“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
At the start of this project, I assumed that the crappy camera technique would be the way forward to explore the reality of photography. To this end, I experimented with different equipment and styles from 35mm film to iPhone with different crops and editing styles. I thought the 'Real" that I was searching for was, or could be, encapsulated by the aesthetic of the image alone in the same way that Billingham's "Rays a Laugh" work spoke so much truth and raw honesty to its viewer. But in my investigations, I actually discovered that, at least for me, there is more depth to 'Real' than visual alone.
The 35mm film camera approach did not work with the way that I was physically shooting, because I was trying to shoot discreetly, as not to influence the body language or facial expressions of my subjects, the film camera did not lend itself well in that aspect. Also, the sheer volume of shots necessary to capture the moments I have included in the final edit, made the film camera an expensive option.
The iPhone, was an interesting tool because nobody took any notice of me, nor did they have any inclination of what I was doing at all. However, the preset nature of the iPhone camera meant it did not cope well in ever changing light conditions. The automatic ISO ruined a number of potentially great shots and the slow shutter speed meant I could only really capture people who were not moving much. That said, a couple of the iPhone shots did get used in my final edit.
I quickly realised I needed the reliable format of the DSLR to produce high volume and uniformed shots without me having to look at the screen. Once I had established the angle of the camera was about right, I just pressed the remote shutter release in my pocket and hoped for the best.
In the initial proposal for this module, I was keen to explore ways of establishing and differentiating between the real reality and realism, in other words the truth behind photography. I chose to explore this topic by continuing with street photography because of its' familiarity with the viewer.
I have come to think of street photography in terms of a soap opera of daily life. What I mean by this is street photography in its most basic definition is the act of capturing me and you, them and us either caught up in the banality of everyday life, or frozen in time in a moment of pure drama, tension, hostility and/or humour. These moments are caught by photographers such as myself and then taken out of context and collated into small collections in order for the photographer to present to the viewer a narrative. These collections of snapshots of time, which are most often candidly taken – the subject unaware – are then ingested by the viewer and read or interpreted in any number of ways which are largely determined by the viewers own life experiences, socio economic status, experience with art and so on.
Many street photographers look for scenes which trigger an immediate emotional or visual response,
especially through humor or a fascination with ambiguous, odd, or surreal happenings. A series of street photographs may show a crazy world. Perhaps it’s a dreamlike world. Or edgy, or dark, or elegant, or mysterious. The paradox that these traits might apply to scenes found in the most everyday and real location —the “street”— is endlessly fascinating.
My chosen method of audience engagement is a large square hardcover book. I did originally consider a wall hung exhibition to display my work, but after the project started, I thought this would work better as a book. With a book, the viewer is offered a more intimate and personal experience with the work and the tangible act of holding a book involves the viewer as an active participant in the work. The viewer decides how long to view each image and at what distance etc. I specifically chose a large format book so that the images would still maintain that exhibit type quality within the confounds of the book. The white background of the cover and each page unifies the book and allows for each image to pop out from the page. When I experimented with a grey tone background, I found this somehow muted the aesthetic and the white gives the book vibrancy and effervescence. The square pages lend themselves well to both portrait and landscape photographs with good amounts of framing with the white space around each image. Finally, I decided to position each image vertically central on the page, but offset horizontally so that they bleed into the spine. I did this because I wanted to create a sense of flow throughout the book and not allow any photo to become an individual and therefore a full stop to the viewer.
I wanted to offer the viewer a more interactive, modern and conceptual approach to explore and engage with my work. I feel I have achieved this by recording numerous different people reacting to and providing their own narrative outcomes for specific chosen photographs in the book. The use of QR Codes invites the viewer to engage with the image using their mobile device to take them to the audio files where they can interact with a dynamic multi-sensory outcome. Equally, I feel, the images are strong enough to work without interacting with the QR codes if the viewer cannot or does not wish to pursue this option.
Whilst researching other practitioners, I was surprised to note that I could only find a very small number of other artists who had used QR technology as part of their work. Traditionally, this technology is used for marketing and commercial applications. To me, it is an ideal and interesting way of modernising art to provide the viewer with a more immersive experience.
"In teaching as a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images."
In my proposal, I set out to answer the following questions:
The DSLR is important to the nature of my research, because of its instantaneousness and its technical accuracy in recording the moment, indeed recording multiple moments. The photographs are pretty much unified in their appearance which enabled me to work quickly and confidently whilst out on the street. My chosen covert style of shooting was, to roughly aim in the right direction and record several frames. I did not look at what I was shooting on the camera, so the outcome was instinctive on my part and, thanks to the DSLR, technically accurate. The application of the DSLR meant I knew what to expect visually from the settings I had chosen. If I had pursued the use of the film or iPhone, I would not have had such a great stock of well shot images to make my final selection from.
Without doubt, each viewer adopts their own 'truth' in relation to each image and this has been made quite startlingly apparent in the diverse range of reactions I have recorded so far. I think the answer to my second questions is that, the viewer doesn't change the truth from the original perspective, its that each viewer becomes the new truth. A truth that we either identify with, or argue against.
In conclusion, I feel like I have started something quite unique and interesting with my book. I feel I have met with and surpassed my initial objectives and instead of this feeling like a completed project, I can see scope to build on it some more. It's always hard to visualise what a book will look like until you have it in your hands, I printed off life size prints to trial my edit with and was happy with my final selection. However once the book arrived, I see there are a couple of images I could have taken out, namely the guy pulling the yellow kids ride and the opposite page where the people are crossing the road. Also I have some second thoughts about the guy looking through the car window in the parents toddler zone and the two ladies map reading on the bench. I don't feel they overly weaken the book - but I do think in a future edit, those are the first few I would look to replace with stronger images. Also, I think the QR Codes are a little on the large side - just an aesthetic thing and people who I have asked have said it doesn't matter, but I think smaller and more discreet would have looked better.
Facial Codes, by Kamarul
"The work explores the viewer’s relationship to two‐dimensional (2D) still images reproduced on photographic print medium, with his Facial Codes series. By superimposing circular discs with Quick Response codes – a type of data‐encoded matrix barcode that arose following the advent of technology where one might expect to see faces of people, the artist accentuates a sense of impenetrability in representations of 2D and design. He challenges the extent to which the viewer can make meaning of what he sees, before it is rendered useless. This original use of QR codes that results in faceless images could represent an ironic loss of familiarity and identity, despite us living in the age of modern technology often thought to bridge distances."
I had already began to generate QR Codes for my book when I came across this artist and his work with QR Codes. His links take you to various pages containing quotes, or videos pertaining to the thoughts and views of either him as the artist or the person in the image.
This is an interesting idea, however, once I started to scan the codes, I noticed I was taking less and less notice of the image. I think as a series, this set of images and their QR Codes combined allude to the banal story of life and how we are all running through a similar program of events that lead us into a work place with all primary dreams and hopes secured as fantasy in our minds - Another Brick In The Wall etc etc.
It kind of works and doesn't work for me in the sense that it tells an opinion that many share, but with the novelty of the qr code technology - but it doesnt hold my interest for long. The close set qr codes are difficult to scan, and the destinations are predictable and 'samey'.
Book Edit 1
Book Edit 2
I tried a few different book edits - and with guidance from a few people, I decided to make the book with a consistent, formulaic structure, one that had rhythm and predictability in the pages so as to not distract the viewer from the intention of 'Looking" and reading.
"Jim Goldberg has been exhibiting for over 30 years and his innovative use of image and text make him a landmark photographer of our times. He began to explore experimental storytelling and the potentials of combining image and text with Rich and Poor (1977-85), where he juxtaposed the residents of welfare hotel rooms with the upper class and their elegantly furnished homes to investigate the nature of American myths about class, power, and happiness. In Raised by Wolves (1985-95), he worked closely with and documented runaway teenagers in San Francisco and Los Angeles to create a book and exhibition that combined original photographs, text, home movie stills, snapshots, drawings, diary entries as well as single and multi-channel video, sculpture, found objects, light boxes and other 3-D elements.
His book, Open See (2003-2010), tells the story of refugees, immigrants, and trafficked individuals journeying from their countries of origin to their new homes in Europe. Open See remains within Goldberg’s multi-faceted and multimedia practice by using diverse formats to create a thickly interwoven, expressionistic narrative from many points of view.
Goldberg’s current project, Candy (2012-2015), layers archival materials, Super 8 film stills, and text from his childhood in New Haven with new photographs of its urban landscape and residents. The result is a twisting, multilayered exploration of American notions of aspiration and betrayal."
What I Think:
What I like about this work is that combination of image and text - Goldberg uses the words of his subject to give his visual message greater depth and create different and often opposing messages. The discord struck by the contrast of words and image, makes you question the truth of the reality being portrayed - you believe the words written, because they are presented by the subjects themselves, but this being at odds with the narrative of the photograph reminds us how easily fooled we can be by the photographer, our own preconceptions and what we consider to be important semiotics and signs within the structure of the image. The strength of Goldbergs work, is within the questions it raises, not only about the subject and the artist, but indeed of ourselves as the viewer/observer.
Photographer Owens series 'Suburbia' is a collection of photographs looking at middle class and consumerism - how they measure themselves against their various collections of material objects. These photographs are posed and intentional.
I like the play between words and image, I find that the text here compounds the image rather than contradicts, as it does in Goldberg's work. With Owens work i look at the image first and then feel reassured, 'right' by the text that goes with it. In Goldbergs work, I look to the text first so that I read the image without prejudging. I look for visual clues that back up the written word and feel at odds when i dont always find them. In this sense, I feel Goldbergs work is the stronger of the two because it more complicated to digest. In my own work, where I have been building up collections of audio recordings of people describing what they see in my photographs, I feel the contrast between each reading creates a similar sense - albeit in a more humorous way.
I had an idea of using QR Codes to link viewers from my images to the several audio readings I have got for them. At first I thought about trying to create augmented reality images, which is where you scan a photo with a special but free to download app, and the photo comes to life with a video. But when I looked into it, it was too expensive and non practical. So I thought I would do it with QR Codes instead.
QR or Quick Response Codes are a type of two-dimensional barcode that can be read using smartphones and dedicated QR reading devices, that link directly to text, emails, websites, phone numbers and more.
I hope that by adding an audio element to my work, I can stimulate more of the viewers senses and invoke stronger reactions from them. I am also inviting the new viewer to leave their thoughts or comments on the project.
Sean O'Hagen interviewed Frank for an article in The Guardian:
"The Americans challenged all the formal rules laid down by Henri Cartier-Bresson
and Walker Evans, whose work Frank admired but saw no reason to emulate. More provocatively, it flew in the face of the wholesome pictorialism and heartfelt photojournalism of American magazines like Life and Time. The Americans was shocking – and enduringly influential – because it simply showed things as they were. “I was tired of romanticism,” Frank told me, “I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple.”
Frank’s America is a place of shadows, real and metaphorical. His Americans look furtive, lonely, suspicious. He caught what Diane Arbus called the “hollowness” at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality. With his handheld camera, Frank embraced movement and tilt and grain. Contemporary critics reacted with a mixture of scorn and outrage, accusing him of being anti-American as well as anti-photography. A review in Practical Photography dismissed the book’s “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness”. The Americans portrayed a place and a people that many Americans just could not, or did not want to see: a sad, hard, divided country that seemed essentially melancholic rather than heroic. As Jack Kerouac put it in his famous introduction, Robert Frank “sucked a sad poem out of America.”
What I Think:
The realism in Franks photography in the series "The Americans" is not shocking to us nowadays as we have become desensitised to such images, such is the fashion to shoot in this anti-aesthetic way now. Indeed, I recognise my own style in the works of Frank - in terms of the style of shooting.
Street photography, as a genre, is now, of course, flooded with this type of aesthetic - uncomposed, gritty, 'real'
What is important to me, when looking at these iconic images, is that I want to take this reality to the next level of modernity - add the next stage in viewing consumption. I think street photography is the right base point for me because of the notion that we can all find familiarity in street images and that makes us feel comfortable, or it intrigues our interest in an 'us and them' sense. We can look at street photography and make quick assumptions about the sights before us. I think my quest for the real, is exactly that - what are those thoughts and assumptions we make?
Friedlanders photos, I find, are a lot more loaded and suggestive than Franks. Whereas Frank is saying "Look", Friendlander, to me, is saying "What". I really like the tension in is work and the questions that you are left with - this is something I will try to incorporate more with my images by taking more notice of the environment surrounding the people I shoot and trying to position myself so that they work better within it. I want to create provocative images.
What I Think:
Levitts collection of street photographs features an innocuous amount of images depicting the daily life of children; playing, learning, imitating. I like the raw innocence of these images and how recognisable and almost predictable their play is. This makes for a timeless narrative, dated only by the clothing and background elements. I would like to try shooting a number of children for my work, but sadly I feel that I can't because of how our society is today.