30 December, 2019
Week 0
Human Choices: reflection

Reflection on the intent of my practice and the ‘human choices’ that I have made to visually convey my ideas: I don’t yet have a practice, per se, rather I am practicing. My intention is to experiment, build my skills so that when I work on my FMP, I can create quality images with purpose.
I have had two projects so far, both related to the theme of willful blindness, and both could be considered to fall into the category of tableau. Willful blindness is a term which addresses the human tendency to ignore the painful/challenging issues. I have chosen to approach image-making from an experimental point of view, grounding my work in concepts. For example in my first term, I worked with people to create tableau to depict situation which demonstrate the concept of willful blindness. Central to my theme was childhood adverse events, so I chose a few common scenes- like the beach, or a family dinner, then placed the characters in attitudes depicting feelings of discomfort. I chose to work with family members because they were present and support my work.

The following images were my most successful of this bunch. The image which I made last is the top left- and it’s most successful: I think that my improved lighting skills created more depth in this photo. The composition is interesting in that the older woman is balanced by the very green foliage outside of the door. I believe that the photograph in front of her face adds to the strangeness of the picture as it makes her appear to be giraffe- like, however, it also seems like she is hiding behind a picture of her youth. This image won the Juror’s prize in a photo show called “women’s work”.

The next two images were not as successful, and I think it’s primarily because of the way the message is delivered: Both images depict a significant event, but because of the choices I made (to depict a man drowning/not drowning; or a table on fire) these might feel a bit too self-aware and gimmicky.

My second term I worked in macro with miniature figures. The theme was the hubris of the American government and the innocence of the American people during the era of atmospheric atomic testing. I chose this project as atomic atmospheric testing led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans. I am a nurse and this is a public health disaster– It’s my protest against the danger of ignorance.

I learned a lot on the way to creating this work. My strengths were accepting feedback, perseverance, curiosity and repeated experimentation. My opportunities for growth include using more relate-able material? Although I don’t know if that is a weakness, I just have to accept that very few people relate to this work. Another opportunity is to have created images with a broader tone.

What I could have improved in the image above: Honestly, I found this image funny. Miss Atomic Bomb, pictured here in front of an atomic test at Bikini atoll, is surreal and suits the craziness that is atomic testing. It reminds me of a 1980s punk postcard. The figure of the woman is too large for the scene, I could have matched the blues of the foreground with the background. There’s too much reflection and the subject is hard to understand unless one has knowledge of the testing program.

Resources: Two practitioners inspired my work in term one and term two.

Gregory Crewdson
  • Gregory Crewdson:
    1. The Guardian, 2016 on Crewdson’s work, Cathedral of the Pines: “One great thing about photography is that it kind of hovers between everything. It’s really easy to reach out to other mediums and have connections between things,” says Gregory Crewdson. The Guardian review states that his images are “hard to decipher individually, but cumulatively threaded together…”. Comments– This is more of a promotion than a critique.
      Maroz, S. (2016). The Guardian. Art and Design, Photography.
    2. Roberta Smith from the New York Times reviewing Crewdson’s Beneath the Roses exhibition: “Some details suggest horror movie kitsch, like the filthy pink telephone in a hotel room where an older woman stands naked in the bathroom. The blood dripping down her thigh pushes the narrative toward overload: is she sick or not as menopausal as she thought? Has she checked into a room where something horrible has happened and might happen again or was the maid in a rush?” The reviewer goes on to say that Crewdson’s work as a whole seems overly academic, the characters lack emotional depth and that he might do better just reverting to taking images on the street. The reviewer also mentions that Crewdson’s images have become stage craft, rather than art. I think that the debate can become “what is art”? To me this all indicates that the danger of the cinematic tableau may be over playing the scene and characters.
      Smith, R. (2005) The New York Times. Section E, p 36.
    3. On Crewdson’s depiction of suburbia and the mass production of homes: “Crewdson invites the viewer to vicariously participate in the scene”, an effort that may fall short of true understanding of the characters experience, but rather, gains insight into the experience of living in suburbia. Perhaps this is more of an explanation than a critique. I see my world- the one i grew up in, in Crewdson’s work. Suburbia with the banal cookie-cutter homes, the bland aspirations, the post-war hope. I relate to this- and the feelings of abject disillusionment.
      Archer, J., 2009. Representing Suburbia: From Little Boxes to Everyday Practices. Representations of Suburbia. Hempstead, NY, Hofstra University.
Lori Nix – Control room (miniature)
  • Lori Nix:
    1. “Each scene is so lavishly detailed down to wood grain and stained walls that I thought she simply set-dressed existing locations rather than create the world exactly as she wished it to be. After disbelief came relief; I was glad these locations didn’t exist, that they weren’t actually the result of some current natural or man-made disaster..”. The author of this review talks about the surreal and convincing worlds of Lori Nix, who creates small- scale models which she then photographs. The reviewer goes on to reflect on his disappointment that the photographic images revealed too much detail and it was noticeable that Lori Nix was creating small sets. To me, her work is remarkable and wholly different from any other practitioner. The fact that she photographs her work seems secondary.
      James, D. (2011) New City Art. Review: Lori Nix/Catherine Edelman Gallery.
    2. “…And then 9/11, transforming the city and the United States forever.  The days immediately following 9/11 were notable for the strong camaraderie among Americans, a feeling that we were one family; this feeling is entirely extinct now. Post-apocalyptic visions are nothing new of course, but our collective witnessing of a horrifying spectacle has perhaps snuffed the possibility of utopic visions of the city and now it is a commonplace for artists to create elaborate visions of a post-human landscape, such as these miniature dioramas by Lori Nix or these neo-Tower of Babels created by the Chinese artist Du Zhenjung.  Nix and Zhenjung are among legions of contemporary artists whose dystopian or post-apocalyptic work is no longer just some futuristic romantic fantasy. They are imagining the city, as it might be very soon, destroyed in one blow, or decaying on its unsteady foundations.
      I disagree with this reviewer about the reason for the worlds which Lori Nix creates. I would not assume that her work is dystopian, rather I think she demonstrates awareness of a decline of utopia, perhaps lifting a veil on the pretense of utopia post-war America.
      Durant, M. A. (2013). Saint Lucy. Picturing the City.

Where I am going next?

Dan Bannino

First idea: create still life informed by the style of the 17th Century Dutch masters, such as Pieter Claesz. I have been intrigued by the chiaroscuro prominent in these works, and have a particular interest in momento mori, however, may have a modern take which focuses on living in the moment. In the example below, I am juxtapositing the live duck with the photoshopped background to invite the viewer to question what is real and what is not “real”. Frequently there are dead animals on display in momento mori, and I would like to see what it would be like to have live animals — and create momento vivi– which could mean “remember that you are currently living. Please see my post “Between Terms” for further explanation.

Second idea: Mindfulness of the quotidian. Continue to pursue work I did regarding the theme of the “every day” object. Not necessary banal, more like really noticing the quirky things that I pass on a daily basis. My intention is to say “here is this, right now” as a form of meditation. These are images taken in my own home that I just really didn’t give much attention to in the past. I work long hours, I am studying, I am busy, like everyone else. But aren’t these little a real part of my life?

Thirdly, I have been building a 6 hole pinhole camera which will take 120 film. I have to assemble the thing, but I think it could be very interesting to explore the world through this simple, but effective photographic instrument. The positives would be the opportunity to solve the problem of how to create this thing, how to take proper pictures, then how to capitalize on the instrument’s strengths in an interesting way.