Practice and preparation

25 May 2020: Write a brief summary in your research journal which considers and consolidates your own photographic practice in the context of the following Informing Contexts Learning Outcomes:

Technical and Visual Skills: Demonstrate an awareness of a range of photographic and image-making processes, and display accomplishment of photographic skills relevant to your practice specialism.

The technical skills used in creating memento vivere- the use of high angle single light which creates chiaroscuro- are quite different than my previous work. I studied the paintings of Dutch Masters to decode the lighting and the arrangement of the objects in still life.  I then checked my attempts against the work of contemporary photographers who create work of a similar genre, such as Paulette Tavormina.  As the images in my series progress, my technique improves, and the results are more subtle; I believe that my project demonstrates accomplishment of my original goals: To create painter-like still-life images inspired by the work of the Dutch Masters.

Visual Communication and Decision-Making: Exercise discernment in the making, resolution and presentation of practical work, and an ability to communicate ideas through creative visual strategies.

Making and resolution of practical work:  I had a style in mind when I created this work: I wanted a painterly appearance with interesting and balanced compositions. I employed the classic triangular composition technique, which had often been used during the 1600s. I also styled the scenes—meaning having an awareness of shapes, colors and symbols.   The creative visual strategies I am presenting this work in two ways: One is a zine-type publication, and the second is a PDF of the images place on the same format.  I considered options for this, for example, I could have created a rotating gallery in my portfolio, but the work is big, and I would like more space around the images.  Another option would be using an alternative process to print, like gum bichromate.  This would be pretty, but the process flattens the appearance of the image, which, at this time, I do not desire.

Critical Contextualisation of Practice: Apply a critical awareness of the diversity of contemporary photographic practice to the development of your own work, and inform your practice through historical, philosophical, ethical, and economic contextualization.

Contemporary photographic practice: The creation of “painterly” photographic images has become popular: how-to courses are available in the self-learning platform CreativeLive, on YouTube, and through purchase with commercial artists such as Gemmy Woud-Bennedijk. However, it’s interesting to note that this niche does not appear among the winning work in contemporary photo contests. I researched modern and historic art to inform my own work. I desired the lighting and composition perfection demonstrated by 15th and 16th century painters, such as Juan Cortez Cotan and Jan Davidsz de Heem. Ethical context: While creating my project with my chickens and duck friends, I considered the rights of these animals. I wondered if they felt stressed or uncomfortable being thrust in the house as props. And why humans love cute animals—the fluffy, fuzzy, or furry- Yet humans often eat the same animals that they adore. The second set of images in my project explores the ethical principles of beneficence vs maleficence.

Professional Location of Practice: Establish an understanding of the range of professional contexts for the dissemination and consumption of contemporary photographic practice and identify opportunities to engage with audiences and markets.
My work could be commercialized in three different ways: These images could be reproduced on greeting cards and sold online or in local shops. These images could be reproduced in a small photobook and self-published through Amazon or could be displayed in a gallery show. Niche magazines, such as Farm Life or Mother Earth may also be interested in publishing.

Critical Analysis: Make personal observations and form critical opinions to analyze and appraise your own work, as well as the work of your peers and other practitioners.

Critical analysis of my work: I produced a series of images which strongly relate to each other: Similar single-source lighting, theme, and construct. There was some risk of becoming repetitive, but I think that the series supports the twelve images. What I think works about the images is the saturated colors and deep shadows cause by the single light and low shutter speed. These images are visually appealing.  While my intention was to create versions of the Memento mori paintings (which remind people of the fragility of life) which could remind people that life is now.  The live animals were meant to convey vitality, however, as they were frozen in the image via camera shutter, the animals seemed no different than taxidermy.
What I could improve: This body of work seems a bit repetitive- same camera angle, same color tones. Taking some closer shots and images from low or hang angles would add spark.

Written and Oral Communication Skills: Articulate ideas in a range of formats and contexts and be able to communicate with different audiences.

This course is set up in such a way that, within a term, students can articulate ideas through remote video meetings, observations written in the CRJ, posts and projects. What I would like to improve upon is my ability to articulate what I am doing and why earlier in the project cycle. While I can now articulate better my most recent project, I developed in via gut feeling and then had to bumble through the why.  I think that I can improve by thinking about the “why” of my next project earlier.



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.


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/


Between terms: winter

Portfolio review with Amy Toensing

26 December 2019

I entered an image into a juror show at a Gallery in Vermont, called The PhotoPlace Gallery. It’s located in Middlebury, which is home to a well-known liberal arts college. I received the Juror’s Award for my work, 1957, which included a portfolio review with the Juror. Amy Toensing, the Juror, is a regular contributor to National Geographic and well known photojournalist. She asked me to prepare 30-40 images to review:

39 Photos for portfolio review

Amy Toensing was very generous with her time and spent over an hour chatting about my work. What I understood:

  • The work that stands out to her most is my tableau. As I am successful in creating a story. See images 22-24.
  • My portraits and street work demonstrate that I can use a camera well, but aren’t as compelling.

I wasn’t sure how a portfolio review would be helpful – in general- because the advice and opinion is only of one person with a single perspective. However, I found this conversation extremely valuable . Firstly, I felt that my work was appreciated– as in that there was thought put into viewing it,- secondly that Amy was candid in her comments–and lastly that I realized that my greatest discomfort may be my area of greatest strength. In creating the tableau, I have felt like I have to cajole participants into posing, that i have to have a story clearly in mind my and that my stories have not really been “pretty”. I have been told many times that my tableau work is weird and dark. If I create more tableau, I will have to make peace with these outside observations and just do me. I complained that doing this work is hard, and Amy said– well, photography is hard. That’s the best piece of advice I have had about my work.

12 January 2020

Term 1 , 2020: Still Life , momento mori and vanitas.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia Vanitas was the writing each of these artwork carried, reminding the viewers of the transience and brevity of human life, power, beauty and wealth, as well as of the insignificance of all material things and achievements. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, the profound philosophic message, led the paintings to ooze in symbolism and to depict allegorical compositions in which every element had a deeper, hidden meaning. Through this particular kind of narrative, these works warn about the irrelevance of all the beautiful, earthly pleasures, and provide us with a certain kind of unique aesthetics that many contemporary still life photographers picked up o

Wide Walls: Still Life Photographers who give a fresh meaning to vanitas.

Selected references for vanitas

Fruit Paintings to contemplate the transience of life

Pieter Claesz: Dutch Master 1600s

Dan Bannino: Pop-Baroque/Pop Renaissance photographer

Taryn Simon: Paperwork and the will of capital

Sharon Core: 1606-1907

Ori Gersht: Big bang

Paulette Tavormina : Natura Morte

Mat Collishaw: Last meal on Death Row, Texas

Old Master’s Painting technique: Video of the creation of a still life in the style of the Old Masters

19 January 2020. How to choose a project for this term: While many students come into this program with specific ideas of what they want to feature in their images, I did not. My goals for myself in this program including broadening my understanding of the photographic image and current culture; improving my technique to enable me to get the best out of a situation; to improve my photo shop and post production skills all so that when I decide on what I would like to concentrate my efforts on, I am able to do so in a successful manner. Not having a particular subject is a bit frustrating and freeing… and I feel like I am taking the risk that my subject may be considered weird or disconcerting, or unrelatable. I guess my response would be “oh well”… not everyone is going to “get” what I am doing.

For this term, I would like to explore veritas and momento mori still life images, with a modern take. I have found the artists above to which I will be referring. I like the Dutch Master’s work from the 17th century in that the lighting is soft, low angle and at once enlivens and flattens the images. I am brainstorming variations: Modern foods, convenience foods, live animals vs dead plus flowers; Live animals but plastic flowers; a selection of foods from grocery stores in wealthy and in poorer areas; monochrome flower/live chickens… more to come.

Photoshop: While preparing for this coming term, I have been focused on having a bit more fun with my work– and trying to learn photo shop for learning’s sake. I do best by learning hands-on, so I have been plowing through images and learning from my mistakes. What I think I know so far: layers, adjusting, erasing, changing opacity and denisity, combining images, adding effects. I would like to figure out the best way to use a magic lasso– or any kind. I will look for some you tube tutorials.

Kore: Last spring, I took a series of pictures of my niece dressed up like a sprite in forest near her home in Sweden. I had written the plot of a children’s book which I intended to illustrate with these images, however, I knew at the time that I had no idea what I was doing. I have been experimenting with them now, and am pleased with my progress, although I recognize that I will probably need to revise as my skill with image manipulation increases.

I also have been placing images together just for learning sake, using my own images, stock and images from the Rijksmuseum collection which are free to download and use.

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.




Week 11: Market yourself

My objective for my photography is to raise my profile in the photography industry. My goals for the next 3 months:

  • Post on IG at least 3 times per week
  • Find hashtags which have the highest use and are most appropriate for my work
  • Update my portfolio by adding my newest work. I will update the arrangement of my work, change the font (it’s too big).
  • Apply to the Atomic Photographer’s Guild. If I am accepted, my work will be displayed on their website and will be shown at galleries.
  • Continue to increase the quality of my work by taking images weekly.
  • I will re purpose my twitter account and post images there, at least twice per week.
  • For my next quarter, I will be creating a portfolio of images of nurses for social media, presentations, pamphlets and other medium. My project will be focused on celebrating the diversity of work that nurses perform at my institution, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This project has the possibility to bring me more followers and some exposure.

18 December, 2019

(Late entry). I did apply to the Atomic Photographer’s Guild as I had mentioned. I followed the process outlined on the APG website and submitted a link to my portfolio via email. I explained my work in the email– the context and what i had set out to accomplish. The next day, I received a rather direct and critical email about my work, which was, strangely, written as if addressing my work in third person (Amy’s work, or her work). The email mentioned that I was incorrect about some dates or names of tests, such as where I referred to one some dates or test names

Week 10: The digital

This week, I gained some insight into how to manage my IG site more effectively. I learned that there is an algorithm which promotes the images of accounts which post more often, and that strategy is key to promoting ones work. I made changes to my IG account: I thought it all looked very random, so I pulled off my content, and am pushing content out using an app which slices my work into pieces. So far, I think it does produce a more organized look, but I do wonder about the sustainability of this approach. I noted that I got many more likes on the material which appeared to be abstract in smaller bits– like each image could stand on it’s own. I didn’t do so well when there were sections which were essentially black– no surprise. See the screen shot below:

Screenshot from my IG account

In addition, I have used @ to send a few of my postings to artists in the Atomic Photographer’s guild. I did receive a like from one of them, which is very exciting.

As I have a full time career, I don’t feel like I need to be out selling my work at this point. When I reach that point, I will need to have a solid background in social media marketing, so I think it is important that I, at least, give this a try.

What I don’t like about social media is the “likes” which adds an unhealthy popularity contents atmosphere. Social media can create a false sense of popularity– or lack of popularity which can seem personal. Knowing that there is a algorithm which ensures that popular accounts stay popular, and that IG brings in billions per year, the whole experience requires a healthy dose of skepticism.

Week 2: Other careers in photography

Photography is a passion for me and I feel that, though I have been taking pictures for over 40 years, that I am still exploring who I am and what I want to do. Currently I am working in the fine art sector with a concentration in narrative. I am at the beginning stages of exploring modern (digital) photography and how that is effected by communication and media, therefore trying to figure through the HOW of making art a business. I am not working commercially, and therefore not collaborating with any professionals yet. I am entrenched in my nursing career and may not have time to create collaborative work at this point. I hope to, one day, retire from my current job and work as a self-employed photographer for additional income. I may switch to a commercial portrait approach, perhaps weddings or portraits of high school seniors.

I was a little surprised, this week, at the reactions to the weekly posting regarding the re-purposing of other people’s work. I sensed that my cohort felt unhappy about Prince winning the copyright case. It’s really about copyright law and what kind of protections it may or may not provide. Maybe I am cynical, but law and fairness are not the same thing. The laws we have are made in attempt to try to negotiate the grey areas of life and don’t always help in the way that we would hope. This case, the work of a French photographer, Cariou, was altered by an artist named Prince. I came down on the side that Prince essentially altered Cariou’s work enough that it changed the meaning of the work. I do want to express, however, that although I could see how the courts viewed this case, it is unfair. Cariou produced amazing work, and Prince just kind of trashed it. I would be really upset if this had happened to my work. It is devastating that Prince made money off the work that someone else produced.

Week 2: CityID group B Brief Update

My group was able to meet for over an hour using the Big Blue button to start to get to know one another and to puzzle through an approach to the work. We identified that CityID had emphasized the term agency and while we discussed what agency could mean, we decided that perhaps we could spend the week identifying agency is visual art. We used the google doc to collect these images. We will meet again next Tuesday to discuss what we have found.