest. One of the women sitting is talking to the others, she is gesturing with her left arm.  The faces of the others in the group show rapt attention.

On the right of the image are another three women. One is sitting on a set of steps leading into the building. She is leaning back against the steps, left arm resting on the step, right arm across her body, with the hand resting on her left hand. Her eyes are looking towards the woman on her left who is standing with legs slightly apart, hands on hips. The final women in this group is stood at the top of the steps, legs together, head slightly tilted as if listening, arms out to the sides, hands resting on the bannisters either side of the steps.

Each woman’s hair is pulled tightly back into a bun. Their hair is adorned with jewellery and flowers.

The women are dressed in sarees, hinting that they are from India. The ethnicity of the woman on the steps seems to back this up. However, the other women, appear to be of a  more Causasion extraction.

Question 2

What do you associate the women’s dress with? Are you making any other associations?

I would associate the women’s dress with the style of clothes worn by someone from India, or who has an Indian heritage, but does not live in India.

The building and the plants surrounding it I associate with a more Western country such as the U.S.A.

Question 3

You may be confused by the photograph because it throws up visual signs that appear to be ‘in the wrong place’. Can you pare down this photography to a series of signs? For example, where do the women look like they originate from? What does their costume, jewellery and make-up say? What about the building in the background? Does it looks like it comes from the same place?

On the basis of the costumes, jewellery and make-up, the women appear to be from India. However, the Caucasion appearance of the majority of the women suggests that they come from a different country.

The building in the background looks like it belongs in a Western country such as the U.S.A or United Kingdom. The grass and plants throughout the image are those I would associate with those countries and not India.

The plant pots on one of the windowsill, the planters on the ground and the bird feeder behind the group of women on the left of the image are also somewhere I would expect to see in the UK or U.S.A.

The building also has a temporary feel to it. It looks like a porta-cabin. Equally it could be something of a more permanent nature but designed for someone that doesn’t have the resources to buy something more substantial. The greenery surrounding the building gives the impression of somewhere that is of a more permanent nature.

Question 4

Does this photograph seem posed to you? Perhaps it is reminiscent of images by nineteenth-century photographers like Henry Peach Robinson or of painters like Raphael.

The photograph does seem posed. The placement of the group of women, the poses of the women to the right of the image. It is reminiscent of Henry Peach Robinson and composite photograph ‘Fading Away’ as well as many more including ‘Gossip on the Beach’.

The bright colours worn by the women make them stand out from their environment. This is remininscent of Raphael because of the colours he uses in some of his paintings when depicting women.

Question 5

The photograph is from a series called Contructing the Exotic. How does this title resonate with the photograph?

The title of the series definitely resonates with the photograph. The women within the image are wearing outfits that aren’t normally associated with the United Kingdom, not everyday outfits at least. Before the early twentieth century, outfits like these would certainly have seemed exotic. Even now outfits like these could seem exotic when worn under the right cricumstances, for instance by belly dancers.

The staged feel to the photograph also resonates with the title of the series showing that these the image is not a natural one and has been put together in some way.

Question 6

Do the women look contemporary? What do you make of their poses?

The women’s poses are relaxed. Their body language is for the most part open, although the body language of the woman standing at the left of the image is closed because of the folded arm.

The group to the left appear to be listening intently to what the one is saying.

The women do have a contemporary look which I feel is given by the make-up they are wearing. The setting also lends to this contemporary air. A setting that was more in keeping with the outfits would have given a much older feel as if you were looking at a group of women from nineteenth centure India.



The whole series can be seen at www.michaelbuhlerrose.com.

 

Picture Analysis – Red Bridge, Okawa

Red Bridge, Okawa (Toshio Shibata via theguardian website)

Question 1

Take a close look at the photograph above (linked). What do you see? 

Red iron girders. Triangular shadow in background. Misty background, foliage showing through. Trees, lots of trees.

Red triangles on the bridge (lots of them). V-shapes linking each triangle to the next.

Bright path, golden path, from lower left front towards middle of image. Hidden by bridge architecture.

Rectangular rails on side of footpath.

The front most part of the path peaks at the top, centre of the photograph.

The uprights of the bridge are highlighted on the inside of the left side girders. This must be paint or something similar because the light is brighter towards the top left of the image and the shadows, formed because of the bridge uprights, across the footpath lead to the conclusion that the sun is to the left of the bridge and slightly behind it.

Question 2

What drew your attention first?

The red uprights of the bridge, their colour and strong lines drew my attention. The lead the eye to the hazy background.

Question 3

What is the main subject? 

The main subject is the bridge structure. The red iron structure, the pale path. The hazy background forces you to focus on the bridge and not something that might be in the background.

I think that the misty background adds an extra dimension to the image as you can’t see where the bridge leads to, does it actually lead to anywhere. The indistinct details in the background could mean that this bridge actually goes nowhere, it could simply end in mid-air or even against a rock face.

If we were to travel across this bridge would our journey suddenly stop. Will there be somewhere to go when we reach the other end? Would we be able to carry on, do we need to re-trace our steps and take another path? Or will we find ourselves stuck and unsure of how to go on.

Question 4

Describe the quality of the light and shadow.

The light is very good, the main focus of the photo is highlighted and clearly lit. The shadows are dark with very little details. The background is more of a midtone.

The mood of the picture is very bright and cheery despite the dark background.

Question 5

Explain the pictures composition using an annotated sketch.

Red Bridge Okawa question 5

Question 6

What does the title tell you?

The title is descriptive and not embellished. The bridge is indeed red. “Okawa” indicates that it isn’t local unless you happen to live in Japan.

Question 7

Name every object in the picture.

Footpath, railings, bridge, girders, trees, shadows, uprights, supports.

Question 8

Is what you’re seeing and describing the same thing?

I think what I’m seeing and what I’m describing are different. What I “see” is much more, it encompasses the photo from the tiniest details to the image as a whole.

I know that if I look at the photo again and again I will notice more details. If I read somebody else’s opinion of it then I will see it in new ways. Seeing it is much more, it includes the feelings and ideas I get when looking at it in light of my own perceptions and thought processes.

Seeing the photo also depends on different conditions. In low light there are elements that aren’t easily visible but in bright light so much more comes out.

When I’m describing the photo I’m looking at individual elements and picking them out. I’m being more analytical. How do lines flow? How has the photographer composed the image so as to draw the eye of the viewer through it? What colours are there? How does light and shade appear across the image? What can I work out about the time the photo was taken from the image before me?

Question 9

What is your personal response to the photo?

I like this photograph. It makes me want to find out more about it, about the person who took it and their thoughts. It also appeals to be the part of me that likes structure, organisation and technology.

It also appeals to the part of me that likes nature. This would be a part of the world I would love to visit and see more of.

It’s also like to be able to turn around and see what was behind the photographer, to see what they didn’t photograph.