Monday, 11 January 2010

Bookworm: Clarke, Cotton and Dickie

I tend to read lots of books and dip in and out of them as and when I feel like it. And therefore I rarely read a book cover to cover but ultimately will be familiar with most of its content. I thought I would start just keeping a record of texts I have been referring to and the pertinent points I gleaned from them.  I am struggling sourcing books currently. Our local library was flooded which to be fair had a limited supply of specialised textbooks.  I need to check out some other sources otherwise amazon will be a good deal richer in a few years time!!  Just wondering whether I can tap in to a university library - are you allowed to do that if it isn't your library??? For now anyway:

The Photograph, Graham Clarke (Oxford 1997)

This was the text provided with the course material.  I tried really hard at the start to get my academia head on and work my way through this.  I admit it was heavy going for me, I got about a third of the way through before being distracted by my first purchase (the second book on this list). I have since found that this text has been an excellent reference book and that on numerous occasions I have returned to the book to check information, read further about certain photographers and to add background to certain movements. This book provided me with my first insight in to understanding how to read a photograph and the deeper meaning of photography.  

In it C. Jabez Hughes in 1861 identified three levels of the photograph.

Mechanical photography consisted of those photographs which aim at a simple representation of the objects to which the camera is pointed.  In these, everything is to be depicted exactly as it is, literal photography.
Art photography where the photographer (as artist) determines to diffuse his mind in to objects by arranging, modifying or otherwise disposing them, so that they may appear in a more appropriate or beautiful manner.
High art photography consists of certain pictures which aim at a higher purpose than the  majority of art photographs and whose purpose is not merely to amuse but to instruct, purify and ennoble.

This was a revelation for me. Reflecting on my own photography I considered some of my better images up to this point to fall in to the ‘art photography’ category. I was presenting my portraits to be complementary and my landscapes to create an ethereal and serene atmosphere both with the aim of making my subject more aesthetically appealing or fetching.  Although, admittedly I felt equally restricted by this. The high art category was something new to me. To start using my photography as a mechanism of expressing myself and ‘seeing’ beyond merely the beauty felt liberating and intriguing. This I am exploring further.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  It has amused, bemused and informed me about many approaches, artists and ideas.  It has broadened my horizons and encouraged me to view photography differently.

It has looked at a range of contemporary art photographers and broadly divided them in to the following categories:

  • scavenging daily events focusing on preconceived ideas with a strategy designed to alter the way we think about our physical and social world but who also take that to extraordinary dimensions.  Setting up scenarios to create an effect.

  • story-telling and a narrative distilled in a single image using props and gestures.  Constructed or staged photography.

  • deadpan photography which has a distinct lack of visual drama. The objective gaze on the subject, rather than the photographer's perspective.  Expansive in nature and scale.

  • subject matter is pushing boundaries of what might be considered a credible visual subject. Everyday things made to look extraordinary.  Things that would otherwise be ignored.  Everything is a potential subject.

  • intimate life, emotional and personal relationships, drawing on human intimacy, unexpected moments in everyday life - distinct to what the average person would encounter.

  • moments in history, based on documentary style photography

  • revived and remade, images that is not of its author's making or necessarily under his or her control, but was determined only from reference to other images or signs.

  • physical and material, enhanced appreciation of the materiality and objecthood of the medium.
Again, this book is something I will return to almost on a daily basis, just checking for more information or more clarification on something.  It is easier to pick up and read than The Photograph.

This book is a small, almost pocket sized book with a short, but informative resume of fifty of the most influential photographers in history. For me I found it helpful early on as my previous knowledge of photographers was very limited.  It gives a good overview without too much information.  I've had it from the library for several  months and I'm reluctant to send it back so I guess it has some value as a reference book.  But I suspect as a studying text it has a very limited useful life.

more later...

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