Gregory Crewdson

BRIEF:
Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be [accessed 24/02/14]

• Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
Gregory Crewdson’s work looks stunning.  The photographs he produces are so striking they’re difficult to look away from.  I want to look for every clue and don’t mind spending time doing so.  The depth of colours really emphasise the aesthetics in addition to directional lighting.

Part of the beauty within these images invokes some deep visceral meanings  coming from Crewdson.

gregory crewdson boy hand in dreainFig 1. Untitled – Boy with hand in drain (2001–2002)

In the documentary film ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ by Ben Shapiro, Crewdson talks about the above image and goes into detail about his inspiration and where the idea came from.  As a boy he was always thinking about what is down there?  What lies beyond what we can’t see?  He has his own questions and poses them to his audience through his photographs.

• Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons photographs rely on your own imagination  to think about whats happening, obtain the clues and play the scenario over in your own mind.  The possibilities are limitless.  Crewdson is giving us clues about his own psychological state of mind whilst the story relies on your own psyche to draw the blanks.

The images are psychological in the same sense of a cinematic psychological thriller.  They really draw on the emotions and experiences of both the photographer and the viewer.  You never quite know for sure whats going on but you can come to your own conclusions.

gregory crewdson car in streetFig 2. Untitled (north by northwest) (2004)

This image was spoke about at length in the documentary.  It looks like a pinnacle scene in a psychological thriller.  Why does the street look deserted?  Where are all the people?  Why has the car stopped in the middle of the street?  Where is the driver?  They have clearly left the car, the drivers door is open.  Why is the passenger still in the car on her own?  Why isn’t she getting out?  Is she disturbed by the scene?  The fog is adding to the suspense.

All this questions are making me think about what’s happened here?  Its playing with my mind.  I’m searching for more clues hoping all will become clear.

• What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

I read recently that there are two types of photographer, the ones who take nice photos and those who tell stories.  I used to just want to take nice photographs and they were admired by everyone who knew me.  I then started taking photographs to include more clues as to the story I’m trying to tell and the compliments stopped coming from friends and family, they started coming from professional photographers and photography academics.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting to produce beautiful photographs.  Lets face it, it what everyone wants.  If you can tell a story at the same time then you’ve just moved into the realms of being an ‘artist’.

Beautiful photographs are always a pleasure to view regardless of their intention.  When I photograph newborn babies the main brief is to make that baby look as cute as possible.  My clients already know all the other details about the baby, they don’t want to put clue in the photograph.  Theres nothing wrong with that and they are fit for purpose.  When taking photographs you always have to consider why your taking that photograph.  Is it to look good or to document something?  Regardless of the purpose its possible to make the photograph beautiful in the process.

Images:

Fig 1.  Crewdson, G. (2001-2002) Untitled – Boy with hand in drain. At http://www.filmsnotdead.com/gregory-crewdson-brief-encounters-documentary/ (Accessed 13/08/17).

Fig 2. Crewdson, G. (2001-2002) Untitled (north by northwest). At http://www.itsliquid.com/hopper-calder-whitney-museum.html (Accessed 13/08/17).

Richard Kern on Philip Lorca-diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’

 

To find subjects for his series Hustlers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia drove around Hollywood between 1990 and 1992 looking for male prostitutes. Although many of the photos look perfectly timed, off-the-hip candid photos of street hustlers, diCorcia pre-selected the locations and did lighting tests with an assistant before searching for a subject to put in each setting.

DiCorcia approached his subjects in LA’s “Boystown,” an area of West Hollywood where, in the 80s and 90s, a small fee would buy time with available young rent boys found hanging out on Santa Monica Boulevard. Instead of paying them for sex, he paid them to pose for a photo. The men he found came to LA from all OVER the country for a glamorous new life that they believed could be found in Hollywood. The titles of the photos included the subject’s name, age, hometown and the fee exchanged.

This series was funded by a $45,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant that was awarded to diCorcia in 1989. This was during a time when the government agency was under fire from religious groups that believed the NEA was funding art that embraced controversial gay, religious, political, or obscene content.

Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ (a photo of a crucifix in a glass of piss), Robert Mapplethrope’s photos of naked black men, and Karen Finley’s performances in which she covered her naked body with chocolate to illustrate that women were “treated like shit” are just a few examples of the government funded artistic pursuits that made Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club furious. In this environment, DiCorcia must have found it amusing that a portion of his grant was being used to pay prostitutes.

Marilyn, 28 years old, Las Vegas, Nevada, $30

 

Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30

 

Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20

 

Gerald Hughes (a.k.a. Savage Fantasy), about 25 years old, Southern California, $50

 

Major Tom, 20 years old, Kansas City, Kansas, $20

 

Mike Vincetti, 24 years old, New York, New York, $30

 

Mike, 26 years old, $40

 

Ralph Smith, 21 years old, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, $25

 

Roy, ‘in his 20s’, Los Angeles, California, $50

 

Tim Morgan Jr., 21 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25 / Joe Egure, 18 years old, Los Angeles, California, $25

 

Tim, 27 years old, Orange County, California, $30

 

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3b7bdy/richard-kern-on-philip-lorca-dicorcias-hustlers

 

Setting the Scene

Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants), French for ‘living picture’, is a style of artistic presentation, often shortened to simply tableau. It most often describes a group of suitably costumed actors, carefully posed and often theatrically lit.

mise-en-scène; this literally means ‘to put in the scene’ and refers to the process of setting a scene or a stage for a story to be enacted upon.

BRIEF:
Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [accessed 24/02/14]

• What does this scene tell you about the main character?

• How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.

The main character is a very influential man and is well known by those around him.  He has lots of connections and commands special treatment.  He is a wealthy man who rewards those that help him.  He is Good looking and charming.  He is respected and liked.  He lies easily.  He’s smarter and a quick thinker.  He enjoys nice things and good entertainment.  He is illusive and mysterious.

The clues that paint set the scene are:

  • He doesn’t wait in line like all the other customers, he has his own entrance.  The staff at the restaurant all know him and either have a part to play in his wellbeing or ‘look the other way’.  He’s never challenged about his presence in the kitchen despite a long walk through domestic areas.
  • He hands out $20 dollar bills to people who look after him.  This is for things like, looking after  his car, opening doors, getting him a table etc.
  • On entry to the restaurant he is greeted by the owner/manager who has a table setup at the front immediately.
  • He has an attractive woman on his arm who is bewildered by his lifestyle.
  • The group of gentlemen at the table next to him all greet him by his name.
  • The men on the next table have sent drinks to his table.
  • His ‘lady’ questions how he can afford to give out $20 bills like sweets and asks ‘what do you do?’.  He says he works in construction.  When this is challenged he has a story ready.
  • He wears nice clothes, looks good and drives a very nice car.  His date couldn’t believe he would trust someone to look after it.
  • The club is dark, the walls covered in red, with minimal lighting.  Easy to slip in and out of.

 

Assignment 4: A picture is worth a thousand words

August SanderFig 1. Young Farmers (1914)

When you look through as many photographs as I do on a daily basis there becomes an air of blindness but every once in a while a photograph comes along that keeps me awake at night.  Since the first time I happened across ‘Young Farmers’ a striking photograph taken by the German photographer August Sander (1876-1964) its had me  mesmerised by the elements within it.

We can see three young men, all dressed similar, in fact they probably all look the same from the back view.  They are all holding canes, walking along a dirt track in what appears to be a vast background of fields which is consistent with what we know about them via their title.  Their heads are sitting just above the horizon line, I’m not sure if this is intentional and symbolic of their lives; keeping their heads above water?

Most of Sanders portraits look posed however these young farmers look like they’ve been stopped in their tracks.  They still have one foot pointing towards their destination as if they are eager to get there.

I’m wondering where have they come from?  Are they farm owners or labourers?  How far have they walked?  Do they have wives at home or moms and dads?  Are they going out to seek wives and begin their adult journey?

We can interpret what we see in the photograph and draw certain assumptions from it’s context.  The man on the left is emulating many signs of being a labourer or peasant with his unkept hair peeking through the rim of his hat and the cigarette casually resting on his lips.  His gaze communicates with a no nonsense attitude almost as if his difficult life is worn on his face.  His cane, which is far too big for him, sits aslant  in comparison to the other two men who have more of a perpendicular stance.  Could the man on the left of the photograph have borrowed his cane from someone far taller.  Is he too poor to buy his own?  Then how can he afford a suit?  The answer lies in the point in history when suits became prêt-à-porter and affordable to all.  In the early 1900’s Suits ceased to be exclusive to the higher earning professionals who wore tailored clothing.  Throughout the 1800’s and prior, clothing was a clear indicator for the separation of the classes.  However with the introduction of ready to wear garments segregation became jaded although not lost.  Wearing an ‘off the peg’ suit would say as much about a person as not wearing one at all.  Look at the shorter man on the left; his trousers are far too long for him; if this suit was made by a tailor the hem of the trouser would fall neatly on his shoe.  This is replicated on his friends suggesting they are all in the same class.

Another class give away is the mere fact that they’re walking to the dance and not driving.  Don’t forget there weren’t any restrictions on drink driving back then so if they owned a car, they would have driven the car to the dance.

In relation to their suits being suggestive of caste, they are also a clue as to where the men are heading.  Wearing their best clothing, suited and booted, given the fact they aren’t rich men they must be heading to a social gathering possibly with the attention of attracting a mate.  Their classic catalogue pose is reciprocal of the advertisements in magazines and newspapers for such garments of the time and indicative of how special they are feeling too.  In the era the photograph was taken they would have been heading for a county dance meeting local people for drinking, dancing and socialising although I could see the man on the left getting into mischief by judgement of his demeanors.  The man in the middle looks far more relaxed and even starts to break a smile, perhaps he just wants to look his absolute best for the photograph.  Imagine if they had known how famous thier photograph would be.  The man on the right looks more anxious almost as if he objects to being stopped and photographed.

This heavy concentration on social classes formed the apotheosis of Sanders life work.  This photograph is from his series entitled, ‘The Farmer’.  Other series of his work includes, The Atists, The skilled Tradesmen and classes and professions.  In these works, Sander draws attention to the subjects social classes which is in contrast to what other photographs of the time were doing.  Many portraits were composed to hide the subjects class, very often by dressing up in finer clothing than they could afford and being placed in a setting they could only dream of.  This type of portrait photography allowed people to escape from their trappings if only for a moment and ingrained in time by the finished product.  Sanders did the opposite, his photographs were very carefully composed to include all the information a viewer would need to expose their social class.  With such a big emphasis on social class Sanders never referred to his subjects class status, instead they were referred to by their occupation and therefore extending the information offered to the viewer.  In this instance Sanders has given the title, ‘Young Farmers’ so we already know two things about them, they are young and farmers.  This in consistent throughout his work.

Viewing this photograph also links me to other arts and in particular music.  My own identity and experiences have given me a song thats plays in my head when I look at the men in the photograph.  ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam Ant (Stuart Goddard) in 1981 has the opening lyrics:

I’m the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention
I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention

Thats exactly what they remind me of, dandy highway men who have spent their paltry wages on looking good and grabbing attention.  They certainly grabbed my attention.

I tried to research who these men are and what happened to them but sadly I couldn’t find any texts with such information.  I’d like to think that each one of them found a beautiful woman at the the dance that night, married, had children and lived happy organic farming lives.  As for their class well, you can be happy despite of the amount of money you earn as long as your mind has a love of life.

Bibliography:

Fig 1. Sander, A. (1914) Young Farmers. At http://augustsander.org/md20jh/motives/view/15 (accessed 03/08/17)

Clarke, G. 1997. The Photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wells L. 2015. Photography A Critical Introduction. 5th ed. Oxon: Routledge.

https://www.artsy.net/artist/august-sander

The Art of Photograhy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3RnfgRf2ec

http://the-space-in-between.com/category/short-writing-about-singular-images/

http://augustsander.org/md20jh/portfolios/view/2

 

Singular Images: Essays on remarkable photographs

In Sophie Howarth’s, Singular Images: Essays on remarkable photographs (2005, London: Tate Publishing), I read the chapter of an Essay by Liz Jobey of Diane Arbus’, A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing.

Jobey’s initial approach is to draw parallels between Arbus’ work and the work of other artist using different mediums, for instance, Raymond Carvers stories of ordinary people with flawed fates.  Using this idea as a spring board Jobey found her introduction into a comprehensive analysis of an assuming ill fated family.

Using French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s base model for the Deconstruction of a photograph: Essentially, in order to fully comprehend how something has been made, you have to take it apart before you can put it back together; Jobey sets about doing exactly that.

Whilst reading the essay the first thing that strikes me is how accurately Roland Barthes use of semiotics come across from beginning to end although not in the clinical way I approach things.

Jobey begins by questioning the motives of the subjects ‘why did they agree to be photographed?’, ‘Will they fight, separate, divorce, marry other people?’, ‘Will they die an early death?’.  A lot of assumptions have been made purely based on the look of these people, however this is recognised as our natural reaction to judge people based their appearance.  I like how Jobey is questioning the viewers reaction to the photograph taking us out of the realms of what sits within the frame.

Following this is a description of the photograph (signifier) itself ‘the leopard skin coat, the leatherette handbag, the camera case, her wedding ring’ etc.  Different viewers will pick out different things from the photograph and Jobey certainly mentioned things that I didn’t see.  She mentions the boy grabbing his crotch and the mum mimicking this behaviour with the baby.  These parallels are looking deeper into the photograph than a first glance.

Jobey then continues to interpret what she sees in the photograph, a down trodden family with problems who may not even be together for much longer.  A woman who’s past her sell by date and a man who’s gripped with anxiety (Signified).  None of this may be true however, it’s what Jobey interprets the image as signifying.

Jobey goes on to work her way through Roland Barthes theories of semiotics in photography using Denotation, connotation, punctum, stadium and intertexuality describing the elements of the photograph, theorising on what they mean and making assumptions on cultural, political and social standings.  Also drawing on her own experiences to interpret the photograph in the way she has leads me to believe she is of quite a negative mind, assuming that alls not well and the people in the photograph are poor and living difficult lives.  The way we see things is dictated by our own culture and background and by the experiences we have throughout our lives.

Resources:

Wells, L. (2015) Photography A critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/course-resource/ph4can-singular-images

 

Deconstruction 2

Having reached the end of my ‘Deconstruction’ studies I can can now break down the elements even further.

deconstruction2

The French Philosopher Jacques Derrida coined the term ‘Deconstruction’ and beleived language to be polysemous.  He thought that to understand how something is made, you have to take it apart before putting it back together.

In photography language the tools for deconstruction were produced by Roland Barthes, through his study of semiotics.  In this study of signs of language that, Barthes provied us with the terms and tools that can be helpful in interpreting photos.

Using the above advert as a focus point, I have deconstructed it as follows:

SIGN = SIGNIFIER + SIGNIFIED

Signifiers (whats in the photo)

A baby dressed in pink in a ballerina pose looking towards the sky.

An adult ballerina mimicking the pose.

A baby’s nursery.

A blue teddy bear.

A blue footstool.

Product images with nutrition information.

Signified (what it means)

A healthy start in life provided by Aptamil with aspirations of becoming a ballerina.  The baby is pointing to the milk with her toes suggesting its what she wants.  She is also looking and pointing towards the sky meaning the sky’s the limit with this formula.

Aptamil helps the baby become a professional ballerina who’s healthy, fit and happy.

A milky coloured nursery full of milky dreams.

The blue bear placed next to the cot reiterates this milk is also for boys.  The blue footstool is sending the male message across whilst offering support to a vulnerable new walker.

Its a healthy formula and full of all those important nutrients.

Denotation (objective translation)

A baby of standing age in a ballerina pose with an adult ballerina in the background. Both situated in a baby’s nursery with baby formula shown and text saying ‘Their future starts today’.

Connotation (subjective interpretation)

If the baby drinks this formula she can be healthy and strong enough to fulfil her dreams.

Punctum (disrupting elements)

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

This advert states that breast milk is best for your baby, in contrast some of the products made by Aptimil.

Stadium (cultural, political and social meaning)

This is a baby who lives in a nice home and is cared for.  She has nice furnishings in her room which suggests that the consumers of Aptamil formula are working/middle class families.  The advert also suggests this baby was breast fed up to six months old in line with the governments efforts to promote the benefits of breastfeeding.  The furnishings look quite neutral but predominantly British or of a Western Culture.  We can see beyond this frame and imagine the family of this baby with a professional father and caring mother.

Intertexuality (individual perception)

Memories and experiences of my own upbringing and bringing up my own children will will fill in all the gaps in this advertisement.  I can picture mum and baby going to baby yoga classes and being strapped into the latest car seat of the latest mpv to get them there.  The baby smells of Johnsons baby powder and her clothes all smell of it too.  All these things from my own experiences filling in the gaps of the story even though they’re not present.

 

Deconstruction

I found this advertisement in BBC Good Food magazine and chose it because it’s not a typical ‘good food’ item.  The mere nature of using BBC good food magazine for this product is suggestive of a good quality food product.

deconstruction

This particular product (not the brand) has a caveat of advertising restrictions due to the governments promotion of breastmilk for newborn babies.  Currently in the Uk the guidelines for advertising formula milk are:

The UK Law prohibits advertising and promotion of infant formula only (marketed for use from birth). Follow-on formula (marketed for use from 6 months of age) and milks for older babies can be advertised and promoted – BUT this must not cross-promote infant formula through similar branding or by it not being obvious the product is for older babies.

Despite this law I can see a less obvious sign of promoting formula for newborns within the photograph.

A neutral background was used which is typical of the colour choice of expectant parents who don’t know the gender of their unborn baby.  This is a contradiction to the product on offer ‘follow on’ milk’.  The colour of the room suggests a product in readiness for a newborn baby.  As subtle as this suggestion is, it’s still there.  We can see small print at the bottom of the page in line with the UK Law of ensuring it’s clear that the advertisement is strictly for older babies.  What do you see first?  The neutral suggestive colours or the small print?

When deconstructing the elements of the photograph in greater detail I noted the following:

  • Although the background is neutral, the baby is suggestive of a girl.  This image isn’t very clear but she’s actually wearing pink, the ballerina is pink and also the netting on the cot is pink.  This is consistent with the story and could be in danger of creating a female brand.  To counteract this blue items have been added, and are more prominent so they’re noticed,  and there seems to be a gender balance.
  • The story is about a little baby girl who starts to dance like a ballerina and with the help of ‘Aptamil’ her health and good start in life she will fulfil her dreams.
  • The babies head an hand are pointing to the sky suggesting ‘the sky is the limit’.
  • The adult ballerina is a picture of health (thanks to aptamil), physically fit, very happy, successful.
  • The story is strengthened by making the adult ballerina opaque suggesting she’s not real but a representation of the future meaning the baby has aspirations.
  • In case were not clear on whats making the baby so healthy and lively, her toes are pointing to the product in the advertisement.

Theres a lot going on in that advert but ultimately it’s promoting a good quality product for babies to make them healthy and turn them into fit, happy and successful adults.