Collecting • Tutor feedback and responses

I have now received my tutor’s feedback on Assignment 2 ,’Collecting’.Once again, it appears that the project itself is satisfactory, with no rework needed, but I have to make some changes to my approach to research and exercises.

Word document here

I have copied the substantive text in blue type and added my initial responses in black.

In this assignment you have demonstrated an ability to work consistently to a theme and have chosen a topic that has started to develop your thinking and approach to your photography.

My first view of this assignment was seeing the print submitted and the immediate impression that followed was to think that this looks like the work of the Brechers and that their work had been viewed as part of your research.

I am pleased with that reaction/impression because my approach was a deliberate homage to the Bechers’ style and presentation, albeit with a very different subject matter. See below on originality but I hope I put my own twist on it.

Through their position in the Dusseldorf school their work has influenced and permeated to a surprising degree European photography. Two of the better-known photographers coming from this background are Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff, both of whose work develops on the Becher’s.

The Ruff JPEG images were referenced in one of the Part Two exercises. It will be interesting to research and do a blog posting on the Dusseldorf School – perhaps using as a starting point Tim Clinch’s tongue-in-cheek depiction as ‘the gloomy b*****d school of photography’ in the current issue of B+W Photography. Is it a legitimate comment or a caricature?

This influence has become particularly noticeable in the effect that it has had on a great deal of students studying photography in art colleges and the production of bodies of work that do not add anything to the canon of photographic originality. The appeal of the Becher’s work is it’s apparent simplicity that leads many unsuspecting student into a cul-de-sac.

In my case it was a deliberate choice to emulate a style, led by the brief, and to see if I could carry it off. This is a one-off and not something that I intend to carry forward as a personal style.

The question that arises is a fundamental one of originality and at what point does work produced become imitation. In the world were millions of images are produced daily we may have to question if there can be such a thing as originality. It is conceivable that at some point we may have to draw a line in the history of photography at the point where originality stopped and to consider imitation not only as a form of flattery but as the only means of producing work.

Another subject for a blog posting.

As a first response, I see two different definitions of ‘originality’. The form that Matthew (my tutor) refers to implies that nothing similar has been done in the entire history of photography. This is roughly equivalent to the concept of priority in scientific research. However, there is a weaker form of originality which requires that a concept is original to the individual photographer without consciously imitating work done by somebody else and somewhere else. There could be unconscious/subconscious influences at work or there could be something like convergent evolution (‘Great minds think alike’).

Drawing a line in the history of photography would be like trying to draw a line in the history of science. Some fields appear fully developed but new work is done all the time.

I was pleased to see that you found a level of experimentation in this work but I would like you to spend more time in developing your projects and in this case perhaps considering a range of different subject matter.

Mostly guilty as charged. I took a soft option, knowing that I would be spending a week in a location where a particular form of subject matter would be readily available. I believe I developed the project by focusing-in (moving from complete bikes to bike parts to a particular class of detail) However, I did not widen it beyond bicycles.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

The technical nature of your work is consistent in quality and your own assessment of this work clearly demonstrates your understanding of technical process and application.

There is good relevant research into the work of other photographers but I would like to have seen you consider the topic in greater depth. The use of photography as part of classification systems has existed since the beginning of photography and we need to question as practitioners how we contribute to this process. Victorian photographers Francis Galton and John Lamprey used the medium to classify social types and anthropological subjects. Today these would be viewed in a totally different context and some photographers have chosen to readdress these views in contemporary work.

[image of Francis Galton’s composite portraits of social types.]

[images of John Lamprey’s record of a Malayan man.]

These images remind one of the butterfly collections pinned into glass cases in museum collections and of course museums are the great purveyors of classification systems.

Again, guilty as charged. I was more concerned with the aesthetics of the project than with the underlying concept of classification. There was, for instance the possibility of classifying drivetrains by the number of gears in each cluster (and I was looking quite hard but unsuccessfully for an outlier such as Sturmey-Archer hub gears).

The Lamprey images, in particular, appear as a sweeping generalisation. Do Malayans really have only one body shape and only one set of facial features, or do they have a similar range of variation to Europeans? This is similar in concept to some line drawings of ‘the races of men’ that I recall seeing in a Victorian encyclopedia.

You might have considered and critiqued how contemporary photography across a variety of genres falls easily into classification as an example what are the concerns of Sebastião Salgado’s major opus on workers? At one level the bleakness of exploited people throughout the world but on another his camera lingers lovingly on the faces and bodies of his subjects in many ways similar to the early anthropological photographers.

I am part-way through ‘Genesis‘ at present and will review it.

I would like to see you take a wider view on the topics that you select to work on and to develop these within the context of your own research.

The final piece of work was a good choice of subject but when looking at your contact sheets I found that I was yearning to see another piece of work that included all of these images in a single frame.

Allowing for duplications, that would have been in excess of 100 images in the final grid, with very small images or a very large piece of printing paper. I chose to present a sample of nine because it fitted with the brief.

As a regards the exercises do not just consider these as merely a means of illustrating the techniques but take the opportunity to develop interesting images within the parameters of the course requirements and trying out possible ideas for future projects.

I think I take a utilitarian view of the exercises (particularly those in the first half of the course notes which look like revision of existing knowledge) but try to branch out with the assignments.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

The learning log has a good layout and is well illustrated with your own work and that of other photographers.

There is good research into the work of other photographers and the descriptions of the work and exhibition visits are informative but I do not get a sense of what your intellectual and emotional responses are in relation to the work.

As I am new to the idea of art as an academic discipline, I have felt inhibited about my comments for fear of trampling on orthodoxies. I will take this comment as licence to be a bit more outspoken in future.

You say you did not get the Bruce Gilden work. I would have been interested to know what your thoughts were on this and where you placed the work in contemporary practice.

Strange And Familiar: Britain As Revealed By International Photographers, Curated By Martin Parr

The Bruce Gilden images in ‘Strange and Familiar’ are this set. My first reaction was one of revulsion. On reflection and analysis I see a common approach; larger-than-life images, highly detailed, oversaturated and showing wide-angle distortions produced rather grotesque caricatures of the subjects and presented them with no dignity, as exhibits in a freak-show.

Do analyze the work and ideas in greater depth. I would also like to see this applied to your own work. Try to draw connections between different photographers work. For example Keith Arnatt’s series could be related to the earlier work of August Sander and the contemporary work of Rineke Dijkstra.

Suggested reading/viewing

Continue critical reading with current books and relate to own work

There are many photographers historical and contemporary whose work can be researched. Some photographers that I recommend you investigate include W. Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka, William Klein, Sally Mann, Andre Kertesz, Gary Winogrand, Paul Rheas, Martin Parr, Rineke Dijkstra, Cindy Sherman, Pieter Hugo, David Goldblatt.

All names to look out for. I have seen some of these (Mann, Kertesz, Winograd, Parr and Sherman) in books or exhibitions. First reactions: Martin Parr is definitely growing on me. Sally Mann shades worryingly into child porn. The Cindy Sherman self-portraits seem too self-indulgent for my taste.

Pointers for the next assignment

Select texts for critical reading appropriate to the assignment.

Between Amazon for new books and eBay for second-hand, my critical library has been building up since starting this course. My reading is starting to catch up with my acquisitions.

Continue to develop in depth your learning log to consider the progress of your own work and reflect upon your reading and viewing.

The ‘to do’ list is getting longer. I currently have 5 ‘saved drafts’ with titles only, following tutor feedbacks. Watch this space.

Take more time to develop projects and proceed with assignment 3.

Most of the mechanical exercises are done. I am looking forward to the HC-B review developing my ideas about ‘the decisive moment’. Plenty to do before the submission deadline.

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