Review: Nick Waplington/ Alexander McQueen: Working Process @ Tate Britain


Images courtesy of Nick Waplington / Tate Britain

In ‘Working Process’ photographer Nick Waplington gives a rare look behind the scenes of Alexander McQueen’s last collection.

Selected from the previously published book project ‘Working Process’, Waplington’s photographs capture the creative journey of McQueen’s final Autumn/Winter collection ‘Horn of Plenty’ in 2009, one of the most celebrated fashion collections in recent history.

The major exhibition at Tate Britain reveals McQueen’s working practice through a selection of hundred large-scale prints completed by Waplington and McQueen three months before the designer’s suicide.

For over six months Waplington followed McQueen and his team from the designer’s studio in Clerkenwell to the final catwalk show in Paris, documenting every step of the creation of ‘The Horn of Plenty! (Everything But the Kitchen Sink)’, taking on recycling as a guiding theme.

McQueen conceived ‘The Horn of Plenty’ collection as an iconoclastic retrospective of his career in fashion, reusing silhouettes and fabrics from his earlier collections and creating a catwalk set out of broken mirrors.

‘Working Process’ reveals a raw and unpolished side of the fashion world. Waplington juxtaposes candid images of McQueen’s creative process with close-up shots of landfill sites and recycling plants, featuring beer bottles, plastic bags and piles of newspapers.

The exhibition, as the photobook, resulting from this unique artistic collaboration creates a powerful commentary on destruction and creative renewal – themes at the heart of the ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection.

Nick Waplington/ Alexander McQueen: Working Process at Tate Britain until 17 May 2015


MO1
Miriam is the Deputy Editor of LPD.

Portraiture and Projection by Céline Bodin

Appearances are bearers of meaning. Our first impressions of a person are concealed within our own imaging process. The tendency to classify into types is almost instinctive; it is a common path towards identification. Portrait photography is its ambiguous medium. Scraping the surface, it destabilises our sense of reality. Because of its supposed guaranty of exact replication of the living reality, it has been established to ‘re-present’ and reveal.

In the 19th century it was considered the best means to classify and identify into types with the use of phrenology and physiognomy, as can be seen in Francis Galton’s composites which merged multiple individuals into one generic image. Photography offers time for the contemplation of subtle details; unlike painting, it isn’t the summary of its subject.

However, along its journey towards contemporary portraiture the notion of representation has become problematic: what is readable only on the surface? To what extent are we learning about the individual portrayed in the instant of an image? Does a portrait truly allow space for genuine presence?

Photography is objective only in its functional aspect but it is somehow weakened in its ability to unite self and subject. Imagery offers fantasy, it can comfort and reassure. Susan Sontag, in her study On Photography (1973), insists on a photograph to be only a ‘narrowly selective transparency’. It is only a part of reality.

The question of projection is key. Posing is an obstacle to the ‘air’ that allows us to recognise the person, as Roland Barthes stated in Camera Lucida (1980). In Portraiture: Facing the Subject, (1997), Joanna Woodall introduces the notion of ‘portraiture’s mimetic mask’, as we are bound to look for the flaw in the surface which will guide us to the true presence. Therefore, the portrait opens itself to interrogation and suggestion more than it delivers a sense of truth or character.

The works of contemporary photographers Rineke Dijkstra, Bettina Von Zwehl, or Marjaana Kella revisit the conventions of portraiture as a genre. Dijkstra’s work is strong in narrative, her subjects enter the camera’s frame to tell a story subtly shaped by the specificity of a moment or action. In the case of Von Zwehl portraiture is treated as a laboratory, as she carries out experiments on her subjects, confronting them with their own vulnerability while the camera witnesses their reaction.

When 19th century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot documented hysteria, he proved that the likelihood of the patient performing was increased by the presence of the medical staff. The notion of performance, as an observed state, raises the question of authenticity in the self as it engages with attitude. To disrupt their subjects’ effort at self-representation Von Zwehl, and Dijkstra consider the residual traces of extreme forms of exertion or specific contextual affect, as a bullfighter leaves the arena (Villa Franca di Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994), a woman just gave birth, or vulnerable subjects lie on the floor holding their breath (Untitled III, No 2, 1999). In Hypnosis (1997-2001), Marjaana Kella scrutinises the suspended moment of her hypnotised subjects (Niclas, Hypnosis, 2001).

Such works invite the viewer to investigate the layers of visibility a subject offers, as the ones represented here face the challenged projection of themselves, necessarily defying the notion of self-consciousness in the moment of being photographed.

The viewer’s examination should therefore remain aware of the body’s performative quality.

Images mediate a cultural coding. Acknowledging this dimension, Cindy Sherman’s work reveals how conventionalised appearances are acted out. (Untitled Film Stills, #12, 1978). Through genre performance she portrays gender as the ‘regulatory model’ Judith Butler defines in Gender Trouble (1990). In Sherman’s self-portraits, gender follows an imitative structure influenced by customs and ideals constantly revaluating the ‘corporealisation’ that imaging should set apart from identification.

Portrait photography can be considered the space for interpretation, its definition relying both on the artist’s intention and its relationship to the viewer’s judgment.

Looking at Thomas Ruff series of passport-like photos our longing to identify is frustrated. The person’s character remains a mystery. The quality of those deadpan portraits remains in the subtle signs of interaction, the way the subjects address the camera.

We can therefore witness multiple layers of projection within a portrait: The photographer interprets the sitter’s self-interpretation, and the sitter in return interprets the photographer and viewer’s expectation. Finally, the viewer interprets the overall impersonation.

In the end, the camera doesn’t classify, we do. As spectators we long to read through the subtlety of a face, the grace of gesture, the drama of expression. Portraits fascinate us because of what they could say. Our relationship with portraiture is therefore a subjective and sentimental one. It is easy to understand that more than it renders personality, photography reveals our intimate projections on the surface. We conjure a dialogue, and the desire to relate might in itself be the only possible truth portraiture could deliver.

 

BODIN_CV

Céline Bodin is a French photographer. After studying literature and architecture, she graduated from a photography BA at Gobelins, L’école de l’image in Paris. In 2013 she completed a Photography MA at the London College of Communication. As well as regularly writing about photography, her personal practice explores themes of identity, gender, and the metaphysical frustration of the medium in representation.

Coleen MacPherson introduces Guy Bourdin: Image Maker @ Somerset House

Guy Bourdin: Image Maker sheds new light on the infamous French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin. The protégé of Man Ray, Bourdin was deeply inspired by surrealism. He transformed photography in the 1970s and gained significant notoriety for his work with fashion magazine Vogue.

This exhibition invites the viewer to appreciate the artist’s process: to see original film footage, sketches, unpublished photographs and polaroids; the hidden Bourdin is revealed while the viewer is taken on a trip through his filmic, sexy, wild and powerfully suggestive images.

The exhibition begins in Britain, tracing the famous trip Bourdin took with his family across the country in a black Cadillac with a pair of mannequin legs and a suitcase full of shoes. Here he places the mannequin legs against the backdrops of Britain: train station, bus stops, fields, poolsides, crossing a cobblestone street, awaiting a black cab. These photographs in particular ignite the imagination, teetering off balance, suggesting movement. Bourdin invites the viewer to conjure a narrative around the image – and so, we are all the image-makers and photographers in his world.

Several rooms reveal unpublished photographs, alongside famous Vogue spreads and a film is projected on a Super 8 camera giving the viewer some insight into his process

Bourdin always searched for a location upon which to place his models, enhancing his worlds through various techniques to create filmic worlds that are imbued with narrative; models are hidden, only legs or lips or hands revealed.

Screen shot 2015-03-16 at 22.19.35Coleen is a Canadian writer and theatre director with a thirst to explore the world. She trained at École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, where she mentored with French playwright, Michel Azama. She is currently developing a new play through the Arcola Theatre Writers’ Programme. 

Marina Vitaglione introduces David Batchelor: Monochrome Archive @ The Whitechapel Gallery


Images courtesy of David Batchelor

“Monochrome is abstract art’s exemplary form, and you only find it in cities. You can’t find it in nature.”

It’s following this discovery that British artist David Batchelor set himself a challenge: taking a picture of every white square or rectangle he came across on his walks through various cities.

The result is no less than 500 images, taken from 1997 to 2012 around the globe, from London to Hong Kong via Berlin or Rome, all collected in this exhibition. The central white square is the only constant in this set of pictures, like a common denominator that the photographer’s eye keeps seeking everywhere he wanders.

The images keep interchanging on a multi-screen installation, while all the miniature prints are displayed on a lit table, with notes on when and where they were taken. The countless photographs appear to be a diary of Batchelor’s travels through the years, always looking for the abstract in the urban space.

At first, the white monochromes seem to give the exhibition cohesion and stability, but one soon realises that they are in fact ephemeral. As Batchelor himself points out, a white square is never going to stay white for long in a city: it will most likely get covered by ads, posters or writings. For this reason, the 500 pictures are unique: an abstract photography show not to be missed.

Whitechapel Gallery, 22 Dec 2014 – 3 May 2015

Marina Vitaglione 

MARINAMarina is a freelance journalist and culture writer based in London and an analogue photography enthusiast. She holds a Journalism degree from City University.​

Director and photographer Bertil Nilsson talks to Miriam Otterbeck


Images courtesy of Bertil Nilsson

After premiering his latest short film ‘Bromance’ on NOWNESS, a video channel showcasing contemporary culture through film, Miriam Otterbeck meets the Swedish artist Bertil Nilsson to discuss modern male relationships and how he employs varied mediums to explore movement and the human form.

M.O.: Always connected, the young male acrobats in Bromance seem to be very close to each other. Is the film analysing the line between their romance and friendship?

B.N.: No, the film is not about defining ‘bromance’. I am trying to show, through physical movement, the depth and complexity of modern relationships between men.

Guys don’t normally express friendship by holding hands. However, there’s an interesting parallel in hand-to-hand acrobatics, where holding hands is an essential part of the movement and also embodies the very act of trusting and relying on one another.

M.O.: Many know you as photographer, but this latest project Bromance is a short film. How did you get into filmmaking?

B.N.: Originally, when I came to London in 2004, I wanted to work in film production. Then, almost by chance, I ended up getting more involved in photography through photographing circus performers. I have always been interested in filmmaking and working with physical movement.

I started experimenting with moving images making small experimental films and now I have gotten to a point where I feel ready to explore more traditional methods of filmmaking, exploring how dance and circus can be used and understood in that context.

M.O.: How do your films relate to your photography? Are there any intersections?

B.N.: Of course there’s the visual aspect of exploring the moving body that connects them. But film as a medium is more directly oriented around narrative.

I think it’s really fascinating to explore how the themes of my work can be used or explored in the context of film in contrast with the more conceptual nature of my photography. Specifically for me, I think there’s a really fascinating tension in stills when you capture movement, how you represent or present the energy of feeling of movement in a single image. In moving images, it’s straightforward to capture and represent a moving body.

M.O.: Do certain projects work better as stills and others better as moving images?

B.N.: The themes and subjects are similar across my work, but I don’t find myself wondering whether a certain idea would work better in a particular medium because I think the medium is already an important part of how I think about the original idea.

With stills I tend to work in long or medium term project, a single image or session, is part of a longer and larger body of work that evolves slowly over time. With the short films I’m currently making, there’s a more intense process of production resulting in a single piece of work.

M.O.: Some of your work has been made using laser projections or has been printed on mirrors. How do you try to integrate new technologies into your projects?

Having a background in technology, I’m very keen to explore more ideas around using technology. I’m always interested in experimenting and trying new things and today I think many artists are using technology in incredibly interesting ways.

Bromance premiered exclusively on NOWNESS as part of the Modern Love: Romance in the 12st Century series and is now available to watch on Bertil Nilsson’s website.

You can find more of his photography and films here – www.bertil.uk.

 

 


mo_lpdMiriam Otterbeck is the Deputy Editor of LPD.

 

Eva Stenram @ Siobhan Davies Studios reviewed by Helena Haimes


Images courtesy of Eva Stenram

To take in all of Swedish artist Eva Stenram’s works installed at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, you have to take a pretty comprehensive tour of the seminal dance company’s extraordinary building. Its design fuses original elements of the original Victorian school — with its chipped tiles and bare brick — with the recently added elements of polished concrete, glass walls and taut cables.

The architecture is so immediately attention-grabbing that any practitioner who attempted to outshine it would fall horribly flat. Luckily, Stenram’s pieces — which are hung in corridors, balcony areas and even, yes, a disabled toilet compliment their surroundings without trying to compete with them. Acting as playful, absurd, and occasionally sinister commentaries on movement and the human form, they rise to the challenge of engaging with a potentially difficult, unconventional set-up.

This is the first time that Parts (2013 – ongoing) has been shown in the UK, and the exhibition showcases six pieces from the series. The artist has taken photographs of pin-up models from the 1960s, digitally erased everything but their legs, and printed the results onto fibre-based paper.

Stockinged and stilletoed, the single limbs are left leaning on a modernist sofa; loitering awkwardly on an enormous bed; or lying on a shag pile carpet in a Hitchcockian, wood-panelled room.

These images have more than an echo of the surrealist photographer Hans Bellmer, though they are marginally more humorous and certainly less perverse. Any eroticism that the originals 60s pin-ups may have contained is entirely diffused by the silly helplessness of a lone, racy leg still trying and failing to be seductive.

In Sternam’s world, a body part out of context becomes highly charged or just plain comical. In Arrangement (after Irving Klaw) (2015), installed outside one of the first floor rehearsal studios, three photographs are reframed by a passe-partout. You have to really peer in – peeping tom style – to see a flexed hand, beautifully-turned shin, or another one of those silly legs, this time clad in a clunky court shoe.

It feels like the artist is exposing the deep un-sexiness that can result from trying too hard to be sexy. In this way he highlights the fine line between looking sexually appealing and just, well, a bit pathetic.

Hold (2015) takes us on a destabilising tour of a single image using a series of slides shown on an archaic projector. In slow-mo, the work deliberately maps the process of looking at a pin-up photograph and so can be read as a meditation on the voyeuristic nature of looking. Score for A Sequence of Poses (2015) – a series of smaller photographs featuring more isolated, female limbs – makes a much heavier reference to choreographed movement. Described as ‘photographic scores’, they border on the filmic and the choice of an office-style, grey pinboard lends them a sense of a work in progress.

The pieces that operate most successfully here (works like the Parts series) utilise contemporary technologies to ask questions of historical material – just like the building that contains them.

Images courtesy of Siobhan Davis Dance.

Hel2015-02-03 17.55.32ena Haimes is a freelance arts and culture writer based in London. She studied at Goldsmiths College and the University of the West of England, and contributes to a range of publications as well as writing a visual arts blog.

 

Suffragettes: Deeds not Words @ NPG reviewed by Kiritia Barker


Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

If we believe the old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ then feminism has been receiving some great publicity this past few weeks. There was The Sun’s carefully choreographed media stunt which saw the withdrawal and swift reinstatement of ‘Page Three Girls’. Then, following their wins at the Australian Open, tennis players Eugenie Bouchard and Venus Williams were asked to show off their outfits by twirling. Tory peer Karen Brady went on record to say that the word ‘feminist’ is ‘too radical and negative’ for young women to identify with. And finally, The Church of England consecrated its first female bishop, Reverend Libby Lane.

The roots of the British feminist movement are explored in The National Portrait Gallery’s recent display Suffragettes: Deeds not Words. The term ‘suffragette’ was first coined by The Daily Mail to describe a more radical element of the women’s suffrage movement. Suffragettes embraced demonstrations to catalyse social reform often chaining themselves to railings, damaging public buildings and committing arson.

The display features 13 mounted photographs and printed material. Amongst the most striking works in the display is a photograph of a portrait by John Sargent which was slashed by a suffragette. The act of vandalism resulted in many UK museums imposing restrictions on admittance to their galleries. For example, The British Museum enforced a policy of only admitting women if they were accompanied by a man who was willing to take responsibility for the woman’s actions. David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford, 10th Earl of Balcarress Conservative MP and long serving trustee of the NPG was compelled to write to the director of the gallery. His letter is part of the display and makes for an interesting read.

Internal police documents and surveillance photographs are also featured in the display. Presented in a grid-like formation, the photographs call to mind what one would imagine was the authority’s fantasy line-up of suffragettes. The photograph of actress Kitty Marion stands apart from the others due to the fact it is in fact her acting headshot.

Opponents to the movement argued that the radical actions of the Suffragettes proved them to be unsound decision makers, and therefore inappropriate to vote. In other documents on display, the actions of the Suffragettes are described in emotive language with passages referring to ‘aggressive tactics’, ‘serious vandalism’ and ‘shocking damage’.

The display paints a picture of a time when civil disobedience was an effective device to bring the core issues of the time into the public domain. What the suffragettes would think of how feminist issues make the public domain today, who knows, but as David Lindsay commented on the attack of the NPG portrait it ‘shows how much we really are at the mercy of women who are determined…’

 

KirKiritiaitia is a visual storyteller at heart and a marketing consultant by trade. She holds a BA from the University of Tasmania and studied Marketing, Advertising & PR at Queens University Belfast.
Check out her Facebook and Twitter

 

Curator of Photo50 Sheyi Bankale sits down with Hemera @ London Art Fair 2015

Hemera Collective meets Sheyi Bankale, curator of Photo50 at London Art Fair 2015 to talk about the exhibition ‘Against Nature’, his editorial and curatorial practice, and the current place of photography within contemporary art.


Kay Watson:
 Could you introduce us to the concept of the exhibition and why you chose it?

Sheyi Bankale: The exhibition Against Nature is a concept that I took from the book by Joris-Karl Huysmans of the same title. The relationship between objects and desire are themes which run throughout the book and I wanted to explore how they might be transcribed into an exhibition format. The book was published in the 1800s, around the same time as the invention of photography. It made a decisive break from traditional forms – away from realism and towards symbolism. So in a sense you had this literary world and this photographic world simultaneously breaking new boundaries. I found this parallel extremely interesting. It was equally an extremely prolific time in photography – there were so many different physical forms and processes within the medium. These concerns run throughout the show. Specifically, I wanted to consider photography as an object and try to identify how we view photography today, especially considering the massive shifts the medium has experienced.
The shift from the early 19th century to the 20th century saw the birth of the first 35mm camera, the 1960s saw the advent of colour photography, and one of the latest shift is, of course, the digital age. This digital shift is something that I wanted to address because we often look at images in a digital rather than physical form.

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Nikolai Ishchuk, Leak X and Leak IX, 2014.

Jaime Marie Davis: So, how do we now view images and how can we change that through the exhibition?
What I thought it was really interesting to consider the digital plane and how photography is currently used within the medium. Many of the artists on show have adopted anachronistic approaches such as the photogram. They have tried to understand how different methods, processes and applications have shifted away from digital aspects. One example is Nikolai Ishchuk whose work is devoid of any functionality. He looks at the processes and material itself using some of the metals within aspects of photography to form solid sculptural objects.

J.M.D: As the largest photography exhibition ever staged in Finland Alice In Wonderland was one of the noteworthy projects of your curatorial career. The exhibition has some thematic links to Against Nature if we consider the notion of ‘constructing worlds’ or the relationship between the ‘real and unreal.’ Is this a continued line of inquiry in your curatorial practice?

S.B: My practice looks at metaphysical objects and ideologies within this world and considers how one might transcend an object and transcend the meaning of that object. So, you could say Against Nature is a sequel, in a sense, to Alice In Wonderland. But I look at photography as contemporary art and photography as a material-based medium that can shift and change and can have parallel existences. It can exist as a 2D print form but it can also exist as a material base in itself.

Alice and Wonderland was interesting because we were looking at artists globally who were trying to create a different vision of their work, as opposed to just the representation of a photograph. They were playing with surfaces and rendering ideas to create physical objects that were photographically based. Julio Galeote’s work is heavily indebted to a sense of ‘wonderland’. He looks at objects with a very different perspective, a dream state where an object is stripped of all its meaning and then re-represented, and documented as a photograph. Therefore, the photograph becomes the meaning of that new object. When you approach his work it looks like a regular photographic body of work, but when you start to understand his methodologies and ideologies, then all those different layers start to reveal themselves as an object versus a photograph.

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Julio Galeote, Excess n.1, 2012.

 

J.M.D: One thing that interests me is the way you work between editorial and curatorial roles, which have similar methodologies for constructing narratives. But they also deal with images differently as they move from static and viral to physical. How has your editorial role influenced your curatorial decisions, specifically in relation to the audience’s relationship to images as a physical encounter?

S.B: I think there is a parallel relationship between editorial practice and curatorial practice. They both work hand in hand and I don’t think one takes precedence. In a sense, the editorial is still a curatorial role within my practice – it’s working with words and images. I use the actual plane of the paper as a white cube and I have a very close relationship with the printer that I use because, for me, the publication is equally an exhibition space.

I find that the way editorial and curatorial differ, is in how the audience navigates through the space and digests the work. It’s a different feeling than the publication, which is a reception to the work versus an exhibition where it is transmitted. In the publication there is a mental digestion and, depending on who the audience is, they can extend that.

K.W: Thinking about the context of Photo50 within the London Art Fair – and Next Level, which looks at photography within the context of contemporary art – what do you consider to be the current position of the photographic image within contemporary art?

S.B: Photography is multifaceted. There are so many ways of thinking about it. Within the arts, there is a body of practitioners who conduct their practice as photographers. I think that is the issue as their practice can shift into different realms of photography such as editorial or commissioned work and there are so many different practices that take place within the medium of photography.

The question of whether photography fits within contemporary art is a divisive one. However I see photography as an art form. For me, it’s a medium that has a great fluidity within contemporary art. Especially now when we consider its form in the digital age, take for example the 3D representations of Jonny Briggs’. The beautiful aspect about photography is that it is always evolving; there is always a new application or process that is being applied to shape how we perceive photography today.

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Jonny Briggs, Super Natural.

K.W: I also find this continually changing status of the photograph interesting, where a photograph used for one purpose, is then picked up to be used for multiple purposes between media. For example a post card is a photograph of a ‘view’, but is also something that is shared freely amongst people.

S.B: What’s really interesting, and who picks up on this is Darren Harvey Reagan. He looks at the subject or object that exists in the world, which is identified, then the photographic representation of that object and how that’s transmitted and, like you said, whether it’s tactile and exists for one viewer or shared amongst an audience, and finally photograph object itself or materiality of the photograph and its layers where the artists applies paints or different materials. )

J.M.D: Thinking about the literal meaning of the exhibition title, Against Nature brings to mind what I would say is a growing concern with what artists and other curators such as TJ Demos have claimed holds ‘essentialist thinking as much as gesturing towards a fantasy world apart from human activity’ and that we have entered a post-natural condition. Is this consideration of a ‘post natural’ condition also a double meaning or underlying concern given the included works by Julio Galeote such as his ‘Excess’ series?

S.B: Julio Galeote has a double entendre feel to his works and he definately touches deals with these issues. It’s also something that the book by JK Huysman alludes to, because one of the central characters isolates himself from human contact and creates a fantasy world within the home. The whole idea is that he is looking at how to shift meanings of objects and subjects within their plane. That is a challenge for a lot of artists and curators: to look at the fundamentals of nature, to return to areas outside of human existence and to have conversations along those lines. It’s a very small part of the exhibition but Julio’s work epitomises that. He hits on an important issue, one which, as you say, is of increasing importance in visual art discourses.

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Embracing Subjectivity in Jo Metson Scott’s The Grey Line by Sunil Shah


Images courtesy of Jo Metson Scott

Two years ago, Allan Sekula proposed that all ‘new documentary’ had a tendency towards ‘subjectivism’ and ‘authorial self-revelation’1. Jo Metson Scott’s five year The Grey Line is a good example of what Sekula meant by this seemingly contradictory statement. Contradictory, because documentary photography (or film for that matter), has typically been aligned with a detachment of the photographer from an area of study; the myth of objectivity and the delusion that one’s presence as witness does not influence the photographic results.

Sekula’s criticism of documentary photography is not new to the world of contemporary photography. Documentary photography is now readily accepted as art. Jo Metson Scott’s socio-politically motivated project is very much positioned within an art context. Her inquiry into armed forces personnel who have gone AWOL is explored subjectively with a distinctly personalised perspective. Metson Scott both recognises and subverts journalistic convention and codes of the ‘journalistic turn’ to create an yet very personal project.

The ‘journalistic turn’ can be defined as an approach which exposes research and constructs the work using text/image formats. Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters and Jim Goldberg’s Open See are recent examples. These works are rooted in a desire to understand as opposed to simply capture the subject. They seek to expose complex narratives despite the medium’s inherent reductive characteristics.

Clearly visible in both works, are captions and short textual extracts which contextualise the material in a manner similar to the way magazine and newspaper articles append photographs to text. As daily consumers of media our eyes are well adjusted such juxtapositions of text and image. The authority and ethics that come from news media sources conform to our expectations of how the ‘truth’ is told. Yet Metson Scott precludes this by exposing her sketchbooks, which through their honesty and direct relationship to her research add an extra layer of authenticity to the work.

We don’t appear to be looking at highly mediated, edited or polished work; instead, we are taken through Metson Scott’s own diaristic entries and processes. An example of how self-reflexivity might add authenticity to documentary practice.

Does empathy drive documentary photography or indeed our desire to look at Metson Scott’s work? Perhaps it does so through this humanitarian connection with the unfortunate experiences of those who have been overlooked by society and ostracised unfairly. This work shows how war photography has shifted its direction towards home, where survival for these ex-soldiers takes on a different form. This work brings the effects of war to our doorsteps.

Metson Scott’s subjectivity is projected onto us. It shines a light on the subject without victimisation and sensationalist mediation. Documentary in this way – by embracing subjectivity – renews its validity in the face of its own potential collapse through changing attitudes to authority and systems of power.

We can’t be sure of what it feels like to be one of these former soldiers who chose not to participate; photographs alone can’t possibly do that. But we can be sure of Metson Scott’s work, through sensitive and careful study, allows us into her subjective. In the end, we want to know and feel for the people she has given a voice to.

1.Sekula, Allan, ‘Eleven Premises on Documentary and a Question in Mutations, Perspectives on Photography, Paris Photo/Steidl, 2011, p. 265.

photo (8)Sunil Shah is an artist and curator based in Oxford, UK. He is interested in the politics of photographic representation and conceptual post-documentary practices with relation to history, memory and identity. He has undertaken several curatorial projects including Making Home at the Royal Geographic Society, London for the HLF funded Exiles Project and acted as co-curator for Brighton Photo Fringe Open ’13. He holds degrees from Coventry University and the University of Westminster. www.sunilshah.info

 

Masses of Labourers: A View on Edward Burtynsky by Fangfei Chen


Images courtesy of Edward Burtynsky

I always wondered why international photographers are drawn to the depiction of Chinese factories. Are they shocked by their scale? Do they wish to portray factory workers as robots? Or is it something else?

When I first saw this photograph by Edward Burtynsky I was attracted by its colour, the way it was framed and its interesting perspective. Bright yellow unites the image on a whole, from the uniforms, to the factory flags, and finally the factory itself.

The people are presented as part of mechanism. They are integrated, or perhaps, are forced to integrate. The bright yellow of the workers’ uniforms advances into the distance creating an illusion that the image is endless.

Growing up in China, Marxism was taught from a young age. However, until very recently, I had never read Marx’s original works. In schools Marxism is reduced down to small quotes on textbooks. Rather than reading the original text, we were asked to recite particular passages. Had I read Marx’s original texts I might have understood what this photograph was edging towards. Now, when looking at this photograph, a line from The Communist Manifesto (1872)

“Masses of labourers, crowed into the factory, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine by the overlooker, and, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

In many ways this quote could form the caption to Burtynsky’s photograph. Or maybe Burtynsky had this quote in his mind when he released the shutter? For me, the photograph visually encapsulates the exploitation of workers. And in the end, there’s a strange irony in the fact this image was taken in a country that instills Marxism in its children.

Fangfei is a Ph.D candidate of History at the University of Essex, with a primary focus on the research of photographic materials. She is from China and has an MA in Arts Market Appraisal from Kingston University, and an MA from the University of St. Andrews in the History of Photography. She has worked as Assistant Manager in the Beijing Huachen Photography Department, as well as working for several photographic archives such as in the University of St. Andrews. Her interviews and reviews have been published by Art Gallery, Art Guide and The World of Photography, among other publications. Her interests include the history of Chinese photography, the photographic market, management,  festivals and installation.