BA Phot

EyV Part 5: Viewpoint


Project 1, The distance between us - Exc. 5.1 - Assessment criteria: Context - Exc. 5.2 - Project 2 Photography as information - Exc. 5.3 - Assignment 5

Eltham Churchyard - Nunhead Cemetery - Exc. 5.1 Reflection - after Ilse Bing - Cartier-Bresson


[27Apr19, p.100] This is the final part of the course and so having structured the earlier parts on specific technical aspects of the camera, the settings from now on are up to the student.
It continues,

At OCA we believe that your position or viewpoint is absolutely as valuable as the position of any author that you read; the only difference is that you probably won’t have fully discovered, or at least articulated, it yet. Your viewpoint is the source of your imagination and ideas but it can be quite a long journey to bring it into the light. EyV p. 101

Viewpoint, the text observes, has two meanings as regards a photograph,
from where and at what one points the lens; and
what one seeks to portray.

It is worth observing, at this point, that I have found the course to be very well written, both in terms of content and style: Rob Bloomfield and the OCA are to be congratulated.

Project 1 The distance between us

Box A
© Alexia Clorinda

[27Apr19, p.102] This opens with a quote, illustrated by fig. A1, both from from Alexia Clorinda (Art historian, Cultural Critic, Lecturer, Researcher, Photographer) regarding the "distance between myself and the other" — "other" is not defined at this point and so the quote seems incomplete but I assume it refers to the subject of the photograph. It continues, "It's about the encounter between myself and the other; it’s not about the other." Where I take "it" to be the act of taking a photograph and "other" still seems to be its subject.

If I understand it, Clorinda is saying that photography is not "about" the subject, it is about the interaction between the photographer and the subject, but it could also at least partially be interpreted as referring to the process of taking the photograph.

[p.103] Ariella Azoulay (a writer on photography theory), writing in The Civil Imagination (2012), describes the act of photograph taking as an event, over which neither the photographer nor the subject has control, "no one is the sole signatory to the event of photography". Azoulay's writings are explored in more detail here. I conclude that,

Both Azoulay and [John] Roberts note the power of photography both to undermine and to reinforce power structures: they differ on the ways in which these powers are explained and how they are seen to be used. Blackburn, N (2019)

Nunhead Cemetery
Exc 5.1
Nunhead Cemetery, May 2019

Exercise 5.1

is shown on another page.

This is chosen as the best shot from the exercise and the decision is explained here.

[10May]The course material goes on to distinguish between intention and perception in approaching photography. Quentin Bajac of MoMA (the fourth chief curator of photography, after Beaumont Newhall, Edward Steichen, John Szarkowski, and Peter Galassi), in and interview with Philip Gefter, is quoted and he states that plans for photographic outings and projects have to be changed in the light of what is found in situ. This is rather a statement of the obvious.

The full interview is here - [accessed 10May19]

Here's the full quote,

The most interesting photographers in [descriptive or documentary photography] are those who manage to find a proper balance between perception and the idea. I was talking about this with Paul Graham a few weeks ago, who said that you can set out with the best possible idea, open your door, go outside, and the world changes that idea. And you have to accept that and shift your expectation to accommodate what you observe and evolve with it. What you produce in the end will probably be quite different from the initial idea. This is what photography is about. It is about having an idea at first and accepting that you’re going to be seduced, in the etymological sense of the word, by the world you’re encountering. Quentin Bajac interviewed by Philip Gefter for Aperture, [accessed 10May19]

A more interesting section of the discussion concerns the development of photography genres.
Gefter asks what genres might be "identified or canonized" in addition to "portraiture, landscape, or street photography" and suggests "social-media photography … or surveillance photography". Bajac responds that those are "already part of the art world" and offers "mainstream photography —stock photographs that you find online and see everyday without actually looking at them". They also mention photo books.

There is a collection of essays by Gefter published under the title, Photography after Frank, 2009: that's Robert Frank, who produced the influential photobook The Americans in 1958. Gefter's book will be summarised in due course.

Assessment criteria: Context

[29May19 p.106]

This is the fourth criterion, following on from Technical Skills, Quality and Creativity. They are summarised here. The page on context does not really provide a definition of the concept. It quotes the Merriam Webster online dictionary (and it is worth making a note to use this dictionary in future if it is deemed acceptable) on the word mutable, viz.,

Mutable: capable of change or of being changed. Merriam Webster online dictionary [accessed 29 May 2019]

Allan Sekula is quoted as saying that (to paraphrase), photographs only have the inherent potential to convey meaning and that the interpretation is dependent upon numerous levels, for example where and how and with what it is displayed. And, as I keep mentioning, most importantly, the preconceptions and predispositions of the viewer.

The material goes on to say that this will be explored in detail in the next course, Context and Narrative.

We are then directed to an essay by Terry Barrett, Photographs and Context [accessed 29 May 2019]. This is an excellent piece, grounded in logic and practicality while raising issues and identifying nuances that I had not previously considered. It is thus much more useful than some of the essays and books cited on the course.

Robert Doisneau
Box B
1. Robert Doisneau
The Kiss (Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville),
1950 © Doisneau's estate

Barrett's essay is considered in more detail elsewhere, but here is a précis.

The main work considered is Robert Doisneau's The Kiss (Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville), 1950, fig. B1. Originally published as part of a Paris photo-essay in a French magazine (Le Point), it was subsequently used (without Doisneau's consent) in a temperance pamphlet and an article on prostitution and a print was later acquired by MoMA and appeared in Szarkowski's book, Looking at Photographs where Szarkowski referred to 'secret venial sins'. Barrett observes that in the first three (more or less) documentary uses, the nature of Barthes referred to to as the 'channel of transmission' would influence the way in which The Kiss is interpreted and that would be enhanced by the titling, surrounding text and accompanying images.

Patty Hearst at the Hibernia Bank
Box C
1. Patty Hearst at the Hibernia Bank,
San Francisco April 15, 1974.
San Francisco Chronicle

Barrett then moves on to Allan Sekula's (see above) discussion of security camera images of Patty Hearst (American heiress, kidnapped by and then acting with US terrorists in the 1970s). Taken by automatic cameras, they have no intentional aesthetic (fig. C1).

After analysing the nature and use of several other images (a shot of the Earth from the Moon, W. Eugene Smith's photographs of Japanese children with birth deformities caused by pollution) Barrett concludes that,

… the meanings of photographs rest to a large extent on the uses to which they are put Terry Barrett, Photographs and Contexts

He defines:
internal context — picture, title, date and maker
external context — the presentational environment
original context — the causal environment: the location, circumstances and intention of the maker.

Once again, this makes a great deal of sense. BUT There is no mention of the viewer and their opinions, circumstances, environment, experience, mood and general baggage. The same photograph with the same internal, external and original contexts can be viewed by five separate people within five minutes and they can have five entirely different reactions to and interpretations of it.

Exc 5.2
self portrait with Fuji
after Ilse Bing
June 2019

Exercise 5.2

is shown on another page.

An homage to Ilse Bing's Portrait au Leica was created.

Project 2 Photography as information

[3Aug19] This section begins with a quote from Vilém Flusser's, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (2000). 

Photographers ...are in pursuit of possibilities that are still unexplored in the camera’s programme, in pursuit of informative, improbable images that have not been seen before. Flusser (2000, p.37, quoted in EyV p. 109)

Box D
Illuminance, book cover
© Rinko Kawauchi

The course commentary notes that viewing a scene, photographing a scene and viewing a photograph of a scene all rely on processing information that is contained in and transmitted by light. Normally (and logically) a well exposed and accurately focussed photograph would be expected to convey that information most accurately, and yet not all photographers choose these settings.

The cover of Rinko Kawauchi's book of her series Illuminance is used as an example, see Exc 5.3.

Flusser contrasts the taking-in of information from the written word, where the input is linear (e.g. reading a sentence) to the way the viewer interacts with a photograph, the eyes repeatedly traversing the image and reviewing portions of it. I have bought the book, but will not have time to read it by the end of the course because I am still (slowly) working on Barrett.

[18Aug] Berger explores another aspect of the same subject,

In a painting all its elements are there to be seen simultaneously. The spectator may need time to examine each element of the painting but whenever he reaches a conclusion the whole painting is there to qualify or reverse his conclusion. Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin p.26, quoted in EyV p.110

Walter Benjamin's essay, The Storyteller is also quoted, but I did not find that particularly illuminating.

Exc 5.3
Child in lavender field,
5th July 2019

Exercise 5.3

is shown on another page.

Comments on Exc. 5.3

This calls for another look at Carter-Bresson's Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, first considered in Part 3. The student is invited to show their own comparable shot(s). I don't really have a decisive moment to offer, but C-B's shot was largely luck and I took a lucky shot for Asg. 5 which I offered.

and finally …

the last page of the course (excepting Asg. 5 and the references) returns to Exercise 5.2, above. I believe it is trying to sound a lighter note by positing a camera with settings for Beauty, Creativity and Memento.

The point is rather lost on me. In Barrett's Criticising photographs, an introduction to understanding images , he mentions Szarkowski who very cleverly proposed in 1978 that all photographs since 1960 can be placed on a continuum between mirrors (which tell us more about the artist) and windows (which, you guessed it, tell us more about the world).

I think this would have been a more useful and more elegant notion to end on.

I now have the first four editions, 1990, 1996, 2000 and 2005. I cannot afford the 5th (and probably last, Barrett was born in 1945) edition: now out of print, it sells second-hand on Amazon for upwards of £60.


[19Aug] I have enjoyed it immensely. Currently half-way through Asg. 5, I will comment at greater length at the end.


The full OCA EyV references are specified at the end of the course material pp. 115-6 and are repeated here for ease of access.

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