As I have been visiting galleries recently I have often found myself overwhelmed and confused as to what is contemporary art. Sometimes to the point that I question if I am in the correct galleries. Some of the artists I asked are they amateurs there was not sign of the complex skills of many of the more famous photographers I so admired. Many shots seemed to be taken as if they are family shots from the 1970’s. They often transmitted curiosity and emotion and yet I did not understand. Then I would find a series of the most contrived images completely computer generated. I have found some of the answers here in the book photography as contemporary art. This book has given me an introduction into the concepts and ideas behind modern art. Evidently in order to understand it would required a much greater study in the whole. I feel having read this book it has given me a different perspective as to how I conceive modern art. There are many different ways as documentary, as dramatic art to make a statement, as art that makes us look at ourselves and our way of thinking, humorous there is a style of art to please all.
The Photograph as contemporary art.
In order to explain contemporary art the book has been divided into various categories and I will here do my best to summarise these. This is not a review of this book. I will paraphrase and summarise in order to understand myself.
While many talk of the disappearance of the art particularly in the media world as everyone can take a photo and people were losing sight of the difference of a professional photographer. Photography as fine art was taking hold in the galleries as one of the most popular mediums of today. This is still the case currently.
The first Chapter is about our physical and social world.
This style of art came about in the mid 1960s and 70s. When photography became central to the wider dissemination and communication of artists performance. The images appear non art like and deskilled to emphasise that it is what is happening in the photograph which is important the event not the skills of who took it. This style of photography took advantage of the versatility of photography both as an art and as a documentarian instrument. They are photographs which are often contrived however appear documentarian. Words used to describe some of these artists – absurdist, comic grotesque and theatricality. They are acts been created in order to be photographed. Many of these artists have approached strangers and asked them to pose in different ways. For example Yokomizo sent letters to people and asked them to stay inside their windows while he photographed them at a particular time of the evening and date. The resulting images show people who cannot see the photographer and are not quite sure when they are being photographed. Another example German artist Bettina von Zwehl asked her sitters to wear white cloths and to sleep they were then woken while signs of their just been woken are obvious in their face. Or photographed them after physical exertion while their faces are red and they try to compose themselves. She also photographed them as they held their breaths. Another artist which stuck out to me was Gillian Wearing, this artist asked her subjects to write down on a piece of card their thoughts and hold it while been photographed. The resulting images meant we could not imagine or have preconceived ideas of what preoccupied the minds of these people they were telling us. They are not all about portraits however David Shrigley for example with his written messages on different images making statements about contemporary life. His scribbled messages seem to debunk arts pretentiousness with an immediate understanding in a school-boyish way of the concept is is communicating to us. In this chapter it seems photo skills are left behind in order to communicate modern day observance in an obvious way and yet they are designed to make us think.
The second Chapter covers contrived scenarios for the camera. These artists often set up elaborate studios with teams of people almost like a movie to create an image that tells the story they want it to tell. It refers to painting in the 18th century where scenes were set up using props etc.
Often using obvious references to fables, fairy tales and modern myths that are already part of our collective consciousness. This type of photography shows how a scene can be choreographed in a single mage to tell a story. Jeff wall creates images to appear as if a spontaneous moment caught however they are contrived sets. The scenes are stylised enough to tell us they are contrived images . His work requires the extended looking time of art appreciation. One example of this style comes from thoughts of life and death by Tom Hunter represent contemporary workings of Victorian paintings. The way home which referencing Ophelia from Hamlet. Was based around the story of a young woman who drowned on her way home from a party. The modern day Ophelia is shown succumbing to water and metamorphosing into nature. When historical visual motifs are used in a contemporary way they show that there are some of the same issues preoccupying our minds that travel through time. Other worldliness, questioning images that could be staged or not are all part of this style of modern photography. The use of large format images takes us back to a time where large pictures were commissioned Anna Gaskells photographs intense her image form the by Proxy series references the Sally Salt character from Rudolf Raspes adventures of Baron Munchausen and has real life foundations in the true story of Geneva Jones. A pediatric nurse convicted of murdering her patients. The photographs mix the seductive and the abhorrent the good girl and the fetish status of the nurses costumes. Gregory Crewdson. Crewdsons series Hover staged strange happenings in Suburban housing areas. Photographing them from a crane above. He works with a huge cast and crew. In his photos there is a display of the paranormal and rituals while also using archetypical characters who carry out these events creates the drama.
Chapter three Deadpan
This is a cool detached way of photographing the world today. It shows an emotional detachment taking a step back wether it be while photographing people or landscape. It refers back to the use of photography as documentary. It is this style of photography fresh and clean with precise detail which took photography to the forefront of modern art and galleries in the 1990s.
Bernd and Hilla Becher have been and continue t be highly influential in the shaping of contemporary deadpan photography. Artists such as Thoma Struch, Candida Hofer and Axel Hutte were all their students. Photographs of architecture, historical buildings, boardrooms, universities all seemingly in an unartistic and unbiased way. They are showing us how things are today wether it be nature, people architecture. They are recording the way the world is what allows us to know that these are professional images and art is the detail held within them. They are not staged they are here to record the time and show us how things really appear today.
Something and Nothing.
In this chapter we look at the photographing of everyday things. The seemingly unimportant items however by photographing them they are given. The photographer presents these everyday items in many different ways by juxtaposition, or sculpture like positions, playful etc. It makes us think about the everyday items around us. How does it differ from still life paintings? Taking it to another level the artist Felix Gonzales Torees his billboard presentation of empty beds with the apparent imprint of the people who had just got up left on the bed sheets. This very personal scene placed in such a public presentation allowed people to place their own meaning to the art. Richard Wenthworth has photographed signs and debris of urban streets. One image depicted by Wenthworth shows blocking the entrance to a building. The question is what is the statement is it about urban parking the book suggests or about the lengths someone has gone to to prevent people entering the building. As the chapter progresses we see that this type of photography can create very strong emotions and statements about every day life. Inanimate seemingly everyday objects can take on new meaning. Or they can be about form and shape. What I saw in this chapter was a kind of dead pan of objects that leave a lot to the imagination. Items such as cloths left where they fell by the owner says something about the person that was just wearing them.
The chapter opens to comment on the average families snapshots where we sometimes wish we had taken more time before snapping a finger in the shot, flash blur. In Modern art there are sometimes again the deliberate use of seemingly unskilled shots to portray the intimacy of the photographer with the subjects. With your average family shot we try and record happy moments a new born baby coming home, confetti being thrown at a wedding however with modern art photography we often see the flip side of this. What is usually sad or taboo is also recorded. Sadness, addiction and illness.
Nan Goldin has been following her selected family of friends and lovers over thirty years. What we see in Nan Goldins image is an obvious closeness to her subjects it is her life she is photographing as we take pictures of our family and friends at events she takes pictures of very intimate moments. The images have an instinctive and natural composition that makes them art, they never lose that intimacy of the moment. It is obvious that her images are not contrived.
Larry Clark was another artist that followed his own peers through his teenage years with a series of images of drug use and abuse, sex and guns. This gritty style of photography also made its way into the fashion world in a term coined by Bill Clinton as Heroin Chic. The fashion studios started using younger and skinnier models with no makeup or hair work in less and less glamorous studios. Until the fashion world was accused of glamorising anorexia drug use and child abuse. Altough photography as an art was not so censored the Fashion world was. Out of this climate two artists emerged German artist Juergen Teller who worked within the fashion industry and Corinne Day who started her fashion career as a model and took images of her model friends. Juergen Teller what brought him right into the art world was his Go see exhibit which were images of models sent to the photographer in the hope of future bookings for shoots. His work details also the false hope given to some of these models. some of his work is also of self portraitures. Corinne Days images of her fellow models which they then often included in their portfolios showed are certain disdain for the fashion world they were recognised for their lack of pretension. Wolfgang photos showed private and vulnerable moments of his friends lifes in keeping with intimate photography art. Till man has also been innovative and dynamic in his way of presenting his work.
Apart from very intimate moments their are also other forms of intimate photography for example Alessandra Sanguinetti who undertook a four year project to photograph two young female cousins while they dressed up and did theatrical performances. This also allowed her to catch moments of their lives outside of this play acting and dressing up. Ruth Erdts and Elinor Caruccis way of photographing their family, paring it back to give an archetypal look at personal lives at the bond between parent and child to represent this generation as we are in a more generic or familiar fashion of many of our lives. To show the spontaneity of domestic life.
Moments in History.
Faced with the gap left by decreased comissioned documentary projects and the usurping of television and digital media as the most immediate carriers of information photographys answer has been to make an asset out of the different climates and context that art offers. Photography has taken an anti-reportage stance. Arriving after the event and using the use of medium and large format cameras . Rather than been caught up in the event photgraphers are photographing the aftermath. This is giving photographers more time to absorb and to portray moments in history as they want the effects of what has just happened rather than gratifying images for editors. It is leading to a new style of photography .We have discussed this before after reading the photographers mind. Wether a shot of war for example showing dead bodies is more effective or a more discreet image which makes us think about the effect of war. They are two different styles however worth thinking about if we intend to portray such events.
Zarina Bhimji is one such photographer her photos tell us some details and then she leaves the rest to the imagination her images often without people still make us feel their presence.
Anthony Haughey for example in his series disputed territories photographs the tenuous markings of boundaries in northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia as a metaphor for the political and social legacy of civil war.
We also in this style of photography return to dead pan, portraits of people who have survived or living within war zones and other areas affected by great affliction. By using the dead pan style the photographer tries not to influence the subjects in how they pose they have the power to tell their story. Often this style of photography is also accompanied by a title to explain who the subjects are and what they have suffered to put it into context. See Fazal Sheikh and Chan Chao.
Canadian artist – Allan Sekula puts forward how art can accommodate thorough and politicised investigations of the major economic and social forces that shape our world. His photographs in the “Fish story” Show the history of sea trades routes with the problems facing this industry today.
Martin parr photographer who seems to use his own moments of holidays to take snap shots of items which represent that place and time. Quirky and clever are Parrs shots. His shots were sent to galleries all over the world for a simultaneous showing. The galleries were able to choose how to show these images.
Luc Delahye and Ziyah Gafic. Both are examples of horrific images being made all the more effective by the way the photo is presented with signs of ordinary life beside dead bodies for example.
Revived and Remade.
The theory that the meaning of any image is not of is authors making or necessarily under his or her control but determined only by reference to other signs and images. This was a theory put forward by Postmodernism where photography gained its significance from their place within the larger system of social and cultural coding. In this chapter we look at photographs born out of this way of thinking.
We look at the art of Cindy Sherman. Evidence when looking at her images shows they are familiar in some way either from family snap shots, fashion poses or fine art photographs and paintings and so on. There familiarity comes from our stock memory of photos. This style of photography has been an invite to both practitioners and viewers to explicitly acknowledge the cultural coding that photography mediates. This artist is a perfect example of postmodern art photography.
Yasumasa Morimura. Self portraits as art History, shows the artist as Vincent Van Gogh, then moving on to align his own identity with those of famous artists and actresses with arts most glamorous archetypes. His photographs show the playful ego of the photographer and the cult status of particular artists and actors.
Imitations of ones own family. For example Gillian wearing self portrait as his father.
Trachey Moffatt use of socio-historical issues that are normally explored through anthropology and writing can be portrayed in art.
Susan Derges is mentioned here whom I went to see her exhibit in New York recently. It explains how she uses the technique of photogram. in which shadows of objects positioned on or above a sheet of photographic paper are captured simply be being sensitized to light. Working at night Derges lays photographic paper beneath the surface of a river and lets of a flashlight from overhanging branches. The movement patterns of the water and of the branches are visualized in this highly intuitive form of photography. Her photographs are bringing to contemporary art the type of experiments used by the earliest practitioners of photography.
Adam Fusses use of the Daguerreotype.
Contemporary art has also used the collating of existing images often vernacular and anonymous into grids , schemes and juxtapositions. See example John Divola.
Joachim Schmidt uses found and discarded photos and writes his own editorial.Marketa Othova her idea of frozen moments by taking pictures in monochrome and with a grainy effect she gives a sense of time. For example her photo of Martin Frics home she photographed in the style of 1930s in order to give it a sense of when the house was built.
Katy Grannan using a picture of her friend she has used digital technology to blend some of her own facial features to the portrait showing the connection that exists with photographer and subject literally.
Physical and Material
Mixed media. Mixed media photographed, Using sculpture with photography. using the topic of the art process as the subject. Holding on to old methods of photography.
Zoe Leonard captures a disappearing human scaled form of international commerce. Her project shows the shifting and declining currencies of both local commerce and analogue photography. It is not a eulogy to two fading traditions as she acknowledges that while fading in comparison to multinational conglomerate trade, do still exist. She shows the status of the wandering observant street photographer still existing.
Liz Desches mimics the Moire effect of digital screens using analogue photography. She created the negative by pin pricking the a sheet of foil held up at a window with negative film exposed to the sunlight behind it. The prints were created by double exposing the photographic paper with the inevitable mis-alignment of the dots of light coming into play in the hand crafted process.
Sherrie Levinne Her retaking of Walker Evans images within frame … Her role as curator historian or the desire to hold on to the old analogue way of photography.
Where the history of making photographs holds a place in modern art.
Photographic books online and in print.
Tim Barber http://www.tinyvices.com his website gives an output for modern art and emerging artists to show their work outside of the galleries. Books can be printed.
Abstract everyday art.
Wolfgang Tillman – How work is presented in a Gallery