[3Dec21, p.67] Roads, in many art forms, are both subjects in themselves and metaphors for change, progress, etc. The cmat. gives several examples from Chaucer to Kerouac. And let's not forget the iconic Route 66, about which no more need be said.
The first photographer cited is Chris Coekin (an OCA tutor) and his project The Hitcher.
The project is described in LensCulture,
The photographer is both actor and director is this series of short stories of a hitch-hiker in the UK and the drivers who pick him up. The people who decide in a split second to stop their cars and offer a lift to a stranger become unsuspecting documentary photo subjects of a dying breed of people willing to offer help to total strangers.
Using cheap disposable cameras, the photographer made self-portraits along the sides of highways. He also takes random snaps of the junk he finds along the road.
The portraits of those who decided impulsively to pick him up are made with a professional camera, after the "hitcher" has revealed his true destination (a photograph), and after the drivers have agreed to complete a pre-printed questionnaire and sign their approval to be included in the project.
On his website, Coekin states, — well, that was just an assumption on my part. On the 3 webpages for the project, one for self portraits, one for driver portraits, one for debris etc. there is no text. Presumably the images are deemed to speak for themselves.
Figs. B1-3 are one from each section.
In my view, the images need some explanatory text online, especially if they are organised over three pages. There is a book of the project that I have not seen. As for the project itself, it is a fairly interesting idea that gets the artist to a variety of locations with various people and objects to photograph. The idea would suit an OCA assignment for a student, but does not justify a book deal. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but I do not see any particular artistic, aesthetic, political or sociological merit in this project.
I'm not sure how the self portraits were organised.
Romantic notions of the car and the roadtrip, freedom, adventure, excitement, wind in the hair, the open road, a modern manifestation of the cowboy ethic: these enthusiasms have been dampened by recent ecological concerns.
from America By Car, 2020
Next, Friedlander's America by Car (2010), a compilation of photographs taken from inside cars with elements of the interior visible. Friedlander has a habit of assembling (or maybe permitting assembly of) such shows from his archive, a particular favourite being the shadows and reflections of In the Picture Self-Portraits 1958-2001 (2011).
The cmat. ranks
America by Car with Walker Evans' American Photographs and Robert Frank's The Americans. I suppose the obvious point about the show is that it uses cars to emphasise the US's devotion, obsession and reliance upon cars, illustrating what is seen by the users of those cars and the interiors included in the images gives a frisson of deconstruction.
Paul Graham Woman at Bus Stop, Mill Hill,
North London, November 1982
from A1 - The Great North Road
img: GuardianPaul Graham
b: 1956 Site - Wikipedia
"Paul Graham photographed the A1, one of the
busiest routes in the UK that runs north from London through Britain’s industrial
heartlands to Edinburgh. The Great North Road (1983) is held up as a turning
point within British documentary photography – when it became legitimate to
use colour instead of black-and-white." (LPE p.69) During C&N, I posted a quote from a 2011 Guardian interview with Graham,
Between 1981 and 1986, while living in London, Graham made three books of colour photography that are now much sought after by collectors and students alike: A1 – The Great North Road (1983), Beyond Caring (1986) and Troubled Land (1987). Back then, they were met with suspicion and even anger. "I gave a talk to photography students at Newport College of Art in 1985," he says, ruefully, "and one of the tutors described Beyond Caring as 'poisonous'. By that, I think he meant that it was poisonous to the established order of working, which was to use a Leica, shoot in black and white, and always have an establishing shot.
Paul Graham in The Guardian, 11 April 2011
O'Hagan, S. (2011) Paul Graham: 'The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether' [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/11/paul-graham-interview-whitechapel-ohagan [Accessed 5 December 2021].
Parallels can be drawn between Coekin's project and Graham's. It would be an example of my theory of Nichism (first stated during EyV and embellished in IP) — those lucky enough to be in the right place (career-wise) at the right times have opportunities to be early adopters and stake out significant areas of the photographic firmament that (if pursued assiduously) they can call their own. My prime examples are Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin.
Photographers entering a field subsequently must establish their own subset within that niche and find themselves forced into adopting increasingly more obscure and convoluted project-conceptions in order to establish their individuality and also, more recently, their concern for particular issues. Eventually, the degrees of specialisation, particularity and granularity become absurd: Coekin is not such an extreme example but I feel that his choice of project was an example of this process.
[13Dec p.70] I have been working on Exc.2.1 and Asg.1, but I'm increasingly conscious of the fact that I need to make progress on the course material.
When I wrote about Chris Coekin’s The Hitcherabove, I did not realise that there was more material here. This has not changed my view of the project, but it is interesting to note the high degree of co-operation he received from drivers: that echoes my experience on 100 Dogs for I&P.
[23Dec Assignment 1 is ready to go, so back to the coursework.] On to Alec Soth and Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), which we encountered in I&P. The cmat describes Soth's use of the river to "structure photographic investigations". The book includes several memorable images including a personal favourite, the much reproduced Charles, Vasa, Minnesota, 2002 memorably echoed by Eleanor Macnair (figs. C2, C3).
That's a very good point about photo-series, landscape and all other sorts — they are usually "united" by a fairly arbitrary axis of commonality, be it location, species, number of wheels, colour, and so on.
The cmat. states, rather nicely (p.71) that "Like the path of the river itself, the subject matter and style of Soth’s ruthlessly edited series meanders, traversing American cultures, and dips intimately, yet somehow respectfully, in and out of strangers’ lives."
This is a staggeringly good interview and Soth is a clear-minded and articulate interviewee on his subject. I'll quote three sections - ASc is Aaron Schuman and ASo is Alec Soth,
ASc: In your opinion, what purpose does your photography serve?
ASo: This is the problem with work like mine, which is more lyrical than documentary. Like poetry, it's pretty much useless. Also like poetry, the audience for this type of work usually consists of other practitioners, Which is actually a rather large audience. But it's frustrating. What really frustrates me is that photography is not very good at telling stories. Stories are so satisfying, and sure, there is "narrative"·" photography- everyone talks about Gregory Crewdson in this regard - but really there is no story; the work just suggests a narrative. I long for stories. Novels and movies satisfy, but photographs often leave me feel[ing] like something is missing. I'm trying to work on this. There are actually a few fine examples of people who've really told stones with pictures: Pedro Meyer and Eugene Richards come to mind. Someday I'd like to figure out a way to tell a good story.
ASc: Many of the most striking images in Sleeping by the Mississippi were made in the American Midwest — Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and so on. What surprised me, when looking at the book, was that I realized that there is very little precedence for photographing the Midwest with such enthusiasm. Since the nineteenth-century, it seems that the Midwest has often been skipped over by photographers who are in search of a "vision" of America; instead they often rush through it on they're [sic] way to the mythical West (I'm thinking of everyone from Timothy O'Sullivan and Carleton Watkins, to Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, and so on), or they head to the more "characterful" Deep South (Walker Evans, William Eggleston, etc.). Firstly, why do you think so many photographers have shied away from the Midwest, and what specifically drew you to spend so much time there?
ASo: This is a terrific question; it would make a fine thesis paper. The obvious reason that I've photographed the Midwest is that I live there, in Minnesota, so I have a feeling for the place. But I can understand why it has been passed over. The Midwest isn't exotic, and photographers (myself included) are attracted to the exotic. Middle sometimes means bland. Most U.S. newscasters train their voice to have [a] Midwestern accent, which is a kind of non-accent. Of course, when you get involved in the Midwest there are a lot of interesting nuances, but they aren't obvious. The Midwest doesn't have the grandeur of the West or the exoticism of the South.
But this was one of my favorite things about working along the Mississippi In the north, the Midwest, I felt at home. The people were the same friendly but distant folks I've always been around. Then as you go south, everything gets warmer and a little stranger.
ASc: Could you possibly discuss your reaction to being nominated to Magnum; what does this mean to you, how do you feel that you fit in with Magnum, its history, and its current output; has this changed your work, your assignments, your career, or your approach in any way?
ASo: You are not alone in questioning Why I've developed a relationship with Magnum. As you say, Magnum is thought of as the institution for social documentary photography. And certainly Robert Capa built Magnum with this goal. But there was always a tension, a straining for the personal voice to emerge. Cartier-Bresson was a co-founder and was deeply influence by surrealism. Capa famously told Cartier- Bresson: "Don't keep the label of a surrealist photographer. Be a photojoumalist. If not you will fall into mannerism. Keep surrealism in your little heart, my dear. Don't fidget. Get moving!"
I think this is grea1 advice. The problem with working on the poetic side of the spectrum is that it can lead to self-indulgent mannerism. Part of me thinks that this is What happened to Robert Frank's work after The Americans. I'm also definitely prone to self-indulgence, so I'm grateful to have Magnum pushing me out into the world to make pictures.
The reason I have included the first and third sections is that they have a great person resonance.
The reason for the second is that it might be useful for Asg.4 the 2,000 word essay. Not about the US Midwest, but about photographers' choices of subjects; geographical series that include "characters" (are they landscapes or portraits? is there a crossover, quote on the distraction of including people); poverty and desolation porn; photographing things you understand or feel comfortable with; photography with a mission or message (which O'Sullivan and Adams had, for different reasons).
Schuman, A. (2004) "Sleeping by the Mississippi", An Interview with Alec Soth [online]. seesawmagazine.com. Available from https://seesawmagazine.com/soth_pages/soth_interview.html [Accessed 26 December 2021].
[26Dec, p.71] And lastly Nadav Kander's Yangtze–The Long River (2010). Documenting the downside China's industrialisation, Kander shows more of the river than Soth does the MI. There's a reference to Kander's web site, but a cynic might suppose that he's included mainly to allow another bash at O'Sullivan,
His [Kander's] murky, smog-filled scenes have an uncanny
visual resonance with the technically poorer images of, in particular, Timothy
O’Sullivan’s survey photographs.