Seuls Le Temps et La Glace Sont Maîtres (Only Time and Ice are Masters)

Seuls Le Temps et La Glace Sont Maîtres (Only Time and Ice are Masters) is an exhibition of about 10 large scale colour prints by Bruno and Dorota Sénéchal demonstrating the effect of climate change on our global ice environment on show at the Musée-Château d’Annecy, France.

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My response to the exhibition is twofold:

  • Location and Setting:
    The large scale prints in two rooms of an old château certainly make an impressive setting and you have the room to stand back and review the magnificence of the patterns in the ice from a distance.  There is fascinating detail in the ice.  They have captured designs that we would not normally see from stray ice face fractions of icebergs and glaciers, and translucent frozen water fragments make us lose all concept of size and dimension. I like the way that tiny detail has been exploded out into a very large almost mono-chromatically format.  Not the ‘usual’ glacier or ice pictures you tend to see when touching this topic.

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  • Purpose:
    The purpose of the exhibition is to make us to make us aware of the beauty and fragility of nature and therefore though some global partnership to fight against climate change in order to preserve the balance of the Earth.  I think it is well done via the large format prints but does not tell us anything new.  We have been aware of the effects of global warming/climate change for a couple of decades now.  Yes it is a reinforcement message but I did not walk away with the feeling that there has been a stepped change in circumstances.  It was an expertly executed sobering reminder but in terms of message other than the quality of images nothing new.

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From 4th December 2015 to 29th February  2016, Musée-Château d’Annecy   Place du château 74000 Annecy, France

Visited 19th February 2016

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Point of View

‘Point of View’ is a major photographic print exhibition at the Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland retrospectively featuring the work of the Swiss Magnum photographer Werner Bischof to mark the centenary of his birth. Over 200 mainly black and white prints are on display. Included are also some unpublished works. The exhibition concentrates on his photojournalistic work in Europe (1945-1950), Asia (1951-1952), and North and South America (1953-1954). Bischof met an untimely end at the age of 38 when his car fell off a cliff on a mountain road in the Andes, and all three passengers were killed.

While I would not normally write a ‘biography’ of a photographer as part of my response to an exhibition visit I think in the case of Werner Bischof this has to be an exception in that his life and experiences determined the content of his images.

Bischof originally trained, studied and worked as an advertising, fashion and portrait photographer in Switzerland. While working for the Zürich based magazine Du the editor encouraged his latent photojournalism skills. Although Switzerland remained neutral during the Second World War Bischof was conscripted as a soldier and was deeply affected by his witness of the desperate conditions, poverty and despair he saw from the Swiss border.

After the war finished, and based on his experiences, Bischof set off on a number of trips around Europe to record the ravages and effect war had on the ordinary people. During this time his work established him as one of the foremost photojournalists of his day. His pictures tended to have the theme of isolation, alienation, trauma, and struggle. They were not sensationalist but recorded things as they were but with a strong sense of composition to emphasis the point.

His body of work ´Europe being Rebuilt´ demonstrated him as a socially conscious photographer was soon recognised and became a member of the original Magnum Photos team. From then started travelling extensively for LIFE magazine.

For the rest of his remaining short life in his work he continued to somehow find the beauty of nature and humanity in the most desperate of conditions such as famine in India or poverty in Asia. While he recorded those at the social margins of life his images did not strip them of their sense of dignity for sensationalist reporting.

As the body of work on display was extensive I highlight the following three differing images for my viewing response:

Warsaw
Taken in 1948 this picture show the total destruction of Warsaw and the state of the place three years after the war. We cannot but help feel for the citizens who are dwarfed by the scale of the destruction. We know not where the people walk to or why, but we know that somehow they continue their lives in the shadow of the destruction. In fact there is little in this picture, essentially people and rubble. However it is the way that from his distant standpoint Bischof combines the two. Also from that distance the subjects are faceless and almost ghostlike being that just walk the street.
Interesting that we now see this picture as a historical record. We cannot believe how things were then. Yet that was a reality. Therefore a contemporary viewer of the time may well have had a differing view that we see and feel today in that bomb damage was more mundane as it was more common place. Therefore this image serves both as part of a photojournalistic and historical statement.
http://prophotos-ru.livejournal.com/1683121.html (5th image)

Victim of Hiroshima
The beauty of this photograph (if beauty is the right word to escribe such a horrific incident) is that the image works both well as a photojournalistic statement and also that as an excellent piece of photo craft.
We are left in no doubt as to the point of the picture. We see the suffering of the individual and we also see the destruction of the total infrastructure around him. We do not have to see the face to understand what this person has endured. What is noticeable is the absence of any middle ground in the picture. This maybe the fact that there actually was not any (as it was all destroyed) or more than likely Bischof framed the shot so to emphasise the foreground. Interesting to note that the building in the background today has become the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
From a technique perspective it is an excellently crafted study in form and composition. The natural lighting conditions with harsh shadows showing the relief of the scars and the almost artistic pose reflect Bischof’s advertising skill yet they are used here to demonstrate suffering rather than consumerism.
http://howtoseewithoutacamera.tumblr.com/image/35561826025

Famine in Bihar
In some respect today we are used to pictures of famine. They are still distressing but they are not ‘new’ to us. I would argue that those images we see today are aimed more to mobilise people to do something about famine (donate money, clothes, political action etc) rather than as Bischof did that is just record the fact of what is happening. He felt the need to communicate events and problems but remained as a detached observer rather than as a changer. Yet his images were powerful enough to cause reaction and extra support for the region. In this pitiful picture from 1951 Bischof has chosen an unusual angle that highlights the plight of the mother and her child. The low angle captures the mother looking outward to someone passing rather than her attention captured by Bischof. He as a photographer cannot offer her anything, yet perhaps that passing person can. The child with stomach swelled by hunger does not understand and looks is if it is mimicking the mother in holding a hand out for food. The strong white background ensures the focus is purely on the subjects and nothing to distract us from this point. Yet the picture is expertly balanced and we can see that Bischof does not lose his sense of composition even in the most extreme situations
http://www.artnet.com/artists/werner-bischof/famine-in-bihar-province-india-vHj3A7LTnmPev9avSR35JQ2

A much bigger theme occurred to me here is that since Bischof’s time is that of the decline and almost death of the photojournalistic profession. How would have Bischof fared today in a time of shoestring budgets for anything else but a headline story and the “omnipresent citizen journalists equipped with smart phones and a broadband connection” [1].

It is a theme that is much worthy of a greater debate and this exhibition review is not the right place however in respect of Bischof’s place in photojournalistic hall of fame as Hostetler notes
In the 1960s, as video journalism replaced the role of picture magazines, the Fund for Concerned Photography was established to preserve and recognize the contributions of photographers whose social dedication and acute humanity changed people’s understanding of their own and foreign cultures. Bischof’s achievements were duly recognized, as he was one of the first photographers whose work the Fund collected.” [2]

Point of View is at Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland, 27 January – 01 May 2016
http://www.elysee.ch/en/exhibitions-and-events/expositions/werner-bischof-point-of-view-and-helvetica/

Visited 16 February 2016

References
[1] Muirhead, Nic (2014) Is Photojournalism Dying? The Listening Post, Aljazeera [Available Online]
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2014/01/photojournalism-dying-2014112112734391149.html [Last accessed 5 Mar 2016]

[2]Lisa Hostetler, Lisa (nd) Werner Bischof, International Centre of Photography [Available Online]
http://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/werner-bischof?all/all/all/all/0 [Last accessed 5 Mar 2016]

Swiss Press Photo 15

Swiss Press Photo 15 is an exhibition of work by award winning Swiss press photographers taken in 2014.  The photographs have been divided into six categories – News, Daily Life, Swiss Stories, People, Sports and World.  In all there must have been about 100 images on display with most being colour.  This is the first exhibition I have attended where the images have been printed onto some form of material, hung in a darkened environment and then backlit to display the image.  The result was a cross between a computer display and a cinema screen.  For me it added to the viewing experience.

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For me this exhibition was all about the importance of context.  Without understand the subject matter or the background story it would have been difficult to appreciate many of the images.  Yes they were all technically very good but without the context the viewer would have a sense of wanting.  Clearly by the nature of the exhibition we know that each of the images relates to some journalistic event, and therefore they would have either been published in a newspaper, journal or on-line and they are of sufficient quality/importance to have won an award.

Take for instance the picture of a football match by Reto Oeschger (see link below).  Clearly we see it is of goal mouth action and something has happened.  The more astute will see the teams are Switzerland and Argentina but that is all we can determine.  What we find out from the text that accompanies the picture is that this is indeed a match between Switzerland and Argentina at World Cup in Brazil in 2014.  Switzerland are 1:0 down and only need a draw to stay in the competition.  This photo captures the point where in the last few minutes the Swiss player Dzmaili heads the ball, which hits the post.   The Swiss lose the game and are out the competition.

http://www.swisspressaward.ch/en/swiss-press-photo-15-from-november-6-2015-to-janaury-31-2016-at-chateau-de-prangins-on-lake-of-geneva/

The question is then raised of how much is this a good photograph in its own right or does its weight rely 100% on the context.  In this case the timing and positioning of the shot is judged well but I would argue the image relies 85% on context.  In taking the context and the image as a total it does not matter.  The image and the context are mere parts which add together to give us the viewer the total understanding.

There are times when without external context or information we are not aware can, just by looking at the picture, we are led to the wrong conclusion.  Take for example the image by Jean Revillard (see link below).  We see a young lady cowering and frightened behind a large metal door.  All around there looks destruction – the fallen rock and the burnt floor.  From what we see clearly it is a scene of conflict, fear and hopelessness– Syria perhaps.

http://www.hebdo.ch/hebdo/projecteurs/detail/photographie-r%C3%A9compenses-pour-jean-revillard

Yet the reality could not be further from our deduction.  “People with electro-hypersensitivity purportedly experience physical symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic fields. In order to get rid of any excess charge, they earth themselves. To recuperate they withdraw to places far from the electromagnetic fields caused by WiFi networks, aerials and transformers, such as the wilderness of the French departments of Drôme or Hautes-Alpes”.[1] How would we ever know that?

Therefore with this image it is interesting that it works at two levels (1) in which we can draw a conclusion (albeit incorrect) because it is a very strong stand alone image (compared to that of the football match picture) (2) by given context it completely changes our understanding and in this case would have aroused our curiosity in that we would want to know more thus would read the text of the whole story if we had seen it in the original printed journal form.

Context is a complicated subject an one I hope is explored further in other modules.

Overall I enjoyed the exhibition, the quality of the images, the way it was laid out and learnt much from the context of each photograph of series of photographs.

The exhibition runs from 6th Nov 2015 to 31st Jan 2016 and is at Le Musée National Suisse (MNS), Château de Prangins, Prangins, Switzerland

http://www.swisspressaward.ch/en/section/swiss-press-awards/

Visited 17th Jan 2015

References

[1] Revillard, Jean (2015) Ondes – Au pays des éléctrosensensibles, Hebdo, in Swiss Press Awards [Online]
http://www.swisspressaward.ch/en/user/a00006262/showcase/4u2/ [Last Accessed 10 February 2016]

Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists

Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists is a small exhibition I accidentally came across when I was attending Hammersmith Hospital in London.  It is organised by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity from their art collection and displays 25 black and white portraits by Jorge Lewinski.  Lewinski specialised in taking portraits of artists in their studio settings where he felt he could get a better connection with the sitter because of their familiar working environment.

To me this was a surprising location for such a display.  In fact it was further along the corridor from the exhibition covered previously Medicine During The First World War.  My thoughts on the placement of the exhibition are covered in that review.  However I did struggle to see the connection between this set of pictures and the hospital environment other than the works are owned by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity and the wall space was a good place for the pictures.  I have asked the Trust for more details relating to this but at the time of writing have not received and reply.

I must admit that I was not familiar with Lewinski or his work so in some way the range of his subjects and the originality of the portraits did surprise me.

From post viewing investigations I discovered Lewinski’s canon was much broader than just the curator’s selection of the wider known artists for display such as David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, Eileen Agar, Anthony Car, and Antony Gormley.  I assume these were selected more that people would recognise what they were looking at rather than the detailed aesthetics of the image.

From my observations at the exhibition I see that the images seem to demonstrate Lewinski’s exploration of each artist’s private world. None are ‘straight’ portraits.  Yes they capture the expression, personality, and mood of the artist but in fact I would argue that in many cases they go much deeper than that and are a holistic record of a subject in their working environment.  Their creations and art are just as important to the picture as is the personality of the artist.

Lewinski came to photography late in his career initially via an amateur route.  It was the early 1960’s and he set about to record the artistic community.  His timing was perfect as the artistic word was about to explode as part of the Sixties revolution.  At that time before artists were concerned with their own image rights and publicity Lewinski visited galleries to meet the artists to arrange photographic sessions.  To some degree I think this innocence and easiness in which the sessions were arranged is reflected through in the willingness of the subjects regarding Lewinski’s at times unorthodox portraits.

On this and his technique Read (2004) quoted in Hopkinson(2008) states “He said that he wasn’t looking for the soul of the artist. He wanted, however, to photograph the artist, not the person, so he always included the context of their work. Although he admired the classic portraits by Arnold Newman, he chose a 35mm camera, rather than a large format, as it allowed him to move around the studio, and talk about it as he worked. I think this interest and engagement accounts for the wonderful intimacy of his portraits”.[1]

The three pictures that caught my attention were:

Barbara Hepworth, 1968
A low key image in which you see very little of the subject. Hepworth is framed through one of her own bronze sculptures.  In fact Lewinski shows the only two parts of a sculptor that actually are important to create the work, that is the eyes and the hands.  Nothing else is shown; nothing else matters because the unseen body of the subject is depicted as the finished sculpture itself.  It is as the sculptor and sculpture meld into one.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, 1968, Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, (1968), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

David Hockney, 1963
An early study of Hockney just on the cusp of his rise to fame.  We see a young artist in a defiant stance.  This is accentuated from a low photographer’s point of view looking up to the subject.  Hockney detaches himself from both the photographer and us the audience by both looking out the shot and by wearing sunglasses.  Almost “this is my studio, my territory and my rules”.  Yet in the background there is the creative side of the artist.  We see his painting and the tools of his trade in the background and that for any defiance he may show he actually is all about creativity.

Davis Hockney (1963), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Antony Gormley, 1995
Probably my favourite in that we see very little of the artist.  He is shown in a near foetal position on his work bench mimicking his Pompeii-esque sculpture in an almost identical pose.  To me this is clever in that we see almost nothing of the features of Gormley.  We can’t read his thoughts, how he works, unless told we would not necessarily recognise him.  But the strength of the picture is that he has represented himself as his piece of art.  The sculptor and sculpture are in harmony.  One has created the other and they are linked.  It is his skill and his thoughts that have been transferred to this artwork.  Intentional or not, the lone blank figure in the background is almost representative of Gormley.  Ghostly white it as if life has gone and is transferred somewhere else in this case the work Gormley creates.

Antony Gormley (1995), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Finally Von Joel (2008) says in regards to Lewinski’s style that he “was proud to be an old-school photographer. He never owned a digital camera and claimed that one of the reasons he eventually abandoned photography was the advent of the digital age. He developed all his films and printed each image himself, claiming to be one of the great dark-room technicians of his generation (“unlike Cartier-Bresson, who never developed a film, never printed a print – but a great photographer”)”. [2]

Overall my response was very positive to his work and followed it up with extensive investigation into looking at this life and other work.  Also as mentioned in a previous post what was most surprising was to ‘discover’ the exhibition in the first place as that was not my primary purpose of attending the hospital.

Unsure of exhibition dates (this was not made known) but was visited 5th January 2016 at Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Rd, London

http://www.imperialcharity.org.uk/current-exhibitions

References

[1] Hopkinson, Amanda (2008) Jorge Lewinski, The Guardian [Online]
www.theguardian.com/culture/2008/feb/13/2 [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

[2] Von Joel, Mike (2008) Jorge Lewinski: Portrait Photographer who Captured a Generation of British Artists on Film, The Independent [Online]
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jorge-lewinski-portrait-photographer-who-captured-a-generation-of-british-artists-on-film-779776.html [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

Medicine During The First World War: Inter Arma Caritas (Amidst the Arms, Love)

Medicine During The First World War: Inter Arma Caritas (Amidst the Arms, Love) is a small exhibition I accidentally came across when I was attending Hammersmith Hospital in London.  It is organised by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity from the art collection and displays about 30 black and white images of the men and women of the Royal Army Medical Corps tending wounded soldiers during the Great War.

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Two things surprised me about this exhibition:

1. Location
I suppose taking a step back a hospital seems an obvious place to have an exhibition of medical based photographs.  However in this case the pictures were along a long corridor in one of the busy wings.  On the face of it a perfect place to observe the pictures with space and lighting.  Yet it was in a busy thoroughfare with trollies, orderlies, medical staff, visitors and patients all rushing by.  While I was there looking at the pictures not one other person stopped and looked.  This is not meant as a criticism of placement but shows the fact that people were more concerned about other priorities (as I should have been).  For me it raised the point that should exhibitions (in the most loose sense) be in specific exhibition spaces where what is on display can be appreciated by those who specifically want to view what is on display in a controlled environment, or are they perfectably acceptable to put them in a place where the content of the image is more akin to the location in this case medical based pictures in a hospital?

I suppose it comes down to the intent of the curator or organiser.  I would suggest in what I saw the intent is to show what the Medical Corps did in the war via the medium of photography rather than be an exhibition of historical photographs.  Therefore the hospital is a fitting location and viewing them will be both informative and give pleasure to those who just happened to be passing by.

2. Subject Matter
Firstly what struck me was that these were not what I would call the stereotypical of Great War pictures, that is, those of the troops, trenches and battlefields.  These were behind the scenes pictures of putting right the effects of the war.  I am unsure as to how much these pictures would have been made visible to the public at the time.  There are mixed messages in that on one hand we see the troops receiving good care of their wounds but on the other hand they highlight the true horror of what war brings.

I would suggest that these are more record shots of what is going on rather than for general public consumption.  It recorded what was actually happening rather than any propaganda exercise.

In looking at the subject matter, on the face of it we see the troops being treated.  From this we get comfort in knowing that the troops are being looked after.  Clearly there were the extreme wounds and loss of limbs however the main purpose on the Medical Corps was to patch still battle capable troops up as fast as possible to get them back to the front to fight again not healthcare as an end in itself.  Get back  to the front and do your duty.  There is some irony in the fact that due to the success and advances in healthcare of the 1,100,000 men invalided home to Britain two thirds of them returned to duty to be wounded again or more than likely killed in action.  Only 7% actually died of their wounds. (Click for Source)

What also was striking about the images was the sharpness and clarity of the images.  Again we tend to think of photographs of the Great War as not as the best quality as photographers were working with equipment that was unsuitable for working in the trenches.  But these pictures were pin sharp and of a quality that really surprised me.  Therefore it is easy to conclude that each picture was set up or staged to make best use of the equipment (rather than for propaganda purposes).  As result we can see detail in the pictures of what we would normally not see.  Rings, buttons, and eye detail all bring the pictures to life to make and gives character in that we see the subjects as real people rather than an image recorded about 100 years ago..  In the image below we can see a wrist watch and creases in the starched nurse uniform.

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Finally some of the content is surprising.  We tend to think of plastic or re-creative surgery for instance as a product of the World War II yet in the image below we see a patient having a reconstructive face mask painted so it blends in with the rest of his face.

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Overall my response was that I enjoyed looking at the detail within the pictures and learning new things.  It did however open my eyes to the overall purpose of battlefield medicine.  Probably what was most surprising was to ‘discover’ the exhibition in the first place as that was not my primary purpose of attending the hospital.

Unsure of exhibition dates (this was not made known) but was visited 5th January 2016 at Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Rd, London

http://www.imperialcharity.org.uk/current-exhibitions

Permission to Reproduce: If In Doubt, Don’t (2)

As mentioned in a previous post all the images I have reproduced directly I have obtained the permission of the author or the estate.  I noted that where you can get in touch with a living photographer everything is easily sorted but for the estate of a deceased photographer that tends to be a different matter.

For some research regarding the context of a picture I wanted to use an image from W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay Country Doctor.  After quite an amount of detective work I mailed the agency that worked on behalf of the Estate of W. Eugene Smith and received, for me, the following disappointing reply:

The Estate of W. Eugene Smith requires that we charge a minimum of $300 per image for any reproduction of his work.  Under that restriction, we are not able to honor your request for unpaid use of the material.  Over the years they have had too many requests for free use of their material for academic purposes and minimal payment offers for the same purpose.  They will not change their policy for individual requests“.

This reply raises a number of points:

  • firstly it is in the right of any owner of an asset to get a return on that asset.  In this case Smith’s body or work there is no point owning it if it is not going to generate an ongoing revenue stream.
  • secondly it looks like there has been some history or previous issues where the Estate has said enough is enough and here is our policy from that point on.
  • thirdly it does seem a shame that key works are not being allowed for use for educational purposes.

The irony is that my link to the host image most likely has not paid the appropriate fees yet there it sits on the internet.  More than likely fair usage for educational purposes would be cited if challenged but that would not hold because the Estate have such a restricted policy.  Having done quite a bit of reading on the subject most articles end up with a disclaimer that reads some thing like “To avoid problems, if you are in any doubt, you are advised to always get the permission of the owner, prior to use” [1] which basically translates as Permission to Reproduce: If In Doubt, Don’t.

The interesting point which I will follow through is that as the picture was published as part of a photo essay in LIFE magazine, LIFE own the copyright of the photo and combined text.  I may well get in touch with them to see if I can reproduce the full page which will also contain the photograph.  I’ll see how that goes.

Onwards.

References

[1] (2004) Copyright Law fact sheet P-09 : Understanding Fair Use, UK Copyright Service [available online]
https://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p09_fair_use [Last Accessed 28th Oct 2015]

Assignment 4: Languages of Light – Initial Research

Within this assignment I want to explore further the usage of light as started in Exercise 4 ex nihilio.

Having gained confidence in the technique of building light to highlight shape and form I wanted explore the opportunity of how light can be used to either show hidden shape and form or disguise or camouflage shapes and forms we are familiar with   Therefore is it possible to use light to create these effects either by use of techniques such as a high key imaging effectively giving white upon white, or a camouflaged image where the object blends into the background, by either shape, pattern, colour or even texture.

Therefore the questions that I would hope to seek an answer are assuming what I set out to do is the art of the possible are:

  • Do the images challenge our norms of perception?
  • Are they pleasing images?
  • Do they tell us anymore about the object?
  • How much does light individually play its part in changing those perceptions?

Desired Outcome
My goal is to produce a set of images that primarily answer the above questions, but are technically correct, visually pleasing, and are original in nature.  All the criteria are manageable and under my control but it is the last point originality, which concerns me as I start off this exercise.

Clearly the still life is a genre full of many images and a cursory look through the internet would lead one to conclude everything that could have been photographed has been.  Every conceivable compositional arrangement has been used, and every possible lighting technique has been employed so therefore what room is there still to be original in this space?  Counter to that point is still life images are produced every day especially so in the commercial area.  Therefore my thinking at the detailed level is flawed in that else no new creative output would ever be produced, yet it is.

While I understand at this point during the course I am not going to produce unique images of outstanding creative individuality, I have to be careful not to sit in a comfort zone in which I would end up repeating or copying what has been done before.  I need to break free a little from the more formulaic approach I took to creating the images in Assignment 3 – The Decisive Moment.

Research
When we use the term camouflage today more often than not our immediate thoughts are of the green and brown mottled design as used by the army which has lately been adopted by the clothing and fashion industry.  Therefore we tend to think about camouflage the adjective (e.g. a camouflage T-shirt) rather camouflage the verb (we camouflage ourselves so as not to be seen) or camouflage the noun (camouflage is a means of concealment).  We do not necessarily think about the broad aspects of what the word can mean.

There seem to be varying definitions as to the etymology but most are agreed that it became in common use during the First World War more than likely from the French word camoufler  meaning “to veil, disguise”[1].

Also it seems that camouflage breaks down into a number of subdivisions in that there are:

  • Crypsis – Making yourself hard to see. In other words the ability of an organism to conceal itself, usually from a predator, by having a colour, pattern, and shape that allows it to blend into the surrounding environment.
  • Mimesis – Disguising as something else. The act of mimicking another object; for example a butterfly that has the shape of and looks like a leaf.
  • Motion Dazzle – Through the act of movement and colour of shape the object/organism confuses those that observe; for example when a zebra runs the movement of the stripes confuse any predator.

For the purposes of this Assignment I will focus within the area of crypsis as that is where I feel that what I want to achieve lays.

Practitioners
Research has shown there are a number of practitioners within this field.  They are listed in the order that I ‘discovered’ them and therefore my thoughts are ordered that way rather than arranging them in any historical chronological sequence.

1) Liu Bolin
Is a Chinese artist known as the ‘invisible man’.  To bring social or political issues to the attention of a wider audience Bolin makes himself blend into the background of a picture.  The viewer is then ‘forced’ to look deep into the image to both fin Bolin and the message he wishes to promote.  His work was initially in response to the Chinese Government’s decision to close down and demolish an area for artists where Bolin was working.

Liu works on a single photo for up to 10 hours at a time, to make sure he gets it just right, but he achieves the right effect: sometimes passers-by don’t even realize he is there until he moves”[2].

For me it is very interesting that Bolin is an artist and he uses photography as a recording and broadcasting method rather than photography for photography’s sake.  In other words his message is in the performance he has created.  The photograph is merely a convenient medium for recording and distribution.  It is clear that the message is the prime function of his work.

The question we then raise as a viewer is how much has his work moved on from the early days.  Yes the subject and message has changed but has his work progressed and developed.  Does this matter to us as the viewer.  Perhaps as an artist he does not want to because he is achieving what he wants to achieve through his body of work.

In these days of CGI it is interesting to note that Bolin still creates his images ‘manually’.  I am sure the same effect could be produced by post production software but I would suspect the impact of his message will be less.  It is that fact that he is in his images creating his messages give the greatest impact for me.

Therefore looking at Bolin’s work it has given me ideas as how the object can blend into the background but also gives me concerns I may be creating photography for photography’s sake rather than having a clear message like Bolin.  Something I need to ponder over.

A YouTube Video on Bolin and his work can be found here: Video

2) Desiree Palmen
Is a Dutch artist who produces images with a technique similar to that of Liu Bolin.  Her initial catalyst for producing such art was from the increasing use of “Big Brother” surveillance in that she says.

I’d like people to consider what it means to let the government control our daily lives.  When we are controlled we hand over our individual responsibilities to the state. I wanted to make a suit for the non-criminal citizen whose house is being watched 24 hours by street surveillance cameras. I’m also responding to a wish to disappear.” [3]

For me I like the theme she has chosen and has more possibilities than perhaps that of Bolin.  On observation I notice that the subjects in Palmen’s work are still camouflaged but perhaps not to the extent of that of Bolin.  I suspect that it is response that you cannot 100% hide in a surveillance based society.  No matter what you do you will inevitably be seen.

For me Palmen’s work added to what I have learnt from Bolin but did not move my though process for the Assignment along much further.

http://www.desireepalmen.nl/

3) Holger Trülzsch & Vera Lehndorff
Holger Trülzsch is an artist and photographer who teamed up with Vera Lehndorff (Veruschka) a 1960’s fashion model and now artist in 1970. “they began to use her body as a canvas on which to create a new and startling art form. In their work, Vera Lehndorff’s body is denied its reality. It mimics another – a glamorous film star, a gun-toting gangster – chameleon-like it disappears into its surroundings, transformed into dead or decaying matter, sculpture, stones, trees”. [4]

http://www.veruschka.net/

4) Bence Bakonyi
In a body of work called Transform the Hungarian photographer Bence Bakonyi examines the theme of “is our environment forming our personality?” How much can you prescind from its medium examining the individual? The photographs of Transform can be considered to be a straightforward commitment besides the inseparability of the individual and the environment” [5]   This is done through a series of camouflage images similar to that of Liu Bolin and Desiree Palmen however the difference hear is that the subject is not totally hidden.  Bakonyi sees that we become inseparable from our environment but not engulfed by it hence we can still see ourselves but blend in accordingly.  A limited colour range in each picture also ensures that the subject is not swallowed as a whole by the frame and background and we are easily drawn to the subject.  Again as not being able to see the face of the subject they become very anonymous and therefore can represent anyone of us in our environment.

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

52_x6bencebakonyitransform02

Transform 2 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

52_x6bencebakonyitransform03

Transform 3 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

http://www.bencebakonyi.com/index.php?/projects/transform/

5) Jean-Paul Bourdier
Jean-Paul Bourdier is an American photographer and lecturer who has produced a number of images which the act of camouflaging the subject pays a part in his body of work entitled Bodyscapes

http://jean-paulbourdier.squarespace.com/#/bodyscapes/

6) Filippo Ioco
Ioco is a body painting artist whose work has been used for commercial purposes.  A number of images use camouflage techniques similar to that of Bolin and Palmen.  What is interesting is that Ioco does not see the camouflage image as the end image in itself but just a means to an end.  In correspondence with him he stated “most of my camouflage images are really not intended as a full total camouflage but a slightly one. My concept has always been to showcase the beauty of the nude human body in my work“.

The following two images showcase what Ioco is saying.  Both depict the human body yet our norms of shape and colour are challenged as he takes it out of context.  For me I like Read Me 1 as we see and ‘read’ the whole image as a newspaper yet within the image the subject is reading a newspaper which is not disguised.  Also there are items in the image remain normal to our vision, the food,  the curlers etc. But actually it is these items that look out of place as if they should not be there.

PI 1

Read Me 1 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco

PI 2

Colour in Motion 2 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco

http://www.iocobodyart.com/filippo-ioco/

7) Art Wolfe
Art Wolfe is a conservationist and natural history photographer.  In this set of images entitled Vanishing Acts shows natural camouflage in nature.

In this first image shows clearly mimesis (disguising as something else) at work in nature: “the predatory orchid mantis mimics the shape and color of the pastel flower petals upon which it rests, complete with matching nectar guides on its abdomen. Masquerading as an orchid, the mantis utilizes both aspects of deception: camouflage to help catch prey, as well as camouflage to escape capture” [6]

Mantis

Orchid Mantis, Sawarak, Malaysia © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

This image shows crypsis (making yourself hard to see) at work in nature.  the owl has positioned itself in front of an object that resembles its own colouration.

Owl

Great Gray Owl, Oregon, USA © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

Click here: Art Wolfe

8) Getty Stock Images
A number of images that uses camouflage as the theme where the objects are hidden in shape and colour.  I think that these images are similar to that I would like to produce and are practical to achieve and hopefully to too clichéd or obvious. Click here: Images

 

Initial Attempts
From the practitioner research above and some lessons learnt during assignment 4.4, I tried a number of differing techniques and differing objects.  My initial thoughts on subject could be

  • All white on white. Perhaps paint up food/items to take out the individuality to reduce their basic appeal so as they just become shapes rather than something we desire and crave.
  • Same colour objects on the same colour background. Perhaps wrapped items on same coloured background as the wrapping paper.  Perhaps flat lighting is then used to hide the objects even more.

1) High Key Images
Here I have created a number of high key images to make the image almost fade into the background.  By both playing with the initial light set up and then the final image exposure differing ways of camouflaging the image can be created.

1a) Towel
Based loosely on the influence of the images of Christian Coigny this subject was chosen because it was white on white and was lit by natural slightly diffused light from a window.  My expectation was that there would be little shadow within this white image and then through Lightroom settings it would produce a high key image.  What actually happened was that the camera recorded all the very subtle shadows within the material making the original a very effective black and white study.  When I tried to ‘high key’ the image in Lightroom it was not very successful.  Although there are no blown highlights the tonal range is very little because I have taken out the blacks and the whites effectively leaving an image of mid tones.  While it sort of achieves what I wanted the image becomes very uninteresting and is on the verge of looking like a poorly exposed picture.  I think that if I repeat this I need play with the original exposure (perhaps a couple of stops exposing into the shadows) rather than just relying on Lightroom to perfect the picture.

Basic Towel

Basic Towel

Basic Towel 2

High Key Towel

1b) Tomato
For this experimentation I tried to see if it were possible to take a subject that contrasts the background and see if it were possible to camouflage.  From what I had learnt from the Towel exercise I repeated this time by over exposing the image (taking the exposure point as the shadows) so everything would become lighter.  Again in Lightroom I lightened the exposure and washed out the shadows.  My view is that this is quite successful in that it gives an appearance as if the subject is in mist or fog, which itself is a great natural camouflage as it reduced the colours and we just see shape.  Again so the exposure is right there are no blown highlights but just a very small band of tones.

Tomato

1c) Plate
Here I have tried a version of high key imagery in that it is a white object on a white background.  Similar to the tomato exercise this image was all about getting the exposure correct for the effect that I wanted.  Again the image range of tones was reduced using Lightroom.  A couple of points to note in that:

  • This image is actually in colour and not converted to black and white. The exposure and the Lightroom treatment has almost washed them out to give a very light sepia tone probably as a result of colour temperature issues in the original.
  • On closer inspection the depth of field is not sharp over the whole plate. The front is not sharp.  While this was not intentional it does in fact add to the feeling of camouflage as our eye is therefore drawn slowly out of the white ‘fog’ into the centre of the plate.

Plate

2 Crypsis Camouflage
Here I have tried a crypsis effect similar to the technique of the likes of Bolin and Palmen where I have tried to disguise an object against the background.  Ideally it would have been great to have the resources and time to create work like these practitioners however It is a case adapting the resources I have to hand.

2a) The Present
For this image I placed an object wrapped up in the same paper as the background.  The purpose here was twofold

  • Firstly to see if the subject could be hidden against the background it matched.
  • Secondly to see if by blending the present against the background whether we stopped seeing it as a present therefore stopped our curiosity of what was inside and started just to think of it as an object.

In the above points I would argue they are embryonically successful.  More work and experimentation would have to be done in order to develop this for the Assignment.

The Present

2b) Tomatoes
Here I have tried to see how a subject that matches the colour of the background would look.  Does something with a similar colour blend into the background? Here a lower key image was given to darken down the whole result for the shadows between the tomatoes to blend in with the shadows created by the placement of the lights.  Again the answer is a reserved yes but in a way was not really the result I was looking for to move ahead with the Assignment.

Toms2

 

Lessons Learned and Next Steps
The good news is that I learnt from my research and practical experience there are many ways to camouflage the subject within an image.  That I feel gives me great scope to move ahead with the next stage.  However what is good news is also bad news in that I could end up trying to produce output based on too many techniques and never move forward.  Therefore of what I have produced so far I think I will ‘specialise’ around the technique used in producing The Present.   Clearly far more experimentation is required within this area but I like the results it produces as it makes us question what we are looking at rather than just appreciating a the results of a technical exercise of lighting and Lightroom.

I’m not sure yet if I have answers to my original question set at the start of this writing.  Further experimentation will hopefully determine if different colours, shapes and patterns change will move the discovery of the answers forward.

On a more practical side I see I have to be more precise in in the placement of the object, the way it is prepared for camouflaging (the lighting show up all my the imperfections due to my inability to wrap an object) and lighting which plays a key role is how we finally see the object.

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References

[1] (nd) Camouflage; Your Dictionary  [Online]
http://www.yourdictionary.com/camouflage  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[2] Spooky (2009) Meet the Real Life Invisible Man; OddityCentral  [Online]
http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/meet-the-real-life-invisible-man.html  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[3] (2008) Spot the ‘invisible’ men and women in artist’s amazing photographs, The Mail Online [Online]
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-517634/Spot-invisible-men-women-artists-amazing-photographs.html  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[4] (nd) Trove, National Library of Australia [Online]
http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/8732152?selectedversion=NBD5308076  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[5] Frank, Márta Éva (2010) Bence Bakonyi website   [Online]
http://bencebakonyi.com/index.php?/projects/transform/  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[6] Wolfe, Art (nd) Vanishing Act, Art Wolfe Inc. [Online]
http://artwolfe.com/showcase/orchid-mantis-sawarak-malaysia  [Last accessed 15 Oct 2015]