Week 1:

Human Choices: reflection

Reflection on the intent of my practice and the ‘human choices’ that I have made to visually convey my ideas: Firstly I have to say that I don’t yet have a practice, per se. 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. Willful blindness applies to many situations which in themselves can be painful for a viewer. I have chosen to try to be more conceptual and less literal. For example in my first term, I worked with people and used tableau to depict that something was not right. 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 I feel much more comfortable with them then people I don’t know as well.

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.

My second semester, I worked in macro with miniature figures. I made a choice to work indoors and close to home because it was fall, but also because I had a promotion at work, then was given another department to manage temporarily. It’s a big load. This time, I created a small set on my dining room table. The backdrop set the scene for the figures and 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 because the topic is important to me 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. I was limited by the paper print of the image in that the printing was obvious if I increased the light. Seeing the texture of the print ruined the illusion of depth.

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.

In depth resources: (3 practitioners each with three reviews):

  • 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:
    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.”
      Durant, M. A. (2013). Saint Lucy. Picturing the City.

Where I am going next?

Week 2: Interdisciplinary Practice

June 14, 2019

When I am learning to apply new concepts, I like start by digging into the exact meaning of a concept.  To me, the concepts of “interdisciplinary practice”, particularly when expressed as “relevant disciplines” was a bit challenging. Discipline has many meanings, however, the best interpretation for this context was disciplines as thematic fields of study or interest. I struggled with the concept of “critical” when applied to related disciplines.  Critical can mean crucial, relevant or a form of judgement.  For this exercise, when examining a photographic sample from my project, “Girl”, I choose to examine the content and style of the photograph in relation to influential disciplines.

Amy Eilertsen. 2019. Girl.

My photograph, “Girl” is from a series of illustrations for a book in progress about the embodiment of the seasons.  When I was creating this project, I could see the scene, lighting, dress of the model and other details.  I story-boarded it out, sketching angles and desired backdrops.  I worked with a model and photographed this series in Sweden.

Upon examination of this photograph, I was really surprised when I realized that the clear picture I had in mind, which I thought was my own, unadulterated invention, was a close approximation of the work of Maxfield Parrish, a popular American artist and illustrator.

Maxfield Parrish. 1910. Jason and the Oak. 

I loved the vivid colors and Romantic style as a kid- to me then, it was absolute escapism.  It’s interesting how, while we may not consciously think about specific influences, we indeed are influenced by our experiences.

The second discipline which is reflected in my work, “Girl” is Greek art, specifically, the statues called “kore”, which translate to “girl”.  These statutes are thought to be an embodiment of the young goddess Persephone.  Interestingly, the story line of this series of photos is has parallels to Persephone.

Kore with almond eyes
Acropolis Museum. Kore with almond eyes 510 BCE. 

Examining a photograph which I have taken and finding related disciplines, after the photograph is created, is a little bit like reverse engineering.  The photo is a product and I am searching for the creative process which caused this product.  I think that I have an opportunity to work more proactively: I can think about influences, about disciplines and about what I want to convey, then capture the images.  Let’s see what happens.