Responses and responsibilities

14 March 2020

I was struck by the image of the man falling from the North Tower (Drew, 2001), directly after the building had been hit by the plane 2001. Viewing this I am sickened and am in psychological pain. I think about that poor man—those poor men and women who felt that jumping was the best way for them to escape. Do I feel numb? Do I want to change something? Other than regret, I felt that the issues which had led to this event were complicated and their roots lie in history. 

9/11 North Tower. Falling man.

After 9/11 I wore a small pin of the American flag – like a shield- and in defiance.  But to me there was nothing else to do. I have a BSN and MN in nursing science, and along the academic way, learned a lot of psychological and behavioral theory.  I am going to apply these theories to see if they can make sense of the ability of a photography to provoke change.

From http://socialworktech.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Social-Work-Tech-CoC-color.png

Behavioral change in response to a stimulus, like an image, can occur when the viewer has already been aware of the problem and believes that acting on the problem will result in a benefit to the viewer.  Prochaska and DiClemente’s Transtheorectical Model (Links to an external site.) explains behavior change in a biopsychosocial process which consists of five stages (Prochaska,1997).  Change (or action) typically only occurs after the third stage—to reach this stage, the individual must 1) know that change is an option, then 2) weigh the risks and benefits of change to finally get to 3) readiness to change. Beyond the knowledge of something (like viewing a photograph of a burnt soldier), individuals need to understand options that they may have which could help the situation. Most importantly, individuals need to have self-efficacy: the confidence that comes from mastery experiences. When people become “numb” from observing or experiencing violence, war or other debilitation experiences, people develop limited self-efficacy. They become paralyzed and can’t act in their own best interests (Weibell, 2011).

Example:

Here’s an example of behavior change in a person who is self-efficacious: I think forests are important CO2 scrubbers, and that cutting forests down affects the quality of our air (This is stage 1: awareness of the problem and knowledge of a solution- not cutting trees). I find out that a local forest is scheduled to be cut down by the town.  A group of people is getting together to talk about negotiating with the town. I know the people and it wouldn’t take too much of my time, and saving the forest would be awesome, also I am confident that my negotiation skills could help the cause (stage 2 plus high sense of self-efficacy). However, I am busy, so not sure I should join the group. Then a friend shows me an image taken of the forest being cut!  I jump into action and attend the meeting (stage 3). In this scenario, I had knowledge of the problem, I felt that acting on my concern would create a real benefit and not harm me; I had self-efficacy and confidence in my abilities: Seeing the image of the tree being cut was the final stimulus to help me go into action. 

While it’s tempting to relate the creation and publication of an image to an action (like being numb, or joining a cause), it’s important to recognize that action (or inaction) occurs because of a person’s knowledge, attitudes and capacity at the moment of the observance of the image.  

Junod, T., 2009. Falling Man. Esquire.

Prochaska, J.O. and Velicer, W.F., 1997. A primer on stages of change. American journal of health promotion.

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from [https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com].


Leipeja massacre, Latvia 1941.

In regard to a classmate’ response:
I was struck by your conclusion that if you can’t relate to or have experience with something than the image, even if gruesome, does not impact.  I would wonder if this situation that you describe is emotional numbness.  Humans are empathetic and, despite the era, the ethnicity, or the uniform, we can all relate to the human in the image.  I was struck by the image of the Latvian Jews  lined up on the sand prior to execution– but what choked me up was  the woman in the dress, with bare legs and boots, hunched but still standing awaiting execution.  I related to her dress, her hunch– and I could feel the sand beneath my feet, the smell of the sea and breeze against my legs.  I felt empathy and almost like I could be her.  However, seeing such distressing evidence of our past, without being able to act, might cause emotional numbness.  Susan Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others, states “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.”

Sontag, S. (2004). Regarding the pain of others. Penguin.


20 March 2020
Feedback from Webinar with tutor:

I shared the last image I have created in the second set of image from the series Memento Vivere/Still, Life. For reference, the image to which I am referring is of the rooster seeming to fall toward a bed of daisies. I was asked if the chicken really was falling or if I chucked the chicken. As was my intention, it seemed that viewers were a bit worried about the chicken. Although this image is quite different than the others in this series, my tutor stated that it fit in as a set. I had thought about how I could create a more

A sea of images

Leap Day, February 2020

Are we drowning yet? The most clear way that I think I can express my thoughts about multiple possible media, positives and negatives is a chart. My comments are by no means a complete — or accurate analysis of media types, or advantages and disadvantages. However, it’s a very helpful exercise to do as I now have more questions than answers.
I believe that you can click on the image to make it full size.


9 March 2020

Sprawling on a Pin: Our family was gifted a yearly subscription of Nat Geo by a kind great-uncle, and the magazine opened my eyes to the world.  I remember the issue which feature the newly discovered Terracotta warriors of Xi’an, China. I poured over maps which influenced my future travel. I felt no unease staring at the images of the foreign peoples.  Without overt declaration, NatGeo granted me the ability to stare. I learned about ‘those people’ – peoples who didn’t look like my people- the white “normal” Americans. Through this exposure to the objectifying the other, I must have realized that I could travel and experience the world – in safety and in superiority.

 I was struck by Grundberg’s sentiments:  “There is even an occasional portrait of the kind for which the National Geographic was once slightly notorious: dark-skinned, bare-breasted women, in their customary dress, looking at the camera without any awareness of their impending status as spectacles for adolescent Western eyes.” His statement echo’s Sontag’s observation: “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”

I am uncomfortable taking pictures of people, other than in a portrait session. It’s been suggested that asking for permission prior to creating the image makes the practice of street photography ok, because permission was granted.  However, as Sontag states above, asking for permission implies that the subject truly understands the intended use of the image, and the reaction of the viewers.  I value the ethical principles of autonomy—in this case- the right of the subject to make an informed decision about the distribution and use of the image.  I was surprised to read the issue of NatGeo where the girl-featured on the cover, famous for her wild green eyes are red shawl was found as a woman…and she had no idea that her image had been seen by people around the world. I think that this is a clear case of being viewed as a person who doesn’t deserve to have self-determination. And the justice meted out for this case was the creation of an educational fund in the young woman’s name.   

I did take street photos in China and Portugal.  I am like a leopard: I watch people and pursue to get a good image. I waited for the transformative moment when I could feel ok about what I was doing.  It didn’t come.  Below is an example of an image I took in Lisboa. 

Grundberg, A. (1998) Photography View; A quintessentially American view of the world. The New York Times. P 35, pp4.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Gazing at photographs

24 February 2020

What is my gaze? If photographs are visual evidence of my perception, or regard of the world, then I would say that my gaze is one which is fascinated by construction and storytelling. My gaze is also female, middle class, well-educated and chronically tired. While I can create images, the stories I tell through images arise from the experiences I have had. Does my XX chromosome pattern change how I see, or the nature of my work? Dare (2019) asks “…Truly what is female? And what is their perspective? Is it soft and pink and full of flowers? Or is it harsh and dark and abrasive and empowering? It seems that even within the female gaze there are dichotomies. …The female gaze has no mandatory elements.”

Eilertsen, A. 2019. The female gaze: composite image. Arles, France.

 It’s interesting to note how many “women in photography” contests and grants have emerged recently. Why is there interest in the female gaze?  I would argue that the interest in representation of the female gaze emerged only after the democratization of media: cell phone cameras, internet and all.  Alessia Glaviano, editor for Vogue Italia states “Finally, you see people that are not too thin; one day someone has a pimple and who cares. Or, you know, someone with cellulite. You see all these kinds of things that before you weren’t able to see. Because before the web, if you wanted your images to be published, you had to go through the magazine…. (McKinley, 2016).” Additionally,  Charlotte Jansen (2017), author of Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze states “In the past, photographs of women were made by men for a capitalist economy to favor the male gaze and feed female competitiveness.”

Jansen addresses the power of the female gaze stating  “…the photographs women take of women can be a tool for challenging perceptions in the media, human rights, history, politics, aesthetics, technology, economy and ecology; to get at the unseen structures in our world and contribute to a broader understanding of society. What you can get is not always what you might see.” Jansen’s point is well taken, but I would expand it to say that the photographs taken by all kinds of people can be a tool for challenging the world view.

2019. A Conversation and Deconstruction of the Female Gaze in Photography. Lomography Magazine.

Jansen, C. (2017). How female photographers are deflecting the male gaze. CNN Style. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/girl-on-girl-female-gaze-photography/index.html

McKinley, A. (2016). The ‘Female Gaze’ in Fashion Photography. Lens. The New York Times. https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/the-female-gaze-in-fashion-photography/

26 February 2020

I am unsettled by the misappropriation of the terms ‘voyeur’ or ‘scopophilia’ by writers of photography. The Latin root of voyeur indicates that it means “to see”, and is related to “to know” and the Proto-Indo-European weide-. It appears, but I couldn’t find the exact date, that the term took on the psychologic meaning sometime in the last 150 years. My entry into the discussion: I’m having a hard time utilizing “voyeur” in any way except for the original definition. I would prefer, instead, to say “curious”, or “admiring” or as De, above, alludes to, “forensic”. Perhaps even “like a geometer”. But to soften the usage of voyeur is to blur the line between sexual aggression and gaze. I’m a bit inflexible when it comes to definitions as words are communication code- a universal meaning  ensures that our intentions are accurately expressed. Just my two cents 🙂 

I have now reconsidered my position on the use of voyeur to describe an interest or fascination. This was the original definition so it make sense. It seems a bit disingenuous that these terms was utilized in describing the viewers interest in the image. My gut feeling is that the terms were adopted more because of the controversial meanings of the word and less because the words mean exactly “to see” or “to like to see”.


Into the image world

16 February, 2020

“…a text’s unity lies not in its origin, but in its destination”.

Barthes, R. (1967). Death of the Author.


The final phrase in this essay reads “we know that to restore to writing its future, we must reverse its myth: the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.” This is an interesting idea when applied to the making of an image, and could read something akin to “in order for photography to have a future, the photographer must sell out to the viewer”. My choice of words here may be not quite reflecting the original quote, however, i feel that this idea is true on a number of levels. Firstly, the arts wouldn’t exist without appreciators. If there were no audience, the work would remain invisible to the world, to be consumed only by the creator. Nothing wrong with that, it is more like a closed circuit– a pulse is created, but travels the wires in a circular pathway until the impulse is deleted. Secondly, I wonder if Barthes’ supposition could be applied to cases where artists find a niche which resonates with and becomes popular with viewers. Viewers want more of what they like, and the artist falls into a loop of producing similar work to please the viewers, and as capitalism is wild and free– to make a living. It seems that the term “ransomed” as above, could literally true for the popular artist.


19 February 2020

I had my weekly tutorial group today.  We viewed the work of one classmate who is exploring the experience of soccer (sorry- football) fans of a team local to him. I think that his work has a fresh and almost reverent feel.  A group of young boys who were kicking balls around for fun was captured in one image, and I was struck by the scene.  The youngest boy was playing alone with the ball as his older friends were playing together.  This image seems iconic as this situation – the youngest not keeping up and being excluded- is a human experience.  I felt a little bit wiser for viewing this as it clicked that it’s not about exclusion, but maybe more about the desire for the older kids to be recognized as a pack.  The composition was well balanced, and the colors were fresh. My perspective on color may be skewed as I live in a region which is currently covered in white snow. 

Two group members were catching up and planning work.  It’s very encouraging to see how other classmates work, plan and reflect. My work: I had experimented last night with hanging fruit in a windowsill a la Juan Cotan (late 1500-1600 Spanish still life painter) and employed a hen to stand in for the game featured in his painting.  I felt like I just couldn’t get the look I wanted, in fact, I feel that the image resembles a failed elementary school science fair project. I presented this image (as a cautionary tale) about 5 of the poultry/ Dutch still life images I had styled. I received feedback that the failed science project image was the most interesting!  Just when I was ready for a laugh about it.  But I can see now why it is more interesting.  I will describe this in more detail in my project progress page.  Several people talked about how it seemed surreal, and the tutor suggested that surrealism could be interesting to explore. I am suspicious and slightly uncomfortable with surrealism. I believe that my background is solidly middleclass. I am intrigued by Sontag (1977) who said:

Surrealism is a bourgeois disaffection; that its militants thought it universal is only one of the signs that it is typically bourgeois.

Sontag, S. (2011). On Photography. p 49.

21 February 2020

Viewers make meaning: Weekly discussion.
Our task was to post an image which fellow students had not seen before, then comment on the meaning or intent of our peers work.

Red flowers, rooster and blood orange

I posted this image of the red rooster, velvet, flowers and orange. My original intent was to practice the style of the Dutch still life from the early part of the 17th Century. I styled it with sparse decor thinking that the rooster would dominate the image.
I appreciate the time and effort demonstrated by my peer group. The feedback was generous and insightful. The majority of the feedback reflected the dominant (my intended) reading, where the rooster was viewed as a paramount component– not only in his size compared to the decor, but also in his presence. In regard to a negotiated reading, several peers referred to Dutch still life, and one said that the rooster was a symbol of vigilance against sin- which lends a greater meaning to this image in light of the subject of vanitas paintings.
In response to this feedback: I will keep experiment with the painterly/still life/ Dutch master look and lighting as I think it is successful. Peers immediately connect to it and recognize it. The saturated red is strong and can have negative connotations- I think I will not use that again. I am thinking about where my work is going next, and this exercise has increased my awareness of how people read work. I will probably style my images with more visual sensitivity.

Barthes, R. (1967). Death of the Author.
Sontag, S. (2011). On Photography.


Constructed Realities

11 February, 2020

I was struck by the quote from Susan Sontag: “Photography has the unappealing reputation of being the most realistic, therefore facile of the mimetic arts.”  Firstly, I need to unpack her statement– it appears that she is saying that to photograph is to capture the world in a realistic way. Realism is easy (facile), therefore unappealing, therefore photography is unappealing?  I appreciate that, while photography has been derided as inferior to painting as an art form, I believe that  photography results in the capture of a unique, and therefore valuable, slice of time.  Interestingly, Sontag also states that photographs “testify to time’s relentless melt”. 

I am posting an image which I took last night which reflects a constructed scene.  This image is styled after Peiter Claisz “Turkey Pie”, 1627. Claesz’ image features a stuffed turkey in the back-right hand corner, which could symbolize wealth or good fortune. I am working on a series which focuses on moments of life (momento vivere) aimed to celebrate the fleeting moments in life by slowing down and enjoying the present. I have chosen to work with live animals in my constructions. Sophie, in the back right, symbolizes the vivacity and agency of life, and like other animals, is a bit curious.  While I can plan for the props, the background and the lighting, I can’t plan on the animal’s reactions. Perhaps, rather than using the term “constructed”, these images are active collaborative fictions among beings.   When I make the image, I am paying attention to my work, and also the animal– to make sure she is ok, and doesn’t wander off. It’s interesting to work with live animals in that they do have their own interests and motivations, and sometimes challenging to “direct”. Capturing an image of the chicken interacting with a still life is a testament to “time’s relentless melt”.   This makes me pay full attention to what i am doing– it’s like a form of meditation… which is the message behind the momento vivere. It’s about being here now.

References: 

Claesz, P. Turkey Pie. 1627. Oil Painting. The Rijksmuseum.
Eilertsen, A. (2020). Sophie at the banquet.
Sontag, S., 2001. On photography (Vol. 48). Macmillan.

12 February, 2020

Comments which I received:
“Amy, that image is stunning, you’ve managed to capture the richness so well, and to have a real live chicken is a treat for the viewer. Its great to unpick the greats, thanks for sharing your take on Sontag’s annoying quote!”
AE comment to self: I, too thought that Susan Sontag’s quote was disappointing… And in retrospect I should have further investigated the context which she had written this. I was really impressed to receive the next comment from a fellow learner:

“In fact, Sontag is writing about the relationship between photography and Surrealism. Sontag considers that when the shutter is pressed, it captures a random collection of subject material, linked purely by the fact that they happened to be present when the film or sensor was exposed. The elements of the picture, whatever they may be, are forever linked by the fact that they happened to be in the camera’s field of view when the shutter was pressed.”
AE comments: I found the original quote: “In fact is it the one art which has managed to carry out the grandiose, century-old threats of a Surrealist takeover of the modern sensibility, while most of the pedigreed candidates have dropped out of the race (Sontag, 1977). ” While the classmate’s comment had lead me to assume that Sontag believed that the automaticity of the camera was responsible for the photographic outcome, I now believe her point was that photography has brought about an artistic revolution- not one of pure Surrealism as was feared, but one of which is “ineffable in the national reality- something, possibly that has never been seen before”.



Authenticity and analysis

4 February, 2020

How do we evaluate what we see? Does it matter the source of the material from which light is reflected into the eye and processed by the brain?  Do we value light reflected from one source more than another? We do value in the sense that the brain interprets certain wavelengths of reflected light as color. If the light we perceive is red, does it matter if it is reflected from a bug’s wing, oil paint, printing ink on paper, or on a computer monitor?

No matter what the source, the evaluation occurs through a cognitive process of forming or accessing perceptions.  “Perceptions are not regarded as internal pictures or sounds, but rather as language-like descriptions coded, we suppose, by brain structures of what may be out there. We carry in our heads predictive hypotheses of the external world of objects, and of ourselves. These brain-based hypotheses of perception are our most immediate reality. But they involve many stages of physiological signaling and complicated cognitive computing, so experience is but indirectly related to external reality (Gregory, 1998).”

The predictive hypothesis that our brains employ are based on our own limited experiences. Past visual experiences may be very important in interpreting or valuing contemporary data.   For example, when we see a large furry four footed animal, we may “see” horse, but in actuality, a moment later we realize that we are seeing a moose.  Because photographs, prints or oil paintings are processed through a bio-behavioral neurological system, I would argue that the methods used to evaluate photography are the same as evaluating anything else which we “see”.

I am including an example (see top of page).  I created this drawing using oil pastels around 1990 when I was living in Alaska.  I drew what I had in front of me—and I drew on the floor (this does not aid in accurate rendering of perspective- so forgive the imperfections! In addition, I took a snapshot with my i phone of this drawing as it hangs in my sister’s dining room in Sweden, so there are odd reflections .) When considering systems of photographic image or art theory, how would you judge my photographic image of a drawing?  

Gregory, R. (1998). Brainy Mind. British Medical Journal. P5.


The Index and the Icon

3 February 2020

Reading the title for coursework in week 2, “The Index and the Icon“, I note that I can’t parse meaning from the phrase because I do not have a firm grasp of what these terms actually mean within the context of the image. I found an article from University of Chicago School of Media where the author provides context and outlines definitions of symbol, index and icon.
Index and icon are utilized in semiotics, or the study of signs, and have specific connotations when used in this type of analysis. The index and icon relate signs to objects. The index is something that serves to guide or point out, or facilitate a reference. “The index focuses the attention”(Huening, 2004). Atkin (2010) states that if a sign is fact which connects an object to an interpretation, it is an index. He states that the connection between a murder and the victim is an index.
The icon, states Huening (2004), has properties in common with the object. He goes on to say that a photograph is “an icon, it is directly and physically influenced by its object, and is therefore an index; and lastly in requires a learned process of reading to understand it”. However, Atkin (2010) asserts that Pierce had indicated that portraits are an example of an index as, if in a realistic style, it would share qualities with the object from which the portrait was modeled.
So I wonder, what is the relationship between the index and the icon? True, they are both a form of sign according to this philosophical system. But how do leverage this system of typology in our work of creating images?
Bradley (2016) states “Signs can communicate by resembling what they represent, by implying what they represent, or through arbitrary representations that must be learned before we can understand their meaning.” I think that I have now connected this philosophical theory of signs to work which I am doing today.

This post is illustrated with a composite image that I created a few weeks ago which may be interesting to unpack using the terms index and icon. In this image, I think that the image of me with long flowing robes surrounded by a sparkly sky serves as an indication (index) that this is a constructed image. Clues include that the figure appears too large in proportion to the mountains and that the figure is scantily dressed for this mountain environment.
The icon is the mountain scene in that it visually represents the original object.

Icon
Index

I think that I have a better understanding of the lexicon of symbols, and why it might be important to appreciate the differences and uses of these terms. While I am aware that there are signs in my work, I wasn’t really sure how I would approach maximizing the use of signs as interpretive communication. As I am now exploring momento mori, or veniere, I can consider how I want to express signs in these images: Do I want to include an index in my work? Or an icon? And how might the viewer appreciate these additions?

Atkin, A. (2010). Peirce’s Theory of Signs. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed from:https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce-semiotics/#SigEleSig

Bradley, S. (2016). Icon, Index and Symbol- Three Catagories of Signs. Vanseo Design. Accessed: https://vanseodesign.com/web-design/icon-index-symbol/

Heuning, D. (2004). The University of Chicago: Theories of Media: Keywords Glossary: symbol-index-icon. Accessed at: https://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/symbolindexicon.htm

Photography, the shape-shifter

31 January 2020

Nature: I think that the nature of my photographic practice is self-expressive. I can only imagine that there are as many motivations to create an image as there are people.  Common reasons may be to appeal to an audience, such as in commercial photography.  My practice, at this point, is exploratory as I am still climbing a steep learning curve- and have many interests.  Though I have been connected to photography for years, I am growing my technical and expressive skills.  I have been exploring the theme of willful blindness using the tableau using both people and miniature models.  The type of photography could be described as the constructed narrative.  My intent has been to challenge the viewer to think about the situation portrayed as it relates to their experience. 

Context: Last term I created images which explored the dichotomy of America in the 1950s.  American’s were portrayed to themselves, through the growing advertising industry, as optimistic, white, wealthy and perfect. However, at the same time, the American government was conducting an atomic testing program which produced radioactive fallout, leading to the death of three quarters of a million Americans.  I am fascinated and horrified by this fact—and juxtaposed miniature people- maybe typical Americans—leading their lives literally against the backdrop of the atomic testing program.  I have described this in detail because, as it turns out, context may be everything to understanding the images.  My siblings and I grew up during the cold war and were fascinated by atomic technology.  People in the UK, such as my classmates, probably do not have the same perspective, and therefore, may not appreciate the images in the same way that an American of my age might. Barthes states that there are three components to a message- the emission, the transmission and the point of reception. Humans make meaning by using inferences based on information, humans take cues from placement, timing, color and all the senses to understand an object, moment or communication.  These inferences may be concluded so quickly that the decision/interpretation may almost be instantaneous.  Therefore, the message may not be received with the same intent as the image creator.

Consumption: I think that my past work would be consumed as art, such as in a gallery or a book.  Reading about the Benneton campaign, some of the images could be used to support an advertising campaign.  I have one that I think could be used as a gun control advert.

Practice:   Szarkowski’s  characteristics of photography seem, at first glance, to be a description of the choices a photographer makes with every single image. However, while all the elements are present in images, any one of the elements can be exploited in an image for different effect.  I am currently developing a still life project where the thing, the detail and the frame are of more importance than time or vantage point.  I also am intrigued by Shore’s idea that the image is a flat rendition of a 3 dimensional world where every image is a record of something that never really existed.  When I consider how the eye sees, the brain interprets; how experiences form contexts which then inform perceptions in context with Shore’s idea of the flattened image, i can only say… mind blown! 

Barthes, R. 1977. Image Music Text. London: Fontana.

Szarkowski, J. 1980. The Photographer’s Eye. London: Seckler and Warburg. P. 6-11.