The theologeion is a raised structure from which the gods spoke. The theo in the word theologeion means ‘god’ and the logeion comes from the Greek word logos, which means ‘word’.
There appear to be at least two methods of developing a project: One in which the project idea exists before the photographs are taken– for example, I could think “I would like to explore the experience of older adulthood in rural America”. I would then need to devise a way of capturing the essence of this theme through photography. A second is when the project appears, and the meaning of the project follows. My current project is like the latter: I was drawn to working with miniature figures and launched a project. The challenge for me is finding out the “why” behind what I am doing.
When working with these figurines, such as with the project Ich bin ein Elastoliner, I created a two-sided stage from some scraps of wallboard (gypsum board). The stage is about 12’x12″x 24″. As the stage is taped together, I can take it apart and rebuild to have an open left side or right side. I have used colored plastic gels to line the stage surface and create a colorful backdop, and used small lights to create spots, and background lighting. While I am referring to it as a stage, it hasn’t become clear to me that it is this until a few days ago.
If I am working with tiny figures on a stage, then who am I to these figures? I did a little research into Greek theater-specifically parts of the stage. I was drawn to the term theologeion— the elevated area where actors who were playing gods . As I create scenes with little figures, I am also playing god.
The German figures received a well deserved weekend off and I turned my attention to two figure-groups which I had recently acquired: dancers and dinos. I picked up the 1:48 scale vintage plastic dancers on Etsy for just a few dollars and the dinos from a local feed store. My husband encouraged me to work with both model types- why not dancers and dinosaurs? As the obvious way to approach this combination would be dinos eating dancers, I attempted to leverage the juxtaposition- grace with power- and create dance scenes.
I like these images. I am very pleased by the image of the ballet dancer on the chair, where her dinosaur is gazing up at her with admiration. Technically, the composition is interesting and balanced, the colors in the floor are complex and the chairs behind the dancer serve to create an internal frame.
Below are photos demonstrating my method. I have created a small, collapsible stage of off-cuts of wall-board and use duct tape to hold the back in vertical. I have used gel to line the walls and floor of my set in my previous photos. This time, I pulled pages from a home furnishing catalog and taped them to the back of the stage. As I shoot in low light, the short depth of field blurs the background and adds to the illusion of depth.
13 October 2019
Certain images and ideas have been of such great evolutionary importance that we store prototypes in the brain that predispose us to react in certain ways to them – an infant’s cry, the human face, mating signals (innatereleasing mechanisms). Similarly, Richard Wagner and Carl Jung (among others) noted that myths around the world repeat quintessential characters and situations that reveal human nature in profound ways (archetypes). For example, the idea of a dragon appears in myths and fairy tales of all cultures, predating the discovery of dinosaur fossils. This may represent a residual fear of giant reptiles dating from a time when our mammalian ancestors struggled with them for survival on the earth. Our prehistoric terror emerges in the popularity of museum exhibits and films like JurassicPark.
I am continuing to work with the dinosaurs and dancers, however, have been questioned about what it all means. In it’s original state, dancers and dinos are literally two things that I put together somewhat randomly. I had constraints on subject matter, and while I was not feeling well, decided to continue to work in miniature because it’s convenient and fun.
I tried an experiment today related to my former project of Willful Blindness. I somehow want this work to have more meaning, yet continue to have the same style and lighting that I have created. I found some images of the atom bomb tests in western USA, and some of Hitler’s massive crowds. I wanted to see if I could create a situation where the viewer clearly sees the dancer and the dino, and can see enough of the background to see that it is something, but not sure what it is. I use a very short dof so the background is quite blurred.
I think that the images are fairly successful: the colors are rich and interesting, the dancer and dino are in focus and the composition is fine. I don’t think that the images can stand on thier own, that is, they need an explanation. I am not sure of the idea of combining historical events with the dancer/dino. The duo is successful when in a fantastical place, however, the historical events beg the question of reality and the viewer may think “why a dino”?
October 26, 2019: I have been reading up on Operation Doorstep, the US Department of Defense nuclear experiements in Nevada. I understand that nuclear weapons were new and that there was a need to better understand the effect of weapons on human dwellings, but it’s just weird. Friendly family scenes in fully outfitted homes- there to be blown up. All mannakins are Caucasian- and the house was large, for a well-to-do family. Operation Doorstep would be a very interesting project to research.
In this experiment (above), I printed the family picture onto silk organza which has diaphenous and has a very open weave. Shining light on the front of the picture shows more of the family, and shining light behind the fabric reveals more of the background. It’s essentially what is called a scrim in theater. I printed out a picture of NATO forces watching an explosion and placed it in the back of the theater set-up. I wanted the dancer to seem out of place and oddly celebratory. I am not happy with the result – the scrim material if obvious. The dancer, while out of place, doesn’t really have a purpose. I was hoping to explore willful blindness, but it doesn’t fit that idea. I will try the scrim idea again, but will consider the content.
I am currently working on project which is a variant of work I planned for term 2 in my Research proposal. I had been exploring the idea of willful blindness, including denial, status quo, etc. As I had mentioned in Week 1, I enjoyed creating scenes with the miniature German figures, but was looking for more: more depth, more of a point?
Fortuitiously, I received a JollyLook camera in the mail. I had backed the JollyLook project on a start-up platform nearly three years ago. The camera looks a lot like the old top-view medium format cameras, but is made of cardboard and uses mini Polaroid film. I was very excited about this model as it seemed to be configured in such a way that I could photos with a tilt/shift approach. This camera seemed to be an ideal way for me to explore the use of the figurines in a different way.
This thing is, this camera is cardboard and has no lens. I opted to use the pinhole and, out of approximately 20 shots, I managed to get two which had recognizable content!
I thought it would be interesting to use the images I produced to create an emulsion lift. I approached this experiment like a geometer, but was disappointed and puzzled that I did suceed in getting my hands covered with black developing chemicals, but no emulsion. My husband did a quick Google search and we learned that Polaroid transfers require Polaroid film. I was using Fuji film.
I ordered Polaroid film for this little camera and tried again. Turns out, this alternative process does not work with any instant film that is currently in production. Good to know… but disappointing. More about emulsion lifts in my next post.
10 October 2019
Repurposed family history
My curiosity for alternative processes and wish to find a visually interesting solution to apply to my figurine project led me to purchasing old Polaroid pictures on eBay. The first lot— 100 of them- contained some interesting family scenes which I thought I could use as background for my figurine work. Disappointingly, the film type was incorrect and an emulsion lift was not possible.
I purchased a second lot of old Polaroids- labeled “1980 trip”, on eBay. These appear to be mostly national park scenes. Curious to know if I had finally found the correct type of film, and I chose a photo to sacrifice to another Polaroid emulsion lift- and was really thrilled that it worked! While the emulsion is thicker than I imagined, it’s quite fragile and poked a couple of holes in the picture. The emulsion expands in the water and, when wet, gains about 30% in area. I transferred the image to drawing paper.
I like the look of the transfer- to me it’s slightly other-worldly, maybe painterly. I will continue to experiment with these emulsion lifts, and am looking for a more translucent product. I have some sheets of silk organza — designed for the printer– which I will use as a back from the next round of experiments.
Of note, it’s a little sad to look at other people’s abandoned photographs. As Susan Sontag had said in “Society of the Spectacle” that family history is made by the photographs taken. It seems a shame to put these personal pictures on eBay, however, I appreciate the photos as art.
“with each shift of location the photogram is decontextualized and, as the context changes, so does the meaning..”
Berger and Evans (1997) p 54.
I attended the 2019 Les Rencontres D’Arles, a large photographic exhibition held throughout the city of Arles, France. Arles is an ancient Roman city built at the confluence of the Rhone. Cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways and stone buildings typify this city. Most of the exhibits were placed in unused or empty buildings- beautiful, ancient buildings. This context, or setting, changed everything, to me, about the photos featured. For example, an exhibit, “The Anonymous Project“, occupied the entirety of a small, two story stone home. The premise of the project was the display of slides depicting family life in the 1960s in England. The slides had been found (in second hand shops or sales) and the photographers and subjects were thereby anonymous. The slides were displayed on back-lit acrylic panels and slideshows as an instillation. Each room of the house held a different theme with featured images located in the context of the subject. For example, images were displayed in the open refrigerator and a pullout drawer of the mocked-up kitchen. What made the exhibition was the addition of a soundtrack (from the 1940s) and home furnishings taken from that age. It was fascinating. I found myself seated on the couch of the living room, watching the slide show and feeling very sentimental. But would I have felt so sentimental if I had viewed these images in another context, like displayed on the white walls of a gallery. I don’t think so, and believe that context changes the meaning.
Audiences: Currently I am using Adobe Portfolio to house my gallery. It is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite and seamlessly meshes with Lightroom. I like that the content is responsive and can be viewed on a phone or computer with equally good results. Observing my work, I have several thoughts: I have put a lot of time and though into the construction of the photographs and am proud of that. I am pleased to have the experience of a photograph develop from idea to execution and end product. As my practice is in development, I can see changes in the quality of the photos over the last few months. The photos were taken indoors, outdoors with a flash and studio lighting, causing variations in color and dimensionality. Because of this, there is not a consistent “look” to the photographs when put together. I will continue to consider this in the future when producing a body of work.
Viewing my work, I wonder, who is my audience, or my “consumer”. My photographs have been an expression of me and I didn’t think about who else to which they may appeal. My audience has been whomever sees my images on Instagram, or on this blog. As my photographic practice grows, I would consider expanding into a commercial portrait market. Which makes me wonder what the difference is between audience and consumer is. I think it depends on the subject and the situation. If I am commissioned to work, then my audience would be anyone who would engage me in photographing the subject which they wish to feature. Who would my work appeal to?
Berger, J. and Evans, J., 1997. The Camerawork Essays: Context and Meaning in Photography.
I am intrigued with the concept of ‘seeing the unseen’. Margaret Heffernan’s 2011 book, Wilful Blindness, explores the concepts behind why individuals or groups are blind to impending tragedies. In my personal life and in my work as a healthcare practitioner, I have observed situations where something was not right, but, but no-one noticed, and the effected individual had a bad outcome. I am guessing that many people have had the experience of seeing something – a parent grab a child aggressively, a man lurking, a woman’s frightened glances, and not known what to do. Considering the idea of willful blindness, I wonder if ambiguity, or, uncertainty as to how to interpret or respond to a situation, can lead to the state of being willfully blind. To explore this concept, I am going to utilize the tableau, or a scene, to express situations where there seem to be activities or things at odds with one another. For example, there may be parts of a scene that seem totally normal while other parts could be ok, or they could be alarming.
I will be working with my siblings to create an outdoor portrait in the style of a tableau. The idea is that a group of people are being photographed and seem not to notice that an object is on fire. Fire, for this particular instance, is relevant as my siblings and I were fascinated by fire when we were young. Not felonious activity, but we did build small structures and light them on fire. It was better than TV.
I am inspired by the work of American photographer, Gregory Crewdson (1999), who created large-scale cinematic tableau. In this work, he uses primary colors, dramatic lighting and odd juxtapositions that inspire discomfort.
This work will be challenging for me as I have limited equipment and lighting experience, however, I have a supportive family and a fire extinguisher.
I have done some research on lighting, model and camera position. I have chosen colors, purchased props, coached my siblings, built a table to burn and am ready for the shoot this weekend.
I am interested in the idea of the photo made, rather than the photo taken. In this post I explore the works of three contemporary artists who have created effective photographic tableau.
According to the Tate Gallery, 2019: Tableau is used to describe a painting or photograph in which characters are arranged for picturesque or dramatic effect and appear absorbed and completely unaware of the existence of the viewer.
The photograph above, Jeff Wall, 1993: A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai) exemplifies this art form. The subjects are unaware of the camera as a gust of wind carries away a stream of papers. The flat lighting, and dramatic positioning of the figures adds to the affect.
Cindy Sherman’s work (1990), Mrs. Claus, features a rather grotesque rendition of Mrs. Claus that, despite looking at the camera, still evokes that lack of awareness of the photographer.
The grotesqueness and surrealism of this photograph seems to arise from the stuffed cheeks and fake wig of the model, the white lighting which directly illuminates the subject and awkward hand placements –as if the model is trying to push herself away from the camera.
Gregory Crewdson has created complex, subtle and cinematographic images. His naturalistic detail and serene demeanor of the model is thrust into the surreal through the use of dramatic lighting.