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.
I have always felt that photography 1s a language for seeing and not for transforming, hiding, or modifyi ng reality. I allow its intrinsic magic to reveal to our gaze the spaces, objects, and landscapes I want to represent - confident that a gaze free of formal acrobatics, forms of coercion, or intensive
efforts manages to find a balance between awareness and simplicity. And thus finding, within the geometry and fixity of the space of the darkroom, the sense of measure for a representation of the outside world.
This is no violence, or a visual-emotional shock, or a stretch, but silence, lightness, the rigor that enables you to enter into a relationship with things, objects and places.
Luigi Ghirri, The Open Work, 1984
[30Jan23 p.17] The arrival of digital photography and imaging transformed the medium in two ways:
1. creating a new generation of artists who use the medium in a provocative, powerful or playful
way (cmat p.17); and
2. when combined with social media, making the medium a mass event, where quantity dwarfs, quality, content, significance and heft (that's me, not the course).
The cmat. states "One of the primary
differences between the two [digital and analogue] is that the digital image is endlessly reproducible without any loss of quality. It is infinitely malleable and easily transferable from one carrier to another" (p.17).
Reproducibility is, of course, one of the two main justifications for rejecting photography as Art (Big "A"] in C19th: the other was that it "made it too easy". There are interesting parallels between C19th painting vs. photography and C21st analogue vs. digital.
The origins of photomontage
Oscar Rejlander, The Juggler, 1865
image source: DIC p.18
[6Feb p.18] Manipulation is as old as the medium— see LPE Asg.4. The cmat. uses the example of Rejlander's The Juggler, 1865, fig. A1: the technology of the time would have been incapable of capturing the (suspiciously even-spaced) balls so sharply and concludes that Rejlander, best known for his multi-negative epic narrative images (see C&N Part 1), faked it.
The cmat. suggests that the Victorian era embraced the products of manipulation such as Henry Peach Robinson's sentimental Fading Away, 1858 (constructed from 5 negatives, LPE Part 1) and the Pictorialists' treatment of their negatives and prints in pursuit of Art but as the century turned, photographers grew more confident in the inherent strength of the medium in its own right,
The often backward-looking approach of
the Pictorialists eventually gave way to the Modernist movement of the early 1920s which
ushered in an intense period of experimentation for photography. Led by the pioneering
Bauhaus School and artist László Moholy-Nagy, this group – with their experimental and
playful approach to the photographic image – were to pave the way for a generation of digital
practitioners who, instead of scissors, light and glue, began to work with the camera, software
and the pixel.
My conclusion - there has been a technological revolution and it has made photography more accessible both in terms of input and output through smartphones replacing cameras and apps replacing Boots the Chemist and social media becoming galleries. These were inconceived when Batchen was writing his essays in this exercise and clearly unrealised when Fontcubarta was writing Spice Girls...
The layered image
[21Feb p.20] Layering is the editing together of two or more images. A whistle-stop name-dropping tour through the history of layering, touching on Rejlander, Bauhaus and the Surrealists, Nancy Burson and now Esther Teichmann, Corinne Vionnnet, Idris Khan † and Helen Sear.
Rejlander we know well enough by now, and see The Juggler above. From the Bauhaus, an image attributed to Judit Kárász. Representing the Surrealists, Dora Maar, who has benefited from a major UK exhibition recently and Madame Yevonde. Nancy Burson is an old favourite, as is Idris Khan (and see LPE too). Helen Sear we met in LPE, and Esther Teichmann in I&P, but Corinne Vionnnet is new to this writer.
The women artists at the Bauhaus have been receiving some attention in recent years, see Rössler (2019) and Otto & Rössler (2019). The former is to hand and it describes Kárász's career: studied photography at the Bauhaus, graduating in 1932. Worked in a Berlin photo lab, politically active and used photography in support of her causes. 1935 given political asylum in Denmark, marriage of convenience to gain citizenship. Returned to Hungary after the war and worked as a photographer at the Museum of Applied Arts. The Tate has five of her photographs.
Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch. Trained in photography, friend of the Surrealists, companion to Picasso, her work covered a range of styles but best known for collage.
Active with the Suffragettes, where she was introduced to photography. Achieved recognition as a portrait photographer but for a few years in the 1930 had a creative period using the short-lived Vivex colour technology. When Vivex went out of business, Yevonde returned to her successful B&W portraits and advertising work. Fig. B4 from the RPS collection at the V&A is described by Mary Phan (2023) as a clear forerunner of the Pop Art of the 1960s.
Burson was a pioneer and digital innovator: in collaboration with two MIT engineers (Richard Carling and David Kramlich †) developed software to produce composite portraits. Being the first to think of it AND get it done, she established a sizeable niche in the photo-realm with such notable combinations as world leaders in proportion to the number of nuclear warheads they controlled — 55% Reagan, 45% Brezhnev, "with hints of" Thatcher, Mitterand and Deng Xiaoping, fig. C1.
Other similar offerings
1950s film actresses in First Beauty Composite (featuring Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe);
1980s actresses (Jane Fonda, Jacqueline Bisset, Diane Keaton, Brooke Shields and Meryl Streep) in Second Beauty Composite.
Andy Grundberg (2021, p.257) wrote,
[Burson's] pictures quickly made their way into the art world; by 1990 they had been seen at Holly Solomon Gallery, the International Center of Photography, Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art and MIT's LIST Visual Art Center.
Grundberg, 2021, p.257)
Figs.D1-4 show more recent work.
† She married Kramlich and continued to develop the system which was later used by the FBI in seeking missing persons (Garzon, 2023).
Khan is another person with a good idea, although in his case it does not have anything like the mileage of Burson's ‡.
Combining all the Becher Gable Sides is a brilliant notion, interesting and at least marginally useful in assessing how obsessively and precisely typologiste the Bechers had been in this case. Superimposing pages of Beethoven string quartet scores is, to this writer at least, entirely pointless. Every page of Barthes' Camera Lucida is quaint but, at first sight, no more use than the Beethoven piece, but it does make a fine cover for Batchen's book of essays.
Khan works in other media too.
‡ Both Burson and Khan appear in my list of Nichers.
Esther Teichmann's practice takes us into an alternate orphic world, moving from beds to swamps and caves, from mother to lover, in search of a primordial return. Here, the photographic is loosened from its referent, slipping in and out of darkness, cloaked in dripping inks, bathed in subtle hues, evoking a liquid space of night. Working across the still and moving image, sculpture and painting, narratives emerge from fragments.
Esther Teichmann, Art
ist's statement, estherteichmann.com
We may expect, then, narratives, but fractured narratives, and multi-media works.
Of the project Fractal Scars, Salt Water and Tears, Teichmann states
Of the project from which fig.F1 is taken, Teichmann comments,
2014 Fractal Scars, Salt Water and Tears,
Flowers Gallery, London, April.
Cascading waterfalls and seashells whispering the lapping of waves are juxtaposed with statues who seem to be stepping out of the stone from which they are carved. A large scale backdrop of a cave is painted in dripping inks. Languid female nudes punctuate mythical landscapes, auto-erotic in their gaze and gesture, eyes turned away or averted to storm clouds above them. A pregnant woman lies under a night sky with a child lying between her thighs, another rests on her elbow, back turned, swallowed by the darkness of the boat-bed she is lying upon. Sisters, friends, lovers, strangers, these women of flesh and stone tell us of pleasure and longing.
Esther Teichmann, estherteichmann.com
Both statements have some congruence with the composite image shown — primordial, and damp, but as a viewer of this image in isolation, I have no associations that inform any meaning or, for that mater, any connection between the juxtaposed images. It might well have profound meaning to its creator or other viewers, but my only comment would be that they share a compatible colour palette.
In an interview with Emily Spicer for Studio International (2020) Teichmann's exhibitions are described as "immersive experiences, wherein entire walls are covered in subterranean scenes, printed from photographs and painted in saturated hues … [m]uch of Teichmann’s work combines fantasy and the biographical, myth and experience." Spicer quotes Teichmann at length,
Photography is always at the centre of my practice and was definitely my starting point. I think it’s such an elastic and physical medium, but fundamentally the thing that draws me in is the relationship between the real and the staged, the duality between the real and the constructed, the world that exists and the otherworldly. It’s this dynamic that keeps me wedded to the medium and continually excited by it. I’ve noticed, too, that there is often quite a long time deferral between when I shoot something and the physical outcome. That’s the case with the work I’m shooting now on large-format cameras – I often won’t see the final work for several months, and with lockdown, much longer. Even under normal circumstances, I don’t rush to process and print the film. Once I’ve seen it under the dark cloth, projected on the glass, I almost don’t need it to exist in the world.
Teichmann in Spicer, 2020
In an undated interview with Brad Feuerhelm for 1000 Words, Teichmann states,
All my work is set within a fictional space, which is closer to how I see the world with closed eyes. Whether within the studio, in sets or in bedrooms, or even jungles – all the spaces have the magical feeling of the tents children build, light filtering through coloured blankets transforming reality. The spaces inhabited within the films and images are womb-like liquid spaces of night, moving from beds to swamps and caves, from the mother to the lover in search of a primordial return. In some way, all the images are more about myself than the subjects depicted …
My relationship to the photographic image, whether still or moving, is less connected to the idea of delivering transparency or of a copy, rather, the camera and image function here as metaphors for subjectivity, memory and desire. The real is transformed from one thing into another in a magical totemistic process, fracturing any claims of the photograph as evidence.
Teichmann in Feuerhelm, n.d.
As noted above, I have not previously encountered Vionnnet. Her Photo Opportunities series is a delight. To this viewer they seemed at first to be rather Turneresque (see fig. G1). As with Burson and Khan, this is a clever idea with an aesthetically and intellectually rewarding outcome that has delivered a product which can be shown and sold.
The idea extends further than Khan's, perhaps because the sites are so well known and there is a consequential desire to see the outcome. Nevertheless, after three or four, the novelty wears off. Vionnnet states on her web site that,
She is a pioneer in the exploration and re-purposing of web-based imagery. Her work includes extensive archival research, photographic image making, the appropriation of crowd-sourced material, and collage.
Corinne Vionnnet https://corinnevionnet.com/About
Sear featured in LPE Part 1 where two of her images were shown, No. 17 from Inside the View, 2004-8
and No. 2 from Beyond the View, 2009-10, see figs. H1 and H2. The LPE course notes stated,
In these works, Sear layers different perspectives of views, and with a time-consuming digital (manual) process, picks out holes to form an intricate, lace-like patina across the ‘surface’ of the image. The obscurity of the resulting image – a simultaneous combination of a partially visible female subject and multiple views of a place – demands the eye to render some visual order from this beautiful chaos and, in so doing, establishes for the viewer a challenging inquiry into the sublime.
On her web site, Sear states,
Her photographic works became widely known in the 1991 British Council exhibition, De-Composition: Constructed Photography in Britain, which toured extensively in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Photography remains a central subject and medium in her work, which often challenges the dominance of the eye and the fixed-point perspective associated with the camera lens, and explores the potential of the artwork to activate and elicit feeling.
Helen Sear, https://www.helensear.com/about
She quotes a review from David Campany,
Sear is one of photography’s foremost innovators. For her the medium is one of magic as much as realism. It is never pure, fixed or entirely knowable. Each new series presents a new set of challenges that offer up her fascination with craft and our habits of looking.
David Campany, quoted by Helen Sear, https://www.helensear.com/about
I find the overlays distracting and confusing, particularly the poppies in the second image. Confronted by a sea of poppies, I think of watching, reluctantly, with my parents, year after year, the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall and the petals falling at the end; or the resurgence of the poppy as an emblem of WW1 as the centenary approached, particularly the ceramic displays. These associations do not gel with the reverse portrait. Other viewers are likely to have different associations.
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Page created 30-Jan-2023 | Page updated 20-Mar-2023