Creating the Immersive Experience

One of the top priorities for my FMP exhibition was to create an immersive environment that engaged the senses and the imaginations of my viewers. To achieve this goal would require the right space combined with the right technology both married to a carefully curated collection of images and sounds presented/ displayed in just the right way.

The path to this goal began with capturing images, moving and still, that would support the final vision.  It also entailed recording hours of the sounds of the natural environment that could then be mixed and added to the video footage.

Upon entering the darkened hall, the visitor immediately encounters the sounds of Coul Links playing throughout the hall; surf, wind, birds, and sheep.  The large display fixtures stand between the doorway and the far end of the hall mostly blocking the view of the large cinema screen.  On each side of every fixture are photographs, individually placed and lit so that the viewer is presented with only the one image at eye level and of a size that evokes a sense of being in situ at Coul Links. The fixtures are set in a diamond pattern requiring the viewer to make their way around the perimeters of each unit and the installation as a whole.  On three walls, purposefully placed to emulate a random encounter, are the miniature collages of fauna and flora which draw the viewer in close to examine what they have found.  These miniatures seem in scale with the larger landscapes as if they belong together. The outer perimeter of the installation has photographs with views one would see from the perimeters of Coul Links just in the way that most people encounter the place.  On the inner walls of the installation are photographs of places unfamiliar and unidentified on the interior of Coul Links that few people would know or would have encountered.

After reaching the far end of the display fixtures, the visitor is presented with a large cinema screen on which video taken from a drone across and around the entire expanse of Coul Links is playing.  Sofas and tables and chairs invite the viewer to sit and relax while watching the videos and feel as though they are floating along above the links.

By creating an exhibition environment that stimulated visual, aural and proprioceptive senses, the immersive experience was achieved.

Beneath the Noise -3
Mick Yates – 2019
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Rose – 2019

 

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Rose – 2019
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Rose – 2019
Beneath the Noise -5
Mick Yates – 2019
Beneath the Noise -19
Mick Yates – 2019

Exhibition Comments and Reviews

During the two day Dornoch exhibition a comment book was available for visitors to record their thoughts after seeing the exhibition.  Here are a selection of the comments received.

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Rose – 2019

“The essence of Coul Links is captured in every sense.” Mike H.

“Totally worthwhile historical document of a treasured spot in this area. Love the smaller collages of the wildlife against the larger landscape pictures.”  Matthew Harris, Professional Photographer

“From someone who knows Coul Links intimately, you have done the most wonderful job of capturing its unique essence.”  Viki M.

“What an amazing exhibition.” Lynne Mahoney, Curator – History Links Museum

“Thankyou for breathing life into Coul Links! You have seen its hidden magic…”  Jenny T.

“What a great exhibition!  I applaud your efforts to widen folk’s perceptions both specifically of Coul Links and more broadly about the whole concept of ‘sense of place’.” John Alderson, Chairman – East Sutherland Camera Club

“An incredibly well thought out and presented exhibition” Mike T.

“I loved the way you presented your photographs, it made them appear so real, like you’re actually there.” Alex D.

“A wonderful exhibition giving a unique insight into the flora, fauna and dunes which goes largely unobserved.” Anonymous

“You have revealed the unsung beauty of an otherwise ‘unknown’ landscape.” Alison D.

“An excellent display. Having been shown around the proposed golf course, your video has given me a new dimension to contemplate the development.  I look forward to seeing your further work on this wonderful site.” Barry K.

“Great set of images of a complex area giving me lots of food for thought on its future ecology.” Stan H.

 

Additionally, a couple of people took the time to write more extensive reviews about the show.

Mick Yates’ review can be found Beyond the Noise review by Mick Yates.

Patrick Argyle an avid local amateur photographer wrote the following review.

“I think there were two aspects of this exhibition that came together to make it work so well: the quality of the work on display; the way the work was presented. I greatly admired and appreciated the quality of the work, especially the still photographs. The images were beautiful and beautifully printed and presented. The use of images   of different sizes and presenting them either individually or in groups was very effective.  The layout of the displays throughout the room was done in such a way that I could spend time studying each individual section before being led on to the next in a natural and relaxed way. There was a real flow from one area to the next. I felt the use of   different media to present material was handled very cleverly, exploiting the strong point of each:

  • a small screen video presentation on entering the gallery gave an excellent overview and background and history of to Coul Links;
  • photos arranged to great effect, some large scale showing wide areas of landscaped conveying the atmosphere of the location, other large ones of small areas of the links showing detail of the land and it’s contents;
  • other walls displayed boards on which were presented multiple miniature photos on certain topics such as flora and fauna;
  • a projection wall divided in to quadrants, onto each of which was projected, simultaneously aerial film taken by drone  of the land showing it in the four seasons of the year.

Overall, I found the exhibition much more interesting than I had expected and you showed me beauty in Coul Links I did not expect to see.”

Matt Sillars – Lecturer in Photography University of Highlands and Islands & Chair, FLOW Photofest

Reflections on ‘Beyond the Noise’

This body of work takes an anti-essentialist perspective. It refuses to walk the easy path and set out opposing positions, in relation to the development of the links, by defining the characteristics of each and placing them in opposition to each other – and then simply photographing the stereotype. The artificial construction of identity, as ‘developer’ and ‘environmentalist’, is deliberately disrupted and the links are presented as a complex space with a complex set of uses by individuals, rather than by ‘bodies’ of people who are ideological positioned in a debate.

Seeing the links as a historical space and not simply as a contested contemporary site, reveals its relationship to people over time and acknowledges that it is not, and never has been, a space easily defined by the broad brush strokes of heritage studies.   In the photographs are evidence of human intervention, from the buildings, fence posts and pathways, to the plantations, monuments and open ground.  Each indexical of people engaged in labour, industry and lives lived. Although seemingly passive landscapes sculpted by the elements, they evoke a range of paradigms which privilege people over nature and speak of the dynamic relationship between land and people – the definition of ‘place’.

Foucault discusses heterotopias as places which exist in the world, but which are connected in ways to other places and spaces, by ritual, by use, by assemblage. The photographs of the links inscribe hetertopias of time and space. Time, where the landscape has collected the past and represents it in snippets and glimpses. Thus, the past is always present in a natural museum, whose rooms and glass cases are the dunes, grasses, embankments and plantations. Space, where the fragments glimpsed are of different uses, are different spaces – of industry, or leisure, or travel, of work.

The body of work challenges the normative view of the ‘environment in need of protection’, and through the use of video and drones, plays with understandings of reality in a vein similar to Baudrillard’s hyperreality, where the difference between fiction and reality is blurred. Understanding is mediated by drone and digital technologies and the links are artificially reproduced in ways that play with the internet mediated campaign instigated to ‘save’ them.  ‘Beyond the Noise’ references not just the ideological noise, but the digital noise of hyperreality and conspicuous environmentalism, which has almost replaced conspicuous consumption as the ‘right’ of the middle classes.

The body of work, quite bravely, argues that the essentialist nature of the debate is irrelevant and actually unworthy of the links, which have a heritage and have a future regardless of the slice of reality we are confronting today, now.


All comments and reviews published with permission.

FMP Week 5 – Reflections and Progress

As I await the feedback on my proposal, I am continuing to explore narrative approaches to the project.  Recent political events have, in my mind, cast further doubt on the likelihood that development will be approved and that alters the calculus on a major element of the originally envisioned project.  On the other hand, underlying the subtle and not so subtle aspects of the controversy, most of which are not visible, lies the place, Coul Links, which goes on oblivious to the attempts to alter or preserve it.

So, I find myself asking; is the controversy about the potential development even important at this point or is it just noise hovering around the periphery of a more enduring story?  Or conversely; is the place only significant and on my radar because of the controversy of the potential development?  Would anyone notice or care truly about Coul Links had someone not proposed building a golf course there?  After all it has been a designated site for a quarter century, and no one really seemed to care that that the site was not being maintained as it was meant to be.  It is perhaps only because of the proposed development that anyone aside from local residents are even aware of the environmental designations assigned to the site.

And here is the crux of the issue with regard to FMP; which perspective to adopt and which chapter of the story to tell. I have begun the process of looking through all of my contact sheets and archives of the work done on the course and I have also started researching the print and on-line sources that addressed the Coul Links development. I can see potential narratives from several perspectives and yet I haven’t enough clarity or conviction to settle on one just yet.

I think perhaps the process of choosing photographs may help a narrative emerge.  Additionally, the archival research from the news coverage over the past 3 years will also support the narrative.  Time to get on with it.

Photographer Research – Chrystel Lebas

While Ms. Lebas had been recommended to me earlier on the course and I had looked at her work, I didn’t find it as relevant to what I was doing at the time.  Now, as I move into FMP and the work of prior terms is coming together into a conceptual framework that brings together elements from each of my prior sets of work I find her work especially relevant and directly related to work I am doing.  I am particularly interested in her publications and exhibitions, but also how she has revisited places and used rephotography to show how those landscapes have changed over the intervening years.

Her website is Chrystel Lebas.

I am also interested in how she has incorporated video into her exhibit installations; something I believe is important to mine. Video provides a a perspective and is by its nature immersive, drawing the viewer into scenes they could not otherwise have experienced.

Another interesting element is now that my aesthetic has evolved over the course, I see similarities with much of her work.  When I first looked at it many months ago, I discounted it in part because the aesthetic and way she approached her subject matter was quite different than what I was doing and the way that I was doing it at the time.  Re-examining it now, Lebas’ work bears some commonality with that of Daniel Gustav Cramer with the slightly darker feel that I have evolved to embrace i much of my recent work.  I find it much more evocative and moody, and it encourages the viewer to linger a while in order to really see what is in the photo and feel what is in the scene.

Week 12 – Final Thoughts on Informing Contexts

I found this module intellectually challenging, stimulating and frankly fun.  I struggled in the first module with the whole idea of critical theory, but having come to IC as the fourth module, the 15 months of added experience put me in a much better place to both enjoy and learn.  The more I read, the more practitioner’s work I reviewed, the more things began to make sense and I felt my confidence increasing with each passing week.  I believe I have come away from IC much more informed about photography in general and with a much better understanding of my practice and what I intended to accomplish.  It also gives me a clearer understanding of the paths ahead and where I might go in the next phase of my journey.

Technically and creatively I also gained confidence and my work reaped the benefits of both. I began to approach my work with ever increasing mindfulness and purpose.  It resulted in fewer, but much better photographs that required far less post processing.  I slowed down considerably, and even though shooting with a DSLR, I approached my work much more like I was shooting with film.  I became not only more adept at managing the exposure triangle, but more importantly managing the creative triangle; the relationship between me, the photographer, my subjects and potential viewers.  For this modules WIPP, I had my viewers in mind when I went out to take photographs.  I was shooting in a way that would result in photographs that challenged my viewers imaginations, stimulated their memories, and sparked their emotions. I was looking to create ambiguity, moderate abstraction and to take a time and place that was know to me and make it into a space my viewer could inhabit and populate with their own narratives.

I know the considerable effort I have put into these first 15 months of this course, but I must acknowledge the support of my peers within the Cromarty cohort.  The extraordinary give and take have been an invaluable contributor to the quality of learning for all of us.  I also particularly valued the interchange with the tutors and module leader in Informing Contexts.  I found the discussion and support constructive and stimulating.

Finally, I believe I am in a very good place to move into FMP and am looking forward to the challenges the next six months have to offer.

Week 12 – Reflections on Finalising my Critical Review and Work in Progress Portfolio

I began work on my Portfolio and Critical Review several weeks ahead of the deadlines for submissions and as a consequence completed the work well ahead of schedule. These are some of my thoughts now that I have completed and submitted that work.

Portfolio

While I made a lot of work during this module, I had decided early on what type of work I wanted to make and was therefore able to create photographs with a mindfulness and clarity of intention that I had not before achieved.  I took many more photos than ultimately ended up in the final edit and I frankly left some very good work out of the final submission.  However, one of the things I have learned through the first four modules of this MA is the need to create a visually consistent, coherent body of work for the WIPP submission.  I think I did not fully appreciate that fact in prior modules and as a consequence, the work submitted had a bit of a ‘this and that’ character that detracted slightly from the way the work was viewed.  I can attribute this failing in part to a lack of clarity in my intentions in the prior modules and the fact the project I was attempting to take on was massive and diverse.  It was too big to distil and attempting to ‘cover the waterfront’ I diluted the visual impact of my imagery; good as they were technically.

So for this module, I intentionally reduced the scope of what I was trying to include in the portfolio and was very disciplined in the editing process as I worked to get to a set of photos and videos that were consistent with my intentions and had a sufficiently consistent and harmonious thematic and visual character.  It was difficult initially to eliminate good photos and I went through several iterations before arriving at a final decision.  I did also choose to incorporate three video clips taken from the same vantage points as stills either before or after the videos in the sequence.  I had not done that before, but felt it important to realising my intentions and conveying some key contextual concepts about the dynamic and transient aspects of nature.

Another important decision in the editing process came when I realised the normal landscape format was not conveying the feeling I was trying to achieve with this body of work.  I have been resisting cropping in post-production for some time now and on the rare occasions that I did, I always retained the aspect ratio that I shot originally.  However, the landscape format was not constraining the image enough to evoke the response from a viewer I wanting to elicit.  As I experimented with cropping to square, the photos suddenly had much more impact.  Making them smaller, more constrained actually made them spatially bigger; more universal and more timeless.  It amplified the integrity of what was visible in the frame and in some cases created more ambiguity, but also added more mystery and intrigue as to what was just beyond the frame.  It was these things that I believe will result in the viewer becoming more engaged with the photographs.

Critical Review

I wrote the initial two drafts before I had really narrowed my portfolio selections sufficiently.  While not a waste of time by any means, the first drafts were not as focused as they needed to be.  It was only after bringing my WIPP to the near final edit state, that it became a much more straightforward process to write my Critical Review.  With the clarity of what I had chosen I was able to zero in on the clearest way to convey my intentions and determine which of my contextual references were indeed most relevant to the work I had completed.  I wanted the CR to be clear, concise, cogent, and coherent and most importantly to convey without any question that I had made this work with, and from, a critically informed position.  As I was finalising the CR I was able in parallel to make the final cuts for the WIPP so the two submissions were completely in sync and mutually supportive.

Final Thoughts

I read a great deal during this module and I had to be as discerning about contextual references as I was about photo selection.  I took much better notes as I was reading this term and, that proved helpful when recalling references, particularly on things I read early on in the module.  I intentionally did not read CRJs or CR submissions from students further on in the programme.  I felt quite confident that I could properly interpret the requirements of the assignments and the LOCs to create a document that met or exceeded the standards.  I wanted to do it on my own and not be tempted to follow someone else’s path, particularly not knowing whether their work was really good or just okay.

I also completed work early enough to seek input from trusted peers and tutors and I am appreciative of both groups.  While I didn’t get any huge redirects out of any of the reviews, the combination of little things and my own desire to write a very tight and focused CR that supported the choices I made in the WIPP drove me to a series of revisions that I am very satisfied result in a solid submission.

Week 9 – Reflections

The guest lectures were especially good this week.  I found it really interesting and informative to here Liz and Addie from Elliot Halls talk about how they decide what to display, who to represent and how to strategically approach building a relationship with a gallery.  I was not surprised to hear how competitive the marketplace is, but I was a bit surprised at how patient one might need to be to attract the attention of the gallery world and how many years Elliot Halls had taken before deciding to bring someone in.  Not sure I have enough years left to hope to find my way in to a gallery.

I was also very intrigued by the work of Lewis Bush.  I was familiar with some of his work, but it was really good to hear him talk about it and the incredible depth of research he went to on each project.  It was also fascinating to see how far afield from photography he went to do research and stimulate inspiration.  While the subject matter he deals with is quite different than mine, what I found of interest was the similarity in the idea of revealing things “hidden in plain sight”.  This was true to a degree in Metropole, but even more so in Shadows of the State.  Many people go through life not seeing, really seeing, things that surround them every day.  My work on this course has focused on showing places to people in ways they had not been shown or in ways people had not seen for themselves.

Current Work

I managed to despite still running a fever to get out for a couple hours of shooting on Friday.  It completely exhausted me, but I came back with a range of good and not so good work.  My approach to work has definitely changed since the beginning of the course.  I now work virtually exclusively in Manual settings and there is a much more deliberate attempt to get the framing and exposure completely right in the camera.  I also go out with specific intentions of what I want to shoot.  I had been wanting to get better images of some of the dune slacks as well as some additional video in the glades and slacks to show the movement.  I was successful yesterday with the video as it was very windy, and the results were very dynamic in contrast to the stills.  I was not satisfied with the still images in the slacks between the wind disrupting the stillness of the water and the time of day, I felt the photos were soulless and uninteresting visually and they did not evoke any emotion.   A few of the detail shots did work out as did the glade work.

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Dune Slack (unsuccessful as it fails to spark emotion or interest)

 

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Dune Slack (successful intriguing above above, on and below the surface)

Coursework Reflections

On this week’s coursework and whether photography is art.  As I have written in a prior post, I think it is a something of a ridiculous question when it is phrased that way.  Is all photography art? Of course it is not. As Merry Foresta noted in the foreword to Photography Changes Everything, “most of the billions of pictures that are taken with cameras every year are made for purposes that have nothing to do with art.  They are made for quite specific reasons, some exalted and some mundane, and their value is dependent on how well they serve a purpose that, more often than not, has nothing to do with photography itself.” (Heiferman, 2012: 7)

Can photography be art? Again of course it can, though that judgement lies in the hands of the consumers and promoters, rather than with the photographer.  I cite as a relevant current example the documentary work of Don McCullin who never considered himself an artist, nor was his work made with the thought of it being viewed as art, and yet it sits today on the walls of the Tate Modern.  The art world and art buyers are fickle.  Sometimes its trendy, sometimes its rare, and sometimes there is just no accounting for taste.

References

HEIFERMAN, Marvin. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. First. New York: Aperture.

 

Week 8 – Additional Reading and Research

I have recently acquired a copy of Risaku Suzuki’s book Water Mirrors.  It is not only a beautifully constructed book physically, but the imagery is very much related to recent work I have been undertaking. There are no introductions to the book and no captions, just photo after photo.  At the end is an essay by art critic Yuri Mitsuda which I found equally interesting with regard to informing my work.

Mitsuda writes “What’s mirrored in the water are the trees surrounding lakes and marshes.  The relaxed density of the branches extending toward the lakes form something like a nest that surrounds and protects the quiet water.  Just as with a mirror, the trees are captured in the water that reflects them.  In water, the leaves are shown in utter verisimilitude, making it impossible to distinguish the reflections from the actual trees standing in the soil and air. The result is a simulacral mime that exists only within the photographs. These scenes would not exist without the intervention of the camera and the lens.”

“When the photographer tosses a rock into the water, the rock creates rifts and turns the water inside out, rustling the surrounding trees.  A fluid image resembling an abstract painting appears in the photograph…When the water surface is cut up by a fallen tree, moving water is juxtaposed against still water, bringing disparate temporalities of the material in contact with each other and producing details that fascinate endlessly.” (Suzuki, 2017)

Suzuki WM_653 2016
Suzuki WM-653 2016

While there is more that could be quoted, I think for now it is enough to show how my work has taken a similar turn.

072A0727
Rose Coul Glade 2019

Paul suggested I also look at the work of fellow Falmouth student Isabella Campbell and I discovered she too is pursuing similar subjects and aesthetics.  An example of her work shows the link between Suzuki and my recent work.

Campbell LANDINGS-11 2018
Campbell Landings -11 2018

I have also begun reading Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers and two different books on Wabi Sabi, one by Andrew Juniper (2003) and the other by Beth Kempton (2018).  I have long held an affinity for Japanese culture, philosophy and aesthetics and I am finding as I research more how much my work and the subjects I photograph resemble what I am reading in the writings and observing in the photographs.  I have mentioned before that the house I designed and built in 2006 contains a great deal of Japanese influence and features normally only found in Japanese houses. That influence runs strongly in everything I do.

Shigeo Gocho in his essay Photography as Another Reality, in Setting Sun writes: “Things that some people can see, other people cannot. Things that some people can hear, other people cannot.  I once wondered if such a thing was possible, but now I understand it as a matter of distance between reality and fantasy.  It is also a matter of how each specific person places himself in this temporal world, as the image of the world is dependent upon this relationship…No matter how much one might say that it presents pure fantasy or delusion, photography is about capturing an image of the outside world, which means that a photograph is only possible if it uses reality as a go-between.” (Vartanian, 2006: 52-53)

Setting Sun is filled with so many gems that absolutely find a home in my head and heart.  I have found myself needing through the course of this module to be far more introspective about my photography and the reasons for than ever before.  I truly never thought much about and just did what I did. Reading and researching has certainly provided a framework for examining what I do and why and while it is still evolving certain elements have begun to gel in my mind. I asked myself the question “Why do I photograph nature?”

Out amidst nature was always the place that I could go to be myself and exist without judgement.  I look at Nature and Nature looks back at me and says “welcome, we are.”  People on the other hand judge and seek to separate and categorise.  They look at me and say “you are X.”  All the people who have ever existed are a single mere speck of dust in geological time.  It is very likely humans will not endure as a species and Nature will reclaim them as geological time moves on.

I suppose that this is one of those areas of difference in Western and Eastern philosophies.  The West has long held a man versus nature philosophy where nature must be conquered and tamed. It for that matter extended to the idea that “civilised white” people were at the evolutionary pinnacle and anyone who did not fit in that box was just another animal to be conquered and tamed.  In contrast, the Eastern philosophies address the art of being in the world beginning with Tao and flowing with the watercourse way and evolving in to Zen which teaches we are part of everything we perceive.  There is something at my core that recognises the latter and that is part of what continually draws me away from most people and to the untamed places where I can best be my untamed self.

References:

VARTANIAN, Ivan, Akihiro HATANAKA and Yutaka KAMBAYASHI. 2006. Setting Sun: Writing by Japanese Photographers. New York: Aperture.

JUNIPER, Andrew. 2003. Wabi Sabi – the Japanese Art of Impermanance. First. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

KEMPTON, Beth. 2018. Wabi Sabi – Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. London: Piatkus.

SUZUKI, Risaku. 2017. Water Mirror. Tokyo: Case Publishing.

Week 5 Reflections – Labels and Gazes

I have been enjoying the journey of this MA course and how it has helped me to discover a new language for thinking about and talking about the world around me.  I have spent many hours reading the luminaries of photographic critical theory and trying to find relevance to my world and my work.  I have found myself far better able to examine others’ images and articulate something more than whether I liked it or not.

I have enjoyed the deconstruction of my own practice as I search for what things are essential to me and my work, though I have found this aspect perhaps the most difficult part of the course. And I think it is more difficult in part because it is a moving target and hopefully always will be to a degree.  Humans are transient beings in an ever-changing world.  I am an unfinished project that I hope is only completed when I take my last breath.  I seek to know myself and my place in the world well enough to recognise, appreciate and enjoy the subtle evolution and variations in myself and the world around me and greet them with joy.

I have been struck how these new tools in my kit bag have found their way in and out of other aspects of my life.  For example, I have written before and speak frequently about my aversion to labels.  The following scene from Season 2 Episode 2 of the Netflix production Sense8 seemed a perfect example.  I have edited it slightly for clarity.

“I just want to understand.” 

“No, you’re not trying to understand anything because labels are the opposite of understanding.

What does courage have to do with the colour of a man’s skin” 

“Who are you?“

“Who am I? – Do you mean – where I’m from? What I one day might become? What I do? What I’ve done? What I dream? Do you mean what you see? What I’ve seen? What I fear What I one day might become? Do you mean who I love? What I’ve lost? – Do you mean what I’ve lost? “ 

“Who am I?  I guess who I am is, exactly the same as who you are; not better than, not less than. Because there is no one who has been or will ever be exactly the same as either you or me.”

Sontag wrote:

“Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it.  But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. (ed. Or as someone else has labelled it) All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no.  Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph.” (Sontag, 1977: 23)

When we choose to, or allow someone else to label a person, a photograph or a photographer using a broad brush we abdicate our responsibility to consider the worth of the person as an individual or the work on the specific merits of each piece.  There are not hard and fast lines and we cannot come to any real understanding if we continue to draw them or accept someone else’s drawing of them.

In another Sense8 scene from Season 2 Episode 1 illustrates the point that the reading of an image is not only largely in the hands (mind) of the viewer but serves as a window into the psyche of the viewer as his or her reading is greatly influenced by the filters, biases and cultural setting that viewer brings to the reading.

“Art is material. 

It is wed intractably to the real world, – bound by matter and matters.

– [phones beeping] – Art is political.

– [phone vibrates] Never more so than when insisting it is not.

Art is dialectic. 

It is enriched when shared and impoverished by ownership and commodification.

It is a language of seeing and being seen.[low chuckles, murmurs]

Uh, would someone care to fill me in on the joke here?

Yes.Totally.[laughter] Is this art, Mr. Fuentes? [low chuckles]

Is it art, Mr. Valles? What do you think? Why don’t you tell us what you see?

Looks like shit-packer porn.[low murmurs, chuckles]

“Shit-packer porn.” That is; That is very interesting. Yeah, because this is where the relationship between subject and object reverses. The proverbial shoe shifting to the other foot. And what was seen now reveals the seer. Because the eyes of the beholder find not just beauty where they want, but also shallowness, ugliness, confusion, prejudice. Which is to say the beholder will always see what they want to see, suggesting that what you, Mr. Valles, want to see is in fact shit-packer porn. [class chuckling] Whereas someone else, someone with a set of eyes capable of seeing beyond societal conventions, beyond their defining biases, such a beholder might see an image of two men caught in an act of pleasure. Erotic to be sure, but also vulnerable. Neither aware of the camera. Both of them connected to the moment, to each other. To love. And as I have suggested before in this class art is love made public.” 

While I have been unable to find the one definitive reference that I feel reasonably sure I have seen or heard somewhere, it is safe to say that before this course this scene would have passed me by with not a second thought.  There are elements of Foucault, Berger, Brazin, Lacan, Silverman’s Screen Theory and others that are alluded to in the prior scene.

I do subscribe to the concept of the triangle of between the Subject – Photographer – Viewer, but I also believe the balance of power dynamic between them shifts during the life cycle of a photograph and is greatly influenced by contextual clues found in accompanying text, or in where the work is seen.  I also believe the power shifts predominantly to the viewer once the photograph leaves the direct control of the photographer and that regardless of the context most viewers will see only what their cultural and personal conditioning will allow them to see.

References

SONTAG, Susan. 1977. On Photography. Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin Books Ltd.

Sense8, Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2. 2015. Netflix

 

Week 4 – Into the Image World: Reflections

I quite understand the use of advertising images to illustrate the points in this week’s material.  However, despite the fact that we are surrounded by these images daily, I found this rather difficult because for many years I have ignored them completely.  They have become noise to me.  I rarely watch them on the TV as I don’t watch much broadcast programming and it is only when I am in the market for something particular will I look for info on the product, and even then, I bypass the advert to look at the product itself in more detail.  I cannot say I am never swayed to look at something when I happen to see a clever ad, but it is quite rare.

Ads rarely capture my attention, but photos in an editorial context often do.  An example from the 21 February 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal is below.  Self-admitted gearhead and former racing driver that I am and despite not generally being all that fond of Ferrari, this one stopped me in my tracks.

Ferrari Pista -WSJ 21Feb19

GIMME A BRAKE The flashy Pista can go from 0-62 mph in 2.85 seconds and return to a dead stop in 93.5 feet. Photo: Ferrari

And I find it an interesting photograph to try to analyse as part of this week’s exercise.  The denoted (signified) image is quite simple to discern.  The bright red image of a $450,000 super car with extraordinarily beautiful lines is rather impossible to miss on the tarmac.  Judging by the tire marks on the tarmac the car was repositioned at least a couple of times to get the angle of the light reflecting off the bodywork just right; the car was carefully posed. There is nothing to distract from this signifier and its placement along the diagonal further clarifies its dominance.

The connoted image is surprising more complex for such a visually simple and uncluttered image.  In concert with the caption it is clear this is very high-performance automobile borrowing aerodynamics and other design elements from F1 and GTP racing platforms.  There is surface beauty to be sure, but it is more than skin deep as this car is loaded with performance technology.  I suspect that the principal, though not exclusive, demographic Ferrari appeal to are men 30-55 with plenty of discretionary spending power.  This is a wealthy person’s toy, perhaps a symbol of status, and something that screams ‘look at me’ for the owner that wants to be noticed everywhere they go.

An oppositional view might be something along the lines of who needs a $450,000 car that can do 211 mph that hasn’t room in the boot for hardly an overnight bag.  It might be the red colour or the racing stripe that seem pretentious, or that Ferrari are notoriously difficult and expensive to maintain. Or it might be that a car such as this must use a tremendous amount of fuel and is therefore environmentally irresponsible.  It is absolutely not the car for someone who does not wish to advertise their wealth or someone in need of practical transportation.

I am a bit fuzzier on the negotiated view.  Perhaps it is along the lines of; it is a well-executed photograph of a beautiful, but altogether impractical and for most unattainable car.  In other words, wow that is nice, but…