Exercise 1.9: Visual research and analysis – social contrasts
My first image is from Paul Reiffer and is of a Manhatten skyline which depicts to me the affluence of the city of New York City
The second is a social Landscape created by the infamous Andres Serrano called signs of the times, the work is described thus:
After noticing an unprecedented number of people begging on New York City’s streets, Andres Serrano embarked on a project to collect some of the signs homeless people use to tell their stories and ask for change.
Andres travelled around New York City buying the signs from people for $20 each, he says:
“Sign of the Times” is a reaction to a social injustice and tragedy. It’s a testament to the homeless men and women who roam the streets in search of food and shelter.
For the last part of the exercise, I found these two images of São Paulo photographed by Luiz Arthur Leitão Vieira
I wonder if these were taken from a drone, a helicopter or aeroplane or from a mountain (I saw something like this in San Jose Costa Rica)
Exercise 1.8: Zone System In Practice
I first learned about the zone system when I bought a 120 roll film camera a few years back, so this exercise was familiar territory. I took the camera on its tripod down the walking path behind my house to the river to capture some images. I took all three images within 10 feet of each other looking in different directions, the conditions were all high dynamic range but different to execute.
I took a reference shot for each image using the camera’s AV mode and set the aperture to f5.6 here are the cameras interpretations:
I then set the camera to manual set the f-stop to 5.6 and used my spot meter to measure different parts of the image, first was the dark areas, when taking a meter reading with the spot meter the result is such that the area measured will render to 18% grey so metering the darkest part of the image would render the darkest parts 18% grey and probably blow out the highlights. Here are the results:
As can be seen, the images are overexposed but in each image, a small part where the image was darkest is rendered to mid-grey.
Next, I metered the brightest areas of the image, which should create a very dark underexposed image with only the brightest part rendered to an 18% grey, the following images demonstrate the results:
The key to using the zone system is to identify the areas of the image that are supposed to be in the middle of these two images where the image should be 18% grey I took each image using these settings and the final results were as follows:
This technique allows the photographer to visualise the image and get the best spread of tones in the image from black to white.
Exercise 1.7: Assignment preparation
I have been experimenting with my Phantom looking at the possibility of using it to create images for the assignment, I was doing fine until I made a rookie mistake and clipped a tree sending the phantom down into a culvetof water I am now waiting for an update on what it needs to repair it not a great day.
I did contact Russel by email to let him know about my ideas and also how I was now effectively halted by the weather here is a transcript of the conversation:
STEVE -> RUSSEL
Wanted to give you a heads up, I have been making images for the first assignment using my Phantom 4 Pro, I quite like the alternative perspective, however I had a small argument with a tree last Saturday during a training session for my CAA PfCO and the drone ended upside down in a ditch. It is currently with the menders as they don’t like water.
Unfortunately the delay in getting the drone mended means that there will be a small delay in me finishing A1
I hope this is ok with you but I wanted to let you know I am still studying and will complete A1 soon after getting the drone back and hopefully the results will be a little different from the normal Landscape A1.
I was amazed that the quality of the images from my Phantom is far superior to DSLR which is a bit sad
RUSSEL -> STEVE
Thank you for the notification; a drone and a tree having an argument is just not cricket. It is good to read that you are undertaking the drone pilots course; I can imagine the insurance for this can be high, when compared to standard photographers public liability. I look forward to seeing your images.
There has been some amazing work produced with drones the last few years, check out the following:
Also check out Yann Arthus-Betrand
Taking longer to get the assignment done is fine, you have plenty of flexibility with the unit.
I now wait for the repair
Exercise 1.6: The contemporary abyss
For this exercise I decided to venture outside the comfort zone of photography and take an alternate look at the Sublime in the form of a short clip from a movie. The movie is Jurassic Park and I am referring to the scene where the group of children led by our hero is taken up into the ducting in the ceiling to escape the Raptor. In the clip above the most sublime moment for me is that moment when the young girl is dangling from the ceiling and is pulled back into the roof moments before the raptor leaps at the camera, in this YouTube clip it is the last 3 seconds of the clip.
The reason behind my selection is rooted in a memory I have of going to see this film with my Dad when it came out, I can clearly remember that in that 3 seconds everyone in the cinema lifted their legs off the floor in unison.
If I now look at Morley’s text the first key point is where he quotes Burke:
“Burke pinpointed a key aspect of the sublime as being the heightened and perversely exalted feeling we often get from being threatened by something beyond our control or understanding.”
In our clip the feeling of being threatened is constant and that last moment of sudden fear that makes us jump is like an adrenaline rush of the sublime. In his opening sentence Morley states
“Joseph Addison described the notion of the sublime as something that ‘fills the mind with an agreeable kind of horror’.”
Morley also claims at the end that:
“Today a vast new potential for transcending the limits of the physical body is available at the mere flick of a switch, leading some to talk of a new era of the digital sublime.”
and ends on the statement:
“Perhaps it is indeed to this new world, beyond the limits of the physical body and of time and space, that the sublime experience is now migrating.”
While Morley is referring to the advance of Virtual Reality and computer generated images I could argue that much of the film Jurassic Park is Virtual reality and computer generated and what better way is there of displaying the sublime than a moving set of images rather than the traditional view projected by painters.
Exercise 1.5: Visualising Assignment Six: Transitions
I opened the Landscape Course with a telephone conversation with my tutor, during the conversation he stated that as students we were encouraged to think outside the box and not to interpret every assignment literally. We also discussed my fascination with digital manipulation, Russell recommended that I look into the work of Emily Allchurch, who makes collages that re create old oil paintings:
My Current thoughts are to explore further the work of Emily Allchurch with the idea of finding an oil painting of a local or accessible scene that I could re create in a similar way to the Allchurch works, Russell thought this may work as an alternative view on the subject of transition. I should probably also find a scene to shoot regularly as a back up idea, my thoughts on this were to find a construction site, my first thoughts are to find a high place like the multi story car park in Aldershot and photograph the view out over the construction of the massive Wellersley development on the old army barracks.
Studying the ideas of Emily Allchurch I did some more digging into her work and came up with the following examples:
Albert Square Manchester reconstructing a painting by Adolphe Valette:
|Adolphe Valette||Emily Allchurch|
Riverside (After Whistler) in response to Whistlers painting of Batersea Bridge:
|James Abbot McNeill Whistler||Emily allchurch|
Lost Canal (After Newton) in response to Surrey Canal. Camberwell by Algonon Newton:
|Algonon Newton||Emily Allchurch|
Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?
Exercise 1.4: What is a photographer?
Marius De Zayas (1880–1961) was an essayist, intellectual and curator of modern art and was closely allied to the 291 gallery. His essay ‘Photography and Photography and Artistic- Photography’, first published in Camera Work no. 41 (1913), makes a distinction between the ‘artist photographer’ and ‘photographers’. Read the essay closely, summarising De Zayas’ key points. In your learning log, write down your responses to his point of view, and consider whether these questions are still relevant today. As a practitioner yourself, where do you stand on this issue?
See: http://www.camramirez.com/pdf/DI_Week6_PhotoAndArt.pdf (copy link into your browser) or http://www.journal1913.org/pdfs/1913_issue2.pdf
- Photography is not Art. It is not even an art. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference which exists between the Idea and Nature. (De Zayas, 1913)
- So long as Art only speculates with Form, it cannot produce a work which fully realizes the preconceived idea, because imagination always goes further than realization. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Form, starting from the fantastic, has evolved to a conventional naturalism. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Art is devouring Art. Conservative artists, with the faith of fanaticism, constantly seek inspiration in the museums of art. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Picasso is perhaps the only artist who in our time works in search of a new form. But Picasso is only an analyst; up to the present his productions reveal solely the plastic analysis of artistic form without arriving at a definite synthesis. His labor is in opposite direction to the concrete. His starting point is the most primitive work existing, and from it he goes toward the infinite, de-solving without ever resolving. (De Zayas, 1913)
- He does not understand the difference between similar and identical, between that which is seen in dreams and that which happens in real life, between imagination and facts; and that is why he takes as facts the ideas inspired by impressions. (De Zayas, 1913)
- It has been repeatedly proved that a faithful drawing from nature, or a photograph, are blanks to a savage, and that he is unable to recognize in them either persons or places which are most familiar to him; (De Zayas, 1913)
- Imagination, creative faculty, is the principal law of Art. (De Zayas, 1913)
- faculty is not autogenous, it needs the concurrence of another principle to excite its activity. The elements acquired by perception and by the reflective faculties, presented to the mind by memory, take a new form under the influence of the imagination. This new aspect of form is precisely what man tries to reproduce in Art. (De Zayas, 1913)
- That is how Art has established false ideas concerning the reality of Form and has created sentiments and passions that have radically influenced the human conception of reality. (De Zayas, 1913)
- It is true that nature does not always offer objects in the form corresponding to those ways of feeling; but imagination always does, for it changes their nature, adapting them to the convenience of the artist. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Memory, that concurrent faculty of imagination, does not retain the remembrance of the substantial representation of Form, but only its synthetic expression. (De Zayas, 1913)
- In order fully and correctly to appreciate the reality of Form, it is necessary to get into a state of perfect consciousness. The reality of Form can only be transcribed through a mechanical process, in which the craftsmanship of man does not enter as a principal factor. There is no other process to accomplish this than photography. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The photographer – the true photographer – is he who has become able, through a state of perfect consciousness, to possess such a clear view of things as to enable him to understand and feel the beauty of the reality of Form. (De Zayas, 1913)
- that is to say, that without the intervention of the imaginative faculties, Form could not express its spirit. (De Zayas, 1913)
- But when man does not seek pleasure in ecstasies but in investigation, when he does not seek the anaesthetic of contemplation, but the pleasure of perfect consciousness, the soul of substance represented by Art appears like the phantasm of that Alma Mater which is felt vibrating in every existing thing (De Zayas, 1913)
- Art presents to us what we may call the emotional or intellectual truth; (De Zayas, 1913)
- photography the material truth.Art has taught us to feel emotions in the presence of a work that represents the emotions experienced by the artist. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography teaches us to realize and feel our own emotions. (De Zayas, 1913)
- I believe that the influence of Art has developed the imagination of man, carrying it to its highest degree of intensity and sensibility, leading him to conceive the incomprehensible and the irrepresentable. (De Zayas, 1913)
- he found photography. He found in it a powerful element of orientation for the realization of that perfect consciousness for which science has done and is doing so much, to enable man to understand reason, the cause of facts – Truth. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography represents Form as it is required by the actual state of the progress of human intelligence. In this epoch of fact, photography is the concrete representation of consummated facts. In this epoch of the indication of truth through materialism, photography comes to supply the material truth of Form. (De Zayas, 1913)
- This is its true mission in the evolution of human progress. It is not to be the means of expression for the intellect of man (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography is not Art, but photographs can be made to be Art. (Again) (De Zayas, 1913)
- When man uses the camera without any preconceived idea of final results, when he uses the camera as a means to penetrate the objective reality of facts, to acquire a truth, which he tries to represent by itself and not by adapting it to any system of emotional representation, then, man is doing Photography. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography, pure photography, is not a new system for the representation of Form, but rather the negation of all representative systems, it is the means by which the man of instinct, reason and experience approaches nature in order to attain the evidence of reality. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The difference between Photography and Artistic-Photography is that, in the former, man tries to get at that objectivity of Form which generates the different conceptions that man has of Form, while the second uses the objectivity of Form to express a preconceived idea in order to convey an emotion. (De Zayas, 1913)
- In the first, man tries to represent something that is outside of himself; in the second he tries to represent something that is in himself. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The artist photographer uses nature to express his individuality, the photographer puts himself in front of nature, and without preconceptions, with the free mind of an investigator, with the method of an experimentalist, tries to get out of her a true state of conditions. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The artist photographer in his work envelops objectivity with an idea, veils the object with the subject. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The photographer expresses, so far as he is able to, pure objectivity. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The aim of the first is pleasure; the aim of the second, knowledge. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The one does not destroy the other. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The more analytical man is, the more he separates himself from the subject and the nearer he gets to the comprehension of the object. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Photography, and only Photography, started man on the road of the cognition of the condition of the phenomena of Form. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Up to the present, the highest point of these two sides of Photography has been reached by Steichen as an artist and by Stieglitz as an experimentalist. (De Zayas, 1913)
- The work of Steichen brought to its highest expression the aim of the realistic painting of Form. In his photographs, he has succeeded in expressing the perfect fusion of the subject and the object. He has carried to its highest point the expression of a system of representation: the realistic one. (De Zayas, 1913)
- Stieglitz has begun with the elimination of the subject in represented Form to search for the pure expression of the object. He is trying to do synthetically, with the means of a mechanical process, what some of the most advanced artists of the modern movement are trying to do analytically with the means of Art. (De Zayas, 1913)
- It would be difficult to say which of these two sides of Photography is the more important. For one is the means by which man fuses his idea with the natural expression of Form, while the other is the means by which man tries to bring the natural expression of Form to the cognition of his mind. (De Zayas, 1913)
I had to read this essay several times to get a perspective on what De Zayas was trying to say, at first I thought it was an attack on the idea of photography being art, however that is about as wrong a conclusion as anyone could draw.
De Zayas was a wealthy product of the Post Victorian – Edwardian era, some of his ideas and standpoints seem a little archaic now and tend to rub a modern politically correct society up the wrong way. However I think it is important to understand when this was written and to pierce through the ideology of the day to see what was actually being said by De Zayas.
Until the invention of photography there were only the images created by artists, the gist of this essay is that no matter how skilled the artist the resultant image rely’s on their skill with the medium and the translation that their brain makes putting the image on to the canvas or paper. The advent of photography meant that the image was less “man made” and seemingly more true to life, in the same way that printing is neater than hand writing.
He continues to elaborate on the way an artist adds his imagination to the memory of the image before committing it to paper, which in the early 1900’s was not true of photography.
It could be argued that the advent of digital photography and sophisticated digital processing within the camera itself as well as software like Photoshop has made a significant shift away from this stance. Modern digital cameras make all sorts of decisions and shifts to an image changing it from what the sensor saw. This shift could be seen as the artist imagination being replaced by a artificial intelligence that muddies the waters around this essay.
Once the essay gets into its full swing De Zayas arrives at his punchline, that it is possible to be a photographer or an artistic photographer the difference between what De Zayas refers to as the “Artist” or the “Experimentalist” almost the divide between Art and Science referred to in the Krauss Essay.
I understand the need for the distinction in 1913, today photography has its place in art, the technology allows us to be more creative with our photography and modern trends see photographers working on their images to a similar extent as the artist of old.
The key question is as a practitioner where do I stand, I think these questions were valid and needed to be asked in their day, I totally agree with De Zayas when it comes to their being a divide between the Photographer and the Artist Photographer, I prefer to strive for the latter, though I understand why some veer towards the former. I personally want to create images that are not scientific representations of the facts, I prefer to add some emotion. I also think that modern technology has shifted the playing field since the article was written.
De Zayas, M. (1913). Photohraphy and Photography and Artistic Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.camramirez.com/pdf/DI_Week6_PhotoAndArt.pdf [Accessed 4 Sep. 2017].
Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions
Exercise 1.3: Establishing conventions
Using internet search engines and any other resources, find at least 12 examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities you can find across your examples. Consider the same sorts of things as you did for the sketching exercise at the start of Part One. Where possible, try to find out why the examples you found were painted (e.g. public or private commission). Your research should provide you with some examples of the visual language and conventions that were known to the early photographers.
Now try to find some examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.
Collate your research and note down your reflections in your learning log.
The first task was to gather 12 images of 18th century landscape paintings these were the ones I chose:
- Tonally all of the images are similar and use a similar pallet of colours. This is not however similar to the drawing in the first exercise which was a pencil drawing using shades of grey.
- All of the images have a horizontal real or implied line running through them.
- They are all loosely or strictly composed around the rule of thirds.
- They all have a notable or dramatic sky.
- They all depict outdoor pursuits / country living.
- Almost all of them contain a body of water, lake, or river.
- all but two use trees to balance the composition.
- They all have a tranquil air about them.
- In every case a recession is defined, with elements of the painting existing on different layers with in the picture that recess back into the image giving a feeling of depth and leading the eye into the painting.
Photographs displaying similar qualities
I selected four images from the archive using a google search that have similar properties, three turned out to be Landscape Photographer of the Year finalists and one a classic Ansel Adams:
The images of old 18th century landscapes are all similar in style to each other. They seem to follow a set of rules common to landscape paintings of the period. Many of these images were commissioned by wealthy land owners to increase the perception of their wealth. Often the painters would mend architectural structures in the painting so that the place gave of a wealthy air. (Berger, 2008)
The photographic landscape of today is still hobbled in the traditions of these painters, at camera clubs the judging is still measured by the image standards laid down by these 18th century painters. “A good landscape” is often measured this way, the Royal Photographic Society still in parts holds itself to these traditions.
The question is rather one of “is this a bad thing or a good one”, and again I do not think it is possible to answer this as it is completely a matter of taste, for those who want to hang traditional landscapes on their walls who has the right to stop them and conversely, for those who prefer a different approach who has the right to interfere.
I have always believed that any purist view that excludes all else is a bad thing better to be more eclectic in our tastes.
I took the exercise a step further, I wondered what the current view is on landscape, it occurred to me that I should look at the Landscape photographer of the year competition to see what is current and popular at the moment. so I sorted out the winners for all the competitions since 2007 the following is the result:
It was interesting to note that the judges seem to be trying hard to pick images that do not necessarily conform to the 18th century rules, the results seem sometimes to depart a long way from the mold and others to conform tightly. I also noticed that they have a category specifically called “Classic View” in which the images are supposed to be more classic styles of landscape, the results show that even here that is not always true.
Exercise 1.2: Photography in the museum or in the gallery?
Exercise 1.2: Photography in the museum or in the gallery?
Read Rosalind Krauss’s essay ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View’. Summarise Krauss’s key points in your learning log (in note form) and add any Comments or reflections.
The essay was first published in 1982 in Art Journal Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 311–19 but you’ll find it at: http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/lklichfall13t/files/2013/09/Krauss.pdf (Amended from Errata)
- Krauss uses the image Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake by Timothy O’Sullavan as an example for the start of this essay. Krauss compares the original photograph with an enhanced lithograph used in a geological journal.
- Krauss poses that the photograph has a more dream like quality and contains a mysterious beauty. (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss also states that the Lithograph is more detailed and dispels the mysterious beauty. (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss: “But it is clear, of course, that the difference between the two images-the photograph and its translation is not a function of the inspiration of the photographer and the insipidity of the lithographer. They belong, instead, to two separate domains of culture” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss: “The lithograph belongs to the discourse of geology and, thus, of empirical science.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss: “And the photograph? Within what discursive space does it operate?– Aesthetic discourse” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss continues explaining that the Aesthetic discourse aligned itself around the “Space of Exhibition” which was dominated by “The Wall” a surface on which to display the aesthetic. The space of exhibition had other features besides the gallery wall. It was also the ground of criticism, which is to say, on the one hand, the ground of a written response to the works’ appearance in that special context, and, on the other, the implicit ground of choice—of either inclusion or exclusion-with everything excluded from the space of exhibition becoming marginalized with regard to its status as Art. (Krauss, 1982)
- “Given its function as the physical vehicle of exhibition, the gallery wall became the signifier of inclusion and, thus, can be seen as constituting in itself a representation of what could be called exhibitionality” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss carries on to ask: “But did O’Sullivan in his own day, the 1860s and 1870s, construct his work for the aesthetic discourse and the space of exhibition? Or did he create it for the scientific/topographical discourse which it more or less efficiently serves? Is the interpretation of O’Sullivan’s work as a representation of aesthetic values-flatness, graphic design, ambiguity, and, behind these, certain intentions towards aesthetic significations: sublimity, transcendence-not a retrospective construction designed to secure it as art?4 And is this projection not illegitimate, the composition of a false history?” (Krauss,1982) This is probably the key question for the essay, I felt she finally got to her point here.
- The essay then wanders into the subject of stereographic images, taking lots of time to explain how popular they were and how they were organised (this becomes sort of relevant later) in an attempt to relate works such as O’Sullivan to this genera and use this as an example of the images being created for a different purpose than they were being appropriated for now. This seemed to be a long winded way of making a small point.(Krauss, 1982)
- During this discourse Krauss repeatedly points out that the photographers of this era referred to their images as views, which is fitting for a stereoscopic image as the viewer places a device to their eyes and views the image.(Krauss, 1982)
- In a discussion about André Malraux who explains that nineteenth century photography belongs in a museum she quotes: “Having decided that nineteenth-century photography belongs in a museum, having decided that the genres of aesthetic discourse are applicable to it, having decided that the art historical model will map nicely onto this material, recent scholars of photography have decided (ahead of time) quite a lot. For one thing, they have concluded that given images are landscapes (rather than views) and they are thus certain about the discourse these images belong to and what they are representations of. For another (but it is a conclusion that is reached simultaneously with the first), they have determined that other fundamental concepts of aesthetic discourse will be applicable to this visual archive. One of these is the concept artist with its correlative notion of sustained and intentional progress, to which we give the term career.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss goes on to use the term “Career” and expand this into the effort taken to build a career, how other trades would need a period of training or apprenticeship, and yet there are examples of photographers in the classification that came and went within a year, giving a lie to any idea of learning the craft. “The concept artist implies more than the mere fact of authorship; it also suggests that one must go through certain steps to earn the right to claim the condition of being an author, the word artist somehow semantically being connected with the notion of vocation. Generally, “vocation” implies an apprenticeship, a juvenilia, a learning of the tradition of one’s craft, the gaining of an individuated view of that tradition through a process that includes both success and failure. If this, or at least some part of it, is what is necessarily included in the term artist, can we then imagine someone being an artist for just one year? Would this not be a logical (some would say, grammatical) contradiction” (Krauss, 1982)
- Further Krauss cites: “But this is the case with August Salzmann, whose career as a photographer began in 1853 and was over in less than a year.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss further cites: “But other major figures within this history enter this métier and then leave it in less than a decade. This is true of the careers of Roger Fenton, Gustave LeGray, and Henri LeSecq, all of them acknowledged “masters” of the art. Some of these desertions involved a return to the more traditional arts; others, like Fenton’s, meant taking up a totally different field such as the law. What do the span and nature of these engagements with the medium mean for the concept of career?” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss then talks bout the Oeuvre (Life’s work body of work), “And what of the other great aesthetic unity: oeuvre? Once again, we encounter practices that seem difficult to bring into conformity with what the term comprises, with its assumptions that the oeuvre is the result of sustained intention and that it is organically related to the effort of its maker: that it is coherent. One practice already mentioned was the imperious assumption of copyright, so that certain oeuvres, like Matthew Brady’s and Francis Frith’s, are largely a function of the work of their employees.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss turns then to the Oeuvre, the huge body of work created by Eugène Atget, looking at the way different bodies of people have tried to catalogue his work so that it better conforms to their ideals and proves itself to be art. “The assimilation of this work of documentation in to a specifically aesthetic discourse began in 1925 with its notice and publication by the Surrealists and was followed, in 1929, by its placement within the photographic sensibility of the German New Vision.20 Thus began the various partial viewings of the 10,000-piece archive; each view the result of a selection intended to make a given aesthetic or formal point.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss: “Yet, if Atget’s work is to be considered art, and he an artist, this collation must be made; we must acknowledge ourselves to be in the presence of an oeuvre. The Museum of Modern Art’s four-part exhibition of Atget, assembled under the already loaded title Atget and the Art of Photography, moves briskly towards the solution of this problem, always assuming that the model that will serve to ensure the unity for this archive is the concept of an artist’s oeuvre. For what else could it be?” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss then quotes John Szarkowski, who recognised “that from the point of view of formal invention, the work is extremely uneven” (Krauss, 1982) Szarkowski, poses several theories as to why this is –
- “We could assume that it was Atget’s goal to make glorious pictures that would delight and thrill us, and that in this ambition he failed as often as not.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Or ” we could assume that he began photographing as a novice and gradually, through the pedagogical device of work, learned to use his peculiar, recalcitrant medium with economy and sureness, so that his work became better and better as he grew older.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Or “we could point out that he worked both for others and for himself and that the work he did for himself was better, because it served a more demanding master.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Or “we could say that it was Atget’s goal to explain in visual terms an issue of great richness and complexity-the spirit of his own culture and that in service to this goal he was willing to accept the results of his own best efforts, even when they did not rise above the role of simple records.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss believes that to some extent all of the above are true “but the last is especially interesting to us, since it is so foreign to our understanding of artistic ambition. It is not easy for us to be comfortable with the idea that an artist might work as a servant to an idea larger than he. We have been educated to believe, or rather, to assume, that no value transcends the value of the creative individual. A logical corollary of this assumption is that no subject matter except the artist’s own sensibility is quite worthy of his best attention” (Krauss, 1982)
- Krauss debates the inconsistency of Atget’s numbering systems, the order in which he captures images and the way he seems to return to the same place later, the numbering system has been seen as the key to decoding the work of Atget, the solution may not serve the desires of all the onlookers: “Yet the numbers are not strictly successive; they do not organize the work chronologically; they sometimes double back on each other. For researchers into the problem of Atget’s oeuvre, the numbers were seen as providing the all-important code to the artist’s intentions and the work’s meaning. Maria Morris Hambourg has finally and most definitively deciphered this code, to find in it the systematization of a catalogue of topographic subjects, divided into five major series and many smaller sub-series and groups.” (Krauss, 1982)
- Further: “What is interesting in this case is that the Museum of Modem Art and Maria Morris Hambourg hold in their hands the solution to this mystery, a key that will not so much unlock the system of Atget’s aesthetic intentions as dispel them. And this example seems all the more informative as it demonstrates the resistance of the museological and art historical disciplines to using that key.” (Krauss, 1982)
- And – “The coding system Atget applied to his images derives from the card files of the libraries and topographic collections for which Atget worked. His subjects are often standardized, dictated by the established categories of survey and historical documentation. The reason many of Atget’s street images uncannily resemble the photographs by Marville taken a half century earlier is that both are functions of the same documentary master-plan” (Krauss, 1982).
- And – “A catalogue is not so much an idea as it is a mathesis, a system of organization. It submits not so much to intellectual as to institutional analysis. And it seems very clear that Atget’s work is the function of a catalogue that he had no hand in inventing and for which authorship is an irrelevant term.” (Krauss 1982)
- In conclusion Krauss writes: “Everywhere at present there is an attempt to dismantle the photographic archive the set of practices, institutions, and relationships to which nineteenth century photography originally belonged-and to reassemble it within the categories previously constituted by art and its history. It is not hard to conceive of what the inducements for doing so are, but it is more difficult to understand the tolerance for the kind of incoherence it produces.” (Krauss 1982)
As an essay, this one forced me to dive deeper into myself, on my first pass all I saw was an irrelevant, piece on “is it art or not”, I don’t think this matters as the question is a purely personal discourse. I read the essay several times and found that by re reading and delving deeper into the ideas I found a better understanding.
The essay is written in a difficult style common in academic papers, it seemed to me that Krauss tried almost too hard to prove her point and ended up adding in some elements that just made the essay longer and delayed the point, much of the discourse on stereography felt this way to me.
The key message that comes from this essay for me is that there are many people in the “Art World” that want to label and categorise these older images in order to further their own ideas and agendas on what constitutes the aesthetic. Krauss was trying to bring us up short and make us think on the ethics of re-appropriating older works for new purpose outside the original intention of the creator. In this context it seems dangerous to me to throw the word Art around, she paints a picture of a sinister controlling element that comes from the organization of galleries and the space of exhibition that passes the power to decide what is worthy or not to a small bunch of curators. On reflection this can be seen throughout the creative world, people who make music only become famous by catching the ear of a record producer, the media decides what we see and listen too.
Do I think it is important to be able to say that Atget made his work for purely aesthetic reasons and was truly an Artist? Actually I really don’t care, I have a beautiful book of Atget’s work and looking at it gives me great pleasure, the sense of wonder his images give me is neither strengthened or diminished by the answer. For the up and coming Artist/Photographer it may be essential as without the favor of the curator the Space of Exhibition may never receive your work and by inference Krauss believes, your work would be marginalized as Art, in this I agree with her.
On a personal note the essay did more for me than purpose for which its content was intended, I learned a new way to read heavy essays and digest them, I found it much easier to read this essay and to assimilate its contents, the surprise was it included he use of an old kindle as well as a printed copy of the essay.
Krauss, R. (1982). Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View. [online] City University New York. Available at: https://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/lklichfall13t/files/2013/09/Krauss.pdf [Accessed 31 Aug. 2017].
Exercise 1.1: Preconceptions
The exercise asked for us to pick up a pencil and draw a landscape, I assume it was an attempt to get to the center of our “Id” and uncover our deepest darkest ideas about landscape. I have not rocked the boat, I decided to conform, I do appreciate that Landscape is more than the type of image produced by Ansel Adams, This type of landscape is the norm and defines a conventional wisdom on the subject.
So for my drawing I decided it had to be landscape format i.e. Wider than it was tall, there had to be a horizon. The image needed to be layered with areas of land retreating to the distance. A typical set of hills or a mountain, and some rolling land leading into it. In the foreground a rock draws the eye. It was to be devoid of people.
It is composed with a rock in the foreground to catch the viewer and draw them into the image, the lines and layers then draw the viewer further into the landscape. Sadly my drawing skills are not better and may not capture fully my thinking, but with some imagination its possible to determine where my mind went when I was set this challenge, which is possibly the point of this exercise.
Having broken the first ground in the Landscape course with this I feel ready to move forward and challenge all of these assumptions.