Thursday, December 12, 2013

Essay Development

Alec Soth - Sleeping by the Mississippi
Joel Sternfeld - Ox Bow Archive

Throughout both pieces of work there is the idea of the democracy of the image. Sternfeld elevates the importance of the humble potato field, carefully crafting and working the land for images. He is not focused on capturing the spanning vistas the site offers but instead searches for the quieter moments. Soth moves through the landscape showing the same respect to the landscapes and the portraiture of people he encounters. The landscapes in Mississippi tell us as much about these places as its people do. Soth, like Sternfeld, also refrains from the sweeping vistas of the Mississippi stating that ‘you carry it in your head’ as one views the book. 

The idea of moving through a landscape bestowing merit on all things equally is similar in a way to the idea of the river moving through the land encountering various changes along the way. The rhythm of the images is dreamlike however Soth is not passive in his photography. Although there is a feeling of passive wandering the character of the photographer is evident in every photograph. There is also a notion of integrity, this great body of water snaking through the landscape accepting the changes time inflicts upon it. The towns and cities that relied on the river to sustain them in the past now find themselves isolated and in decline. The river has not changed but with the passage of time the places and people that occupy its shores have. Soth captures these places and the characters with an empathy and respect.

This idea of the integrity of the landscape is also evident in Sternfeld’s Ox Bow Archive. Referencing the Thomas Cole painting of the same landscape, the body of work provides a commentary on the inflictions of time and modern culture on this particular landscape. This field, devoid of the ironies and maniacal characters of small town America in American Prospects, is banal in every sense. Sternfeld seems to rejoice in this, the majesty of the mundane. The photographs are all  without people - a significant departure from his earlier work. It is interesting to note that in this documenting of a potato field, arguably the antithesis of the epic road trip, Sternfeld addresses some of the bigger themes of modern life. The brevity of life, the mundanity yet inevitability of death and the irrepressible passage of time are all present in the images.

 Thinking of Sternfeld as the settler working his land, we can imagine his produce as this volume of images. The methodical walking and photographing of the land, akin to the ploughing and reaping of crops, imparts an intimate knowledge of the landscape. By exhibiting the restraint to stay in one place, resisting the urge to wander, Sternfeld gains a deep affinity with his chosen freehold which is evident in Ox Bow Archive.
Imagining Soth as the nomad to Sternfeld’s settler, the images in Mississippi imply restlessness and a need to keep moving typical of the hunter gatherer. Never resting too long in one place, Soth’s narrative is poetic and dreamlike as opposed to Sternfeld’s comprehensive documenting of the land. The nature of poetry, in that it is suggestive of a whole but never complete, is similar to the structure of Mississippi. It is almost like awaking from a dream with fragmented images and trying to stitch together the stream of consciousness. The prevalence of beds in Mississippi, including that of Charles Lindbergh, only serves to underpin this state of conscious dreaming and landscape.

"Over and over again I fall asleep with my eyes open, knowing I'm falling asleep, unable to prevent it. When I fall asleep this way, my eyes are cut off from my ordinary mind as though they were shut, but they become directly connected to this new, extraordinary mind, which grows increasingly competent to deal with their impressions."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

There is a problem with architectural photography in general; it does not adequately represent how we live in buildings. There are few visible signs life in the photographs, and these are limited to the empty chair or a blur of a person moving through a room. The images seem to aim to suppress the domestic world and its comforts and prosaic realities. We are offered a dehumanised world in pictures of sterile environments, empty rooms and hostile spaces. Adolf Loos recognised this in 1910. He wrote: “It is my greatest pride that the interiors which I have created are totally ineffective in photographs," – suggesting also that perhaps it can't be helped; photographs of architecture are doomed to this “ineffectivity.” Then in 1975, architectural photographer (and former assistant to Walker Evans) Cervin Robinson wrote the following:
“Typically the architectural photograph is taken in brilliant sunshine on a rare, deep blue-skied day. Interiors have been tidied as they may rarely be in reality; furniture has been carefully aligned. The picture is unlikely ... to show much of the neighbourhood of a building. There is a good possibility it may include no people.”

Photographs from architects or publishers are usually taken of a building not in use, before opening, void of life. This is naturally to give attention to the built work, a thing designed to support realities that are not captured in the same images.

And then people who visit buildings and sites that they have already seen in images go and reproduce the same photograph, take the same views.

The image we receive shows nothing of vivifying effect a human presence has on a building. It is of hostile space. It conceals the realities of the everyday and suppresses the domestic world to bring us another vision.
Is this a mistaken representation of how we live in the world or are we just documenting an unrealistic vision? The narrative of how we are shaped by our built environment is often missing from our photographs of architecture.


Modernism imagines buildings “as machines for living in.” Do the modernist vision and this approach to photography have something in common? They share a severity in their desire for the purest kind of representation. T.J. Clark has said that “modernism's disdain for the world and wish for a truly gratuitous gesture in the face of it are more than just attitudes: they are the true (that is, agonised) form of its so-called purism.” “Purism,” “so-called” or not, is something we associate with the aesthetic worldview of Le Corbusier, and his “disdain for the world,” the real world that contains living, breathing, running, eating, defecating humans.

Le Corbusier was a photographer, but he had mixed feelings about the medium. He wrote: “When one travels and works with visual things - architecture, painting or sculpture - one uses one's eyes and draws, so as to fix deep down in one's experience what is seen. Once the impression has been recorded by the pencil, it stays for good - entered, registered, inscribed. The camera is a tool for idlers, who use a machine to do their seeing for them." Notice the slight inconsistency – Le Corbusier, the champion of “machines for living in,” dismisses the camera as a mere machine for seeing with. Someone who grew up in fin de siècle Europe, the first great age of visual culture, and who consistently used photography – particularly abstract photography – to inform his own work. As Beatriz Colominahas has written:

“Though photography (as with film) is based on single-point perspective, between photography and perspective there is an epistemological break. The point of view in photography is that of the camera, a mechanical eye. The painterly convention of perspective centers everything on the eye of the beholder and calls this appearance "reality." The camera - and more particularly the movie camera - posits that there is no center. Using Walter Benjamin's distinction between the painter and the cameraman, we could conclude that Le Corbusier's architecture is the result of his positioning himself behind the camera.”

When thinking about architetural photography and Le Corbusier's Chandigarh, one sees the same inconsistency play out on a different field – these “purified,” idealised representations of life on one side, and life as lived by people on the other.


““Modernity” means contingency. It points to a social order which has turned from the worship of ancestors and past authorities to the pursuit of a projected future – of goods, pleasures, freedoms, forms of control over nature, or inifinities of information. This process goes along with a great emptying and sanitizing of the imagination.” - T. J. Clark


In Chandigarh the application of a new master plan with a modernist program seems appropriate. The architecture is boldly present where before there was none. This city did not develop organically. It was planned and needed to be monumental. It needed to instantly state itself in India as the Indian Punjab administrative capital. Chandigarh ended up between “the Nehruvian-Corbusian vision that gave it birth and the socio-political vicissitudes of post-colonial India that nurtured it,” in Vinayak Bharne's words.

Photographs from the architects show the city uninhabited, like sculpture in the landscape. There is a monumental scale of the work that makes it hard to imagine the city being created by human hands.

Iwan Baan’s photographs of Chandigarh show us the modernist city inhabited. The futuristic vision is grounded as the tensions between the effort to live and the accommodation of the concrete environment are captured. Human life observed against the scale of the designed city makes for a jarring sequence of photographs. Is this theory and reality clashing? Baan is documenting how people live, cope or thrive at the hands of the modernist master planner. We see images of places not designed to be seen, spaces used not as they were planned to be. The attention of the photographer is on the effect of the architecture on the city’s inhabitants. The built environment becomes a backdrop for stories that unfold in the foreground. 


As the world evolves, the historical can become unrecognisable, and we ask why? “Why do we choose this fate?” - Thomas Struth - “What is our photography revealing? Have we yet to take stock of what we have been allowed to see through photography or are we constantly within the process of evaluating our world as seen through the lens?”

To capture this phenomenon an innocence is required of the photographer. Too often images are made of places with preconceived notions about them. The challenge is in shedding these preconceptions and allowing the subject to reveal itself. Really looking is to be open to what the subject presents.

Making photographs can therefore connect us more strongly with the world around us. We learn to look so our subject will reveal what we are to capture. Making photographs is an act of attention and the camera becomes our visual aid. It offers a very particular way of seeing, and it results in a view unlike how we think – we think in fragments - and so supplements our understanding of our environment.


Throughout the book, the architecture of Chandigarh forms the backdrop in the images. It fills the horizon and frame of the photographs, giving us the sense of the huge scale of the built environment. Behind massive court yards and expanses of landscapes spreading across the photographs, the monumental buildings are always there. Lit up and casting shadows, they give the place strong visual identity which didn’t exist before.

In the shadows of structure, people are seen meeting at makeshift spots; plastic tables and chairs are gathered together and a man does his laundry in the spill of a water tank. All over the city Baan is finding life where it wasn’t designed to be. The subject of his attention, how the people live with this architecture, makes up the fore and middle grounds of the images. There is space for life, at times it looks like too much space as streets criss-cross through the grids of buildings to accommodate people on foot, there are not many vehicles around as was expected during the design.

The rhythms in mind when the city was being designed were rational, mathematical, arbitrary in relation to the rhythms of Indian life. The vision for Chandigarh arose as an export of modernity from the Western planning euphoria of the time, how was this version of utopia to apply to the Indian context? The existing architecture shows us how Le Corbusier and his team thought the city and buildings would be used, but the photographs capture how people occupy the test tube city in reality. As people have occupied the planned city and adapted to it, has the dictating hand of the designer been ignored? Life is captured flowing through structure that seems to stand unconcerned with the realities of the daily life of the occupier. 

The photographic language employed by Baan makes it clear what his subject is.

The city was planned with other types of photograph in mind, those of grand views of monumental buildings in the landscape and of impressive perspectives that glorify rationality and order. These images inform the design, but are abstract constructions of view, relative to how we live.

Photographs made by Scheidegger of the construction phase can be considered to reveal how the place will be used when built. People meet as they do now under trees, in the shadows of buildings, in barren fields and in make-shift places.

Where Baan does capture the city accommodating its people at a scale that seems appropriate usually happens to be in leftover space, at the backs of building in parts less designed for use. Having designed for spectacular and monumental activity, real life happens backstage.

This brings up private space in the city. Baan sees only the civic space, people affected in the public realm. The homes of these people were all equally planned and as modernist developments they impose a rationality on daily movements. Manuel Bougot photographed the interiors of homes in different ‘sectors’ of the city. Each area looks almost the same. Efforts to soften the rationality of modernist dwellings with fabric and ornament suggest difficulties in accepting the architecture.

Truth and Photography - An Essay Outline


Photography has a direct physical relationship, through chemical processes that links it to reality, which presumably makes it free from subjectivity.

“The daguerreotype is not merely an instrument which serves to draw nature, it gives her the power to reproduce herself.”
            Louis Daguerre

“Painting can feign reality without having seen it, contrary to imitation in photography, I can never deny that the thing has been there."
            Roland Barthes


Photographs have become tantamount to evidence, evidence which has the ability to drastically alter the world. e.g - aerial photographs and the Cuban missile crisis

“Photography has redefined societies understanding of information and truth ‘truth is in the seeing, not in the thinking”
            Neil Postman


Some disagree, notably Susan Sontag.

Sontag believes that by applying immortality and importance to certain subjects you are changing their significance and possible interpretation.

“The camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses” - Sontag

And in direct conflict with Barthes...

“[Photographs are] as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.” 

Not only does the photographer affect the photograph, but the process of being photograph photograph can even change the subject, because of their awareness of the camera, and the process of posing, trying to reflect your inner self through the camera.

“The human subject becomes less real through the process of being photographed…make another body for myself, transform myself in advance into an image”
Rolan Barthes

This self-awareness and attempt to ‘create an image in advance’ works on a larger level. There are attempts at controlling how photographs are perceived, propaganda, photo-ops etc.

“[Photography alters reality] whether through retouching, use of filters or lenses, selection of the angle of photography, exposure time, use of specially prepared chemicals in the developing stage, or adding elements through multiple printing. Traditional photography, therefore, also possesses process that can attenuate, ignore, or even undo the indexical”  
Tom Gunning

Photography creates a partial frozen reality, from a particular point of view. Even without retouching, photography can lie by omission.


Falling soldier – Robert Capa

More than likely posed, perspective, quality and nature of the photograph are very suggestive - We see what we want our experience teaches us to see.

Eddie Adams – Execution of a Viet Cong Prisoner of war.

Massively reproduced, Front page of the New York times –generated massive outcry.

The prisoner in the photograph had killed twelve people that morning, including the family of the friend of the executioner.

Photograph (which became more potent than the television footage of the same event) created turnaround in public support of the war… in a country that  largely supports the death penalty for murder.

It was suggested that the general staged the photograph because the AP were there, as a warning to other Viet Cong.

Kevin Carter – Sudanese Famine

Photograph caused international contrversy, the photographer won the Pulizer prize, and took his own life shortly after.

The was taken at a UN food depot, the child’s mother was likely nearby receiving food. The use of a telephoto lens, exaggerates the relationship between the vulture and the child.  Other people present have said that Carter chased the bird away after the photo was taken.

Post production – World Press Photo

Photographs of the Holocaust

The Holocaust – “this historic event marks the limits of representation”

Photographs taken by Nazi officials, to document construction and medical experiments in the camp.

Nazi propaganda photographs – silenced worries about the brutality of the camp.

Images taken by Allied soldiers upon discovery/after liberation – very heroic, also used as propaganda, somewhat misrepresented the camps.

Photograph’s also taken by German soliders, visiting during leisure time. ‘Tourist photographs’ – ‘light-hearted’ many of which were found in wallets of dead German soldiers.

Photographs do not show the acts, buracracy, planning and decisions behind the camps, just the incident.

Freeze framing makes it impossible for photographs to do justice to the professional quality of history.

Despite this is signifies something. It’s abstraction lends itself to becoming a symbol, and can lead to abstract emotive ideas.


(Relating to the concentration camps)
“The photographs taken by amateur photographers were often more convincing than pictures taken by professional photographers on official commissions… in their amateurishness, the photographs seem to depict directly the situation that the photographers had experienced. This their own pictures seem to more truthful than the more composed pictures of professionals.”

In the hour following 9/11 attacks in New York surrounding gift-shops were sold out of disposable cameras.

“A desire to make real what I could barely understand”
            -E. Ann Kaplan

Photographs abstracts reality, in this case makes something overwhelming, easier to grasp.

Leads to unbiased, less premeditated photographs, the volume of them creates a variety of. The amateur nature of the photographer, combined with the nature of disposable cameras/camera phones means that the photographer had no control over zoom, aperture, film type, or development.

Does this lead to a more honest depiction of an event through photography.

Social Media as an un-controlled, distribution channel.

Storyful – verification.

Also this talks to Jules Spinatschs methods of remaining distance and attempting to 'photograph everything'


Some argue that truth in photography lies in studying subtleties - subject poses, gestures, dress, relationships between people – a secret language, this can transcend the intent of the photographer. Walker Evans - Farm Security Administration.

Through familiarisation photographs can become devoid of information, and become symbols, or motifs, rather than something worthy of critical thought.

As this they may be capable of reinforcing knowledge that already exists.

Constructing The View : Photographers in the City

After a semester of researching different street photographers - Helen Levitt, Gary Winogrand, William Klein - and their work I have written this short text on the influence of photographers on the idea of cities, how photography interacts with the urban environment and how cities influenced photography. I have been thinking on the influence of photography on architecture, I tried to base my study on cities where architecture is all around and frames every picture. The cities can be experienced from different point of views but also from different interests and reasons. I am exploring photography in cities on the streets, then look closer at the built environment to finally end on the view of the city, its atmosphere and identity. Photographers from around the world have taken pictures of New-York City but no one did as well as photographers from the New-York city itself.

Garry Winogrand was born in Brooklyn (1928) and spent most of his life taking pictures of people in streets. His technique of photography was the most appropriate to the type of "snapshots" pictures he took of street life, "when in doubt, click".
City streets is usually where people are on their way somewhere but it is also where you can see people waiting, looking for a cab, eating or discussing. The streets is where you know the feel of a place, its energy and its people. How people interact to each other will tell you about the neighborhood.
Street photography is not about depicting societies problems or sharing a social message or to depict a certain life style but its really about showing the beauty of humanity.
Helen Levitt shows us childrens and their games, Gary Winogrand shows us woman walking, Diane Arbus shows us people "marginal people" and Tod Papageorge shows us people enjoying Central Park on a lazy day. These pictures weren't intended to make the viewer realise something about humanity but to enjoy and take in the energy and panache that some of those pictures can transmit.
Street photography is portraiting humanity, inhabitants of the streets, their reactions, their interactions, their energy.

Garry Winogrand would go all day in the streets to take pictures and enjoy the dynamism of people and to capture it. He was aware of everything that was going on around him, shortly watched  into the viewer changed a few settings faster then he would think and snap his finger down. He was fast and systematic. He would only stop to change the roll.
His best pictures are thanks to circumstances and to is rapidity. He never let a chance go. He pushed his camera to its limits with the full height portraits of woman walking the streets showing their movement and elegance but also their perplexity to this man photographing them. He also tried to create new interactions and movement through tilting the camera. Winogrand chalenges our usual view of the world and photography with the walls and ground tilted in diagonal to the frame. "We are reluctant to the visual truth of those pictures" ( E.H. Gombrich) but he still includes a signpost or object that is parrallel to a side of the frame to give an anchor.
Street photography doesn't need or try to inform you about street life but just tries to convey its energy, power and life.­­

Although Lee Friedlander is also known as a street photographer and is a contemporary of Garry Winogrand  his choice of subject and his style of photography is very diferent to his peers.
Lee Friedlander (1934) photographs the built city and its impact on the urban pedestrian. He was influenced by Eugene Atget a parisian photographer that tried through photography to enable the atmosphere of Paris.
Cities are highly constructed, made of concrete, glass, stone and steel. They are imposing and majestuous especially when thinking of New-York. The are made to extend in every direction, they are dense and functional.
How to depict these facettes of the city? Photographers had the challenge to fit all the information in or where or when to crop out the excess information.
Lee Friedlander captures what he can't frame from straight on without distortion in the reflection of a vitrine. He shows the hussle in doorways to the hall of a building, and the signs and facades of shops. These elements of the city portrays its indoor activity, its shops, restaurants and its tall neighbours filled with appartments and offices.
William Klein also depicts New-York city in New-York 1954-1955. He zooms into the signs and luminaires that covers New-York city. Cities are made of images, signs, writing and lights that gives information and advertisement, it is all about selling and buying.
Alan Callaghan photographs Chicago where he shows through the shade in the street the existence of the L - the elevated tube that loops around the city centre. The L is a main part of Chicago's identity and built environment and instead of photographing the tracks he shows the space that the tracks create underneath in the street.

The difference in photographing the space made of the street rather then its activity demands for a wider lens camera and still a quick shutter speed to include more in focus but avoid the blur that would appear from street activities.
Lee Friedlander takes photographs of objects or people interacting with facades and urban objects. His photography has a more 2D aspect to it with the play on planes but using reflections to add another dimension to his images and using them to give context to the shop or to the city. Is it how people experience the city and its streets? Do they see the mannequin or the menu and not what is behind it or behind them? Lee Friedlander materialises in his pictures a new way to depict the context within the object. - the mannequin within the building across the road.

Thomas Struth is a german photographer that studied under Bernd and Hiller Becher. He arrived in New-York thanks to a scholarship and made black and white pictures of New-York street's. They are empty of people but full of life. The residential buildings, the cars and everyday life objects prove the existence of people.
Cities are an urban landscape like a natural landscape they are composed in planes and grounds showing its history, its style, what it is proud of or its failures.
The automatic idea of a view to a city is its skyline but I find Thomas Struth's phictures a more elegant way of showing a view of New-York city. It might be at street level but it depicts its content. They don't show it as a local would but it is pure and still more magical by its grandeur!

Michael Wolf in his series Transparent city took pictures of views into people's homes. His pictures are flat and framed by the windows themselves but he represents the identity of Chicago. When you are in the L and you see straight into offices from the seat in the wagon it is an experience unique to Chicago and its elevated public transport. Michael Wolf uses that idea to look into people homes. His pictures are intrusive but they also illustrates how in cities the view you get from your office or appartment isn't a view of the city but a view on your neighbours living rooms.

The view of a main street is possibly the best way to describe the towns influences but the picture of Ground Zero is probably the best way to show New-York's history. The view of a city should give you a sense of identity. You recognise it and the essence of the city is described.
Through the study of the work of photographers in cities in the last 60 years we showed the extent of an images produced and possible to depict different aspect of this agglomeration of buildings and people. Photographers went to war or journalism to "get closer to the action" or went into advertising. Photographers in cities weren't given a task but took pictures of their own environment and what seemed to inspire them.

Photography is probably one of the best medium to capture the energy, movement and life that comes from its streets. Photography also allows you to contemplate your surroundings. Photography travels the world easily to show what cities look like and possibly feel like. When constructing a new building or a new part of town, renders and realistic renders will be made to inform the design decisions. Cities also have been influenced by the spread of photography and images through advertising, signs and flashlights but more importantly cities are a place of progress in many subjects as well as art and culture. Cities and their esthetique and identity have influenced many photographers like Michael Wolf in Hong-Kong where he photographed passengers on a packed public train. Garry Winogrand loved photographing his city because of its energy and how well he knew the streets and the behaviour of people.