Thursday, March 10, 2011


Struth trained at the Dusseldorf Academy from 1973-1980. His early works consisted of huge black and white shots os streets in Japan, Europe and America. Through photographs he attempts to show the relationship between people and their modern day environment

In the mid-1980s Struth added a new dimension to his work when he started to produce family portraits. This was after a meeting with psychoanalyst Ingo Hartmann. These works attempt to show the underlying social dynamics within a seemingly still photograph. His photos are usually praised for their clinical objectivity. He said that a photograph "has a clear language, one that speaks openly not only about its subjects ... but also very much about the attitude of the photographer toward these things. In this regard, a photograph is always objective."

Trained as a painter he even seems to imply that the best photography aspires to the condition of painting. Critics usually contrast these scenes of geometric serenity with the passionate cinematic photographs of Andreas Gursky. Unlike Struth, Gursky clearly believes that photography has surpassed and displaced painting

Like Atget his pictures are without people. Atget populated his pictures with the cities character in the form of objects and compositions. Struth's pictures, with their balance and perfection captures the essence of the city in a different way. The Crosby Street, New York (SoHo) (1978) and Sommerstrasse, Düsseldorf (1980) make these two very different cities look identical.

This is why, in Struth's museum photographs, the figures in the paintings seem uncannily more real than the actual, living people looking at them. In a photograph of people standing before a Seurat painting the painting itself is active, not the people staring at it. We recall that Seurat based his paintings on photographic principles. His famous photograph of The Chicago Art Institute has a balance that makes the frame almost become like a window on the wall, and the woman viewing an active member of the painting.

Walker Evans

Walker Evans

Despite rejecting the claim of “fine artist” like his French counterpart Eugene Atget, Walker Evans is widely viewed as the pioneer of the photographic art in America. With his seminal work “Ameriacn photographs” he became the first Photographer to have a standalone show in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. He is renowned for his documentary almost anti Photographic Style which is summed up by his mentor and friend Lincoln Kirstein when he says “Photography in itself almost probably does not interest him”

Evans always dreamed of being a writer and was heavily influenced by the work of T.S Elliot and Ernst Hemmingway which is evident in the dramatic anti-romantic nature of his work. Coming from a wealthy background, being the son of an Advertising Executive allowed Evans

to travel to Paris in his early 20’s where he learned from the photography of Eugene Atget. Returning to America after a year in Paris, armed with a new found French intellectualism and in the words of Kirstein began photographing “the contemporary civilisation of Eastern America and its dependencies as Atget gave gave us in Paris before the war” with shots of clear, hideous and beautiful detail.

American Photographs although lacking obvious continuity and physically existing as separate prints can be read as a series or collection of statements deriving from and presenting a consistent attitude. The opening picture of a photo-booth proclaims "Photos" and points us in ironically in the direction of what’s to follow. The photographs are almost always shot front on, with a rigorous directness. His eye is open and visible. There is no need to dramatize the material. It is already intensely dramatic.

The relationship of man and machinery in industrial America is a theme that is consistent throughout. Evans is obsessed with mans reliance on the machine and the obvious scarring of the landscape that results. He is concerned with the psychology of the people who use them. He shoots Architecture with a view to looking at the people behind it, those who use the building or those who built them. In the barbers shop picture he does the opposite simply shooting two empty chairs suggesting instead an absence of people.

Evans pictures to my mind have a humorous aspect to them. He sarcastically questions “good taste” architecture of the time, mimicking post revolutionary New England and colonial architecture moulded with stucco instead of being sculpted from stone. Symbolic fragments like that of the cracked iron cast moulding or pressed tin Corinthian capitals demonstrate this.


Project Proposal

Michael Hayes

My proposal is to make a project concerned with contemporary patterns of habitation in the Irish landscape i.e. The housing estate.

During the course of this seminar I've found myself naturally drawn to the documentary style of Walker Evans and the survey-like work of Robert Adams. While it remains to be seen whether their approach to photography is appropriate to this project, I think it's a suitable starting point.

For me the housing estate is a subject that encompasses many of the topics we've already discussed such as the observation of the ordinary, the comparison of typologies, and man'scolonisation of the landscape. However, at this point, I'm probably most interested in capturing human occupancy at a smaller scale; how individuals' attempt to live within the boundaries handed to them, whether its just leaving a pair of shoes outside the front door or sitting on a garden wall having a chat.

In terms of presentation, I feel that a book/catalogue represents too unified an object given the subject matter. Therefore I propose (for now at least) that the final images will be presented as individual postcards on a typical, revolving newsagent's stand. There idea here would be that each image, though repeated many times, becomes an object itself which may transfer ownership from exhibition to audience and thereby leading to further fragmentation and decontextualisation.

Below are a series of preparatory images (taken from our studio project in cahir) that just show a number of different approaches to the subject and which might give a better idea of what I'm thinking of...

"The landscape is the place we live... we cannot therefore scan it without scanning ourselves."
- John Swarovski, introduction to The New West

Robert Adams work is focused on how the western landscapes of North America have been shaped by human influence. His photography takes a stance of apparent neutrality, refraining from any obvious judgement of the subject matter.

Adams' was a professor of English at the University of Colorado before taking up photography. This background is clear in the way he addressed the destruction of the western landscape and discussed some of the attitudinal shifts that would be necessary for its future preservation,"if we call places by names that are accurate, we may ultimately find it easier to live in them". In a similar fashion Adams photographs offer a lesson in the value of candor. His picture make fresh what we think we have seen and know. He rediscovers the known landscape and returns it to a state similar to that found in survey photographs: strange, unknown and unnamed.
Unlike typical survey publications though, Adams' pictures are not accompanied by diagrams or maps. However the minimal amount of text serves to underline the scientific and informational purity of the pictures themselves. Their seemingly prosaic, unpictorial character gives them the semblance of images made for the purpose of date alone.
Meanwhile, Adams skillfully and subtly plays with the would-be objective and seemingly non-selective character of survey photography and uses it to his own subjective ends. For example, the separation of title from image, and the image's consequent isolation allows for a symbolical representation of a much larger idea of the West rather than a limited geographical area. For Adams, space is a stage without a centre, and his lack of a singular, clearly established subject corresponds to the apparent infinity of western expansion.