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. The image is upside down: the daisies were hanging from a support, and the chicken was hypnotized (don’t ask…it’s a thing). 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 believe that this image fits and is works well as the final image. My intention throughout this set was to make the threat to the animal increasingly obvious, and, the vibrant colors of the chicken and the flower, the unlikelihood of this occurrence create a surreal image.

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.

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”.



Reflections on Witkin, Tavormina, Richon & Litensky

Joel Peter Witkin: 8 February, 2020


Witkin’s grotesque work appears to be that of a provocateur, one who seeks to shock provoke disgust from viewers. His images often feature human and animal body parts, humans with unusual morphology such as hermaphodism, and backdrops which are not dissimilar to ones pictured in Bosch’s Hell.

Witkin, J.(1987) Las Meninas. From 12 Photographs.
Bosch, H. (1482)The Last Judgement. Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.

While Witkin’s work has been described as “calculated madness”, Witkin employee classical elements into his work. Characters stand as if marble statues, such as in Bacchus Amelus (1986), while book piled at the figure’s feet are topped by a skull are reminiscent of momento mori. Abatemarco (2018) states that Witkin’s works “call to mind the Dutch vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries- compositions depicting objects that are symbolic of death and human transience.”  Witkin’s Las Meninas, however, appears to have similarities in composition and tonal variation to scenes from Bosch’s The Last Judgement. For example, the plane that supports the figures creates a sense of depth to the work, while the figures themselves are not fixed to perspective formed by the plane.  They appear to be flat pieces stuck to the canvas/ image. Witkin states that he sees beyond the surface of the objects in his work, and believes that, although the objects may be disfigured or dead, “my work shows the beauty of difference” (Abatemarco, 2018).

With a few exceptions, I don’t agree that Witkin is showing the beauty of difference.  Witkin’s choices of material and subject vary greatly from what might be identified as beautiful.  In Las Meninas, a skirted figure appears to be sitting on or in a hooped, dome-shaped device—the wheels are distributed on the round base in a way that suggests that the hooped seat is meant to pivot in circles, never going anywhere.  The skirted figure smiles enigmatically.  While beautifully lit and constructed, I do wonder, is this meant to shock me? 

Witkin’s use of severed body parts appears to be less about the beauty of the part itself, but more about that nearly anything can be arranged and lit in the manner of the Dutch or Italian masters and pull a viewer in, who, only after seeing the body parts, becomes repelled. Sontag (1977) states “Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful, or embarrassing, art changes morals—that body of psychic custom and public sanctions that draws a vague boundary between what is emotionally and spontaneously intolerable and what is not.”

Witkin has a reputation for allowing his negatives to get scratched and damaged, which to me is akin to “aging” a wooden chest by sandpapering the sharp edges, and creating artful dings and damage by the application of carefully aimed hammer. In addition, his use of silver gelatin printing gives the images a look from a former century – which Glueck (2006) calls “19th-century horror”. I wonder if part of Witkin’s appeal is his images often appear to be aged– which can encourage the viewer to place more value in them, while also creating a feeling that, what ever these contain, they are not contemporary. If these images are from another time, they can provide the viewer with psychological distance from the subject, which makes the images easier to accept as they are not occurring in this world.

Despite the subject matter, his technique is interesting and beautifully constructed.  I am interested in applying the chiaroscuro, or cellar light to scenes incorporating contemporary objects, like toothbrushes and toilet paper, or fast food.  Witkin provides an inspiration for further exploration, as Glueck (2006) suggests “You don’t have to buy into Mr. Witkin’s Stygian visions to realize there’s a master of surrealistic photography at work.”

Abatemarco, M. (2018)  The beauty of difference: Photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Pasatiempo. Santa Fe New Mexican. From- https://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/art/the-beauty-of-difference-photographer-joel-peter-witkin/article_61829c74-e5de-51df-ad12-63b5d1ae46e9.html.
Bosch, H. (1482). The Last Judgement. Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
Glueck, G. (2006). Art in Review: Joel-Peter Witkin. The New York Times. p 37.
Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography.
Witkin, J. (1987). Las Meninas. From 12 Photographs. From: https://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/meninas-self-portrait-after-velazquez


Tavormina, Paulette 10 March, 2020

Tavormina, P.(2010). Peaches and Morning Glories, After G.G.

The byline of Paulette Tavormina’s commercial website states: “This beauty all around us is fleeting, and yet can be embedded forever in a perfect moment that is the photograph”. Tavormina indicates that her work is a “personal interpretation of timeless, universal stories” in “response to the Old Masters” (2020) which she hopes that will affect others like the 17th century painters affected Tavorima.  Critics have raved about Tavormina’s work, such as this from The New York Times (2016): “At first glance, you might easily mistake one of Tavormina’s images for a Zurbarán or a work from the Dutch Golden Age of painting”

Paulette Tavormina’s still life photographic images have been described as “beautifully collected and displayed …[and] have the ability swallow you whole. They embrace the viewer in a dark, lush sense of nostalgia that is dually intimate and larger than life”(Glembocki, 2016). Tavormina’s 2015 book, Seizing Beauty, features her nature morte images inspired by 17th century European masters.  Her use of cellar light and dark backgrounds illuminate the artfully styled fruit, vegetables, flowers, insects and sea creatures. Her work mimics and can be mistaken for an oil painting. Tavormina’s images are sensuous, visually pleasing, detailed and – almost perfect. So, what’s not to love about Tavormina’s Seizing Beauty?

After creating images depicting America’s nuclear testing program in the 1950s during last term, I had a desire to focus on lighter and more relatable subject matter.  I just wanted to create pretty pictures.  I studied art history for two years in college and, like many people, was enamored with the high-angled side-lighting, deep shadows and chiaroscuro pervasive among the master painters in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Dutch painters appealed to me, especially the memento mori and vanitas styles. However, I wanted to convey that life exists right now, in this moment, which is a slight shift from the “remember you will die” refrain featured in the Dutch paintings. As I began my visual experiments, a friend recommended Paulette Tavormina’s work. 

Tavormina, P. (2010). Cabbage and Melon, After J.S.C.

Paulette Tavormina’s images in Seizing Beauty are visually arresting.  While paging through Seizing Beauty, I was simultaneously amazed and jealous (l realize that nothing is new under the sun, but I do try to be original). Tavormina’s lighting is sophisticated: She captures a full range of tones, from the very dark, to the very light without having an issue with overblown whites or flat blacks  Each individual leaf, grape and insect is equally well illuminated, an effect that is at once flattening and freshening.  Many of her images are inspired by the masters such as Spanish artists Zurbaran and Cotan; Flemish painters such as Claesz and Heda (Tavormina, 2020). Malaguzzi, writing about Tavormina’s work, states “Heda achieved a trope l’oeil effect with pictorial proficiency while in Tavormina’s work it is a natural consequence of photographic technique…[through photography] the artist turns something intended as an illusion into something real (n.d.). When is a copy of an original an addition to human culture? Is it more of the same? Roland Barthes (1975) had written “The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition… always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.”

Her work is voluptuous and strangely distant. Not a particle of air stirs, and butterflies hover with strangely straight wings. Fruit, perfectly placed, appears float in masses, like clouds, undamaged by the burgeoning weight of the arrangement. The New Yorker (n.d.), of Tavormina’s images, describes “Fruits, vegetables and flowers spill from their containers in an almost obscene display of abundance…Everything seems poised between voluptuousness and rot, at once gorgeous and doomed.” The irony of my desire to display life through still life is not lost on me here.  Indeed, life itself is always moving and changing, something that is not appreciable in still life.

I searched for a deeper grounding in theory or message in Tavormina’s work. What does Tavormina want the audience to experience?  Her artist statement reads “I have made in response to the Old Masters are intensely personal interpretations of timeless, universal stories. Years from now, I hope that the photographs I create will affect someone as deeply as the Old Masters’ paintings have affected me (Tavormina, n.d.). I would wonder: Will a photograph of a still life inspired by a painting outlast the original?  I begin to hold suspect her statements, like this one: “I am particularly fascinated by Zurbarán’s mysterious use of dramatic light, Garzoni’s masterful compositions and color palette, and Coorte’s unique placements of objects.” Artists have a unique opportunity to market themselves and their work through statements. The introductory essay in Seizing Beauty explains “the artist’s personal cipher is revealed within this complex and refined intellectual operation, as if by an enigmatic game, through meaningful individual touches that rightfully earn her a place in the art scene and cast it in the internal play between illusion and reality (Malaguzzi, 2016)”. Reads to me like word soup. So, what’s wrong with Tavormina’s work?  It’s visually pleasing and demonstrates a talent for food design.  Tavormina does have an opportunity to better describe her motivations and message.

Barthes, R. (1975). Image Music Text.

Glembocki, A. (2016). Mar 9 Book Review: Seizing Beauty by Paulette Tavormina. Musee: Vanguard of photography culture. Accessed: https://museemagazine.com/features/art-2/features/book-review-seizing-beauty-paulette-tavormina

Malaguzzi, S.(n.d.) Paulette Tavormina “The Oysters”. Paulette Tavormina Website: https://www.paulettetavormina.com/silvia-malaguzzinew

Malaguzzi, S. (2016). Gossamer Threads: Paulette Tavormina and the Golden-Era Still Life. Paulette Tavorima: Seizing Beauty. Monacelli Press: New York.

Tavormina, P. (n.d.) Paulette Tavormina website. Accessed:https://www.paulettetavormina.com/artist-statementnew

The New Yorker. (n.d). Goings on about town. The New Yorker. Accessed: https://www.newyorker.com/goings-on-about-town/art/allison-schulnik-2


26 May, 2020
Olivier Richon: Real Allegories

“There is something more satisfying for me with the photograph. Maybe it is due to the transformation it undergoes: I have always been amazed how a photograph does not look like the thing that is being photographed.” Olivier Richon.

If smooth waters indicate depth of a river, Richon’s simple images, such as a lemon laying in a book, belie the complexity of his intention behind the images in “Real Allegories”. The eponymous title refers to a Gustave Courbet self-portrait (Harris & Zucker, 2020). Real and allegory are literally in opposition, however, this word plays fits well for both artists work: what is being depicted is an allegory, though its existence makes it real. Example image: A large carrot lies perpendicular to the plane of the film. The image of the carrot is reflected on the shiny surface it sits upon; the back-right side of the image is dark cerulean.  What is Olivier saying? “The shift from multiplicity, a bunch of carrots, to uniqueness, a single carrot, transforms this vegetable -whose form after all isn’t totally innocent- into an emblem for realism. In the economy of science, this solitary carrot ‘pregnant with revolution’ recalls that synecdoche and metonymy are the privileged tropes of literary realism… A single, solitary carrot stands for all carrots” (Richon, 2006). There, a perfect lesson on symbolism.

Olivier Richon- from Real Allegories

In Real Allegories, Richon’s images are fresh, calm, simple and consistent. He gives his objects space and character, employs minimal props and his and lighting often emerges from single source rendering objects dimensional against subtly lit backgrounds. His work demonstrates a wry sense of humor such as the image titled “after Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius”. This features a theatrically painted image of an erupting volcano in the background, while a stone plinth lies shattered in the foreground next to a velvet curtain. Viewers are inhabiting the perspective of a homeowner finding themselves experiencing a major earthquake. In the section called animals looking sideways animals are literally looking sideways (such as sheep, geese, a goat on a step). In his section called The Hunt, velvet is draped over a table, and mysteriously titled is “it is high time to know what ought to be done with the Sophist” p.115.

Olivier Richon, from Real Allegories
Amy Eilertsen. Memento vivere

These images are beautiful thoughtful and inspiring. From them I could learn to employee more space around my featured images, more subtlety- and perhaps fewer objects. I have an opportunity to continue to include bits of my sense of humor in my work because here in his work it’s delightful, and very intelligent. As I flipped through this book I see more with each turn and understand his work it’s actually hilarious. Technically I think that Richon retains light and color ads in his shadows . My shadows, such in the work above, are starkly black: while I had wanted to develop a more painterly and flattened style, the the black I used in the shadows created was quite harsh. I appreciate the subtlety of Richon’s shadowing across the backdrops. He blends dark to light in a dimensional and softer way. This effect imparts dimension and a softer flow to the light. I will continue to look to Richon for instruction and inspiration.

Harris, B. & Zucker, S. (2020). Smarthistory. Gustave Courbet, The Painters Studio: A real allegory summing up seven years of my life as an artist. https://smarthistory.org/courbet-the-artists-studio/

Kulakova, K. (2015) Artist Olivier Richon|Interview. #ViennaContemporaryMag.

Richon, O. (2006). Real Allegories. Steidl: Gottingen.


28 May 2020: Laura Letinsky

Hardly More Than Ever: Photographs 1997-2004

Laura Letinsky: Table for none?

Laura Letinsky has been exploring still life since the 1990s.  Interestingly, she states that pursued still life because of the association with the feminine- such as food preparation and eating.  Letinsky is also interested in still life because the genre is deemed ‘less important’ (Sholis, 2013).

Niepce, N. A set table. 1828.

Letinski’s imagery presented in Hardly Me Than Ever: Photographs 1997-2004 are more Niepce than Utrecht. Tables are spare, the colors are pastel, and the light glows hazily.  Unlike Niece’s 1828 image, Set Table, food and food debris are huddled somewhat haphazardly on tables or countertops in Letinsky’s work. Her images are subtle,  sublime yet easy to appreciate. Her work develops over time: In the earlier shots, Letinsky allows her props more freedom.  The food is intact, but it is clearly in a food preparation area.  These images make food look not like remnants, rather somehow independent from their surroundings. One example is Untitled #6, 1997: Four fruits are informally displayed on a white-clothed table; a loop of round cord—perhaps from a telephone- is seen on the moss-green carpet (Letinsky, 2004).

Letinsky, L. (1996). Untitled #6. – the carpet is green in the book

Letinsky’s still life is contemporary and intellectual. Still Life, by Utrecht, 1644, is a classic example of still life in a time where food was scarce images of imported exotic food demonstrated wealth. Europe had suffered many waves of the Black death over a period of hundreds of years, reducing the working population and food production.  In the early 1600s the population was starting to recover in foods were being imported from all over the world that people had never seen. Pieces like Utecht’s banquet may have been painted to demonstrate the wealth of family who commissioned it.

van Utrecht, A. (1648). Sparkling Still Life.

By contrast, Laura’s work shows us barren tables, refuse, food that is gone-off, crumbs and plates that have been licked clean. Letinsky created these images in a time when food is plentiful, in fact, so plentiful that the American waistline has grown prodigiously over the past 30 years.  If creating images of food in a time of starvation shows wealth, then showing empty plates in a time of overabundance shows– greed?

So what have I learned reviewing Laura’s work? Laura seems not to formally arrange her props; however, her compositions are well-balanced and beautiful.  I can learn that I must be engaged with my composition, but the composition does not have to be perfect-or formal. The composition should be balanced and should be interesting. When I think back to the work that I did this past term, I was going for that classical composition and food groupings to emulate images from the 1600s. I think my images, like the duck in the fridge,  or the chicken on the cookbook are interesting, and perhaps more like Letinsky’s work.

Letinsky uses color and shadow to create dimensional images. For example, there’s an image of an oval kitchen table that’s pushed up against the wall. It is covered by a white tablecloth, the light is coming from the right hand side at a fairly low angle. The table is casting a shadow to the left, and there is an apple or some other fruit at the far end of the table next to the light-colored wall. The shadow of the table creates an interesting shape– and Laura allows room for this shadow in the image. Though the table is placed more to the right side, off-center in the room, the shadow balances out the placement of the table and works beautifully. In my next series of still life, I’m going to be looking for is not only the lighting on the particular objects, but the darkness on the objects as well. I want to ensure that I have shadows that retain color, shadows that have room to breathe, and shadows that create a dimensional structure to make the image more interesting.

Letinsky, L. (2004). Hardly More Than Ever: Photographs 1997 to 2004. The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago: China.

Niepce, N. (1823-8). A set table. Heliograph.

Rijksmuseum. (1648).van Utrecht, A. Sparkling Still Life. Oil Painting.

Sholis, B. (2013). Interview with Laura Litensky. From https://aperture.org/blog/interview-with-laura-letinsky/


Week 0: Human Choices

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.