Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Woman in the Crowd: A study of women in the street photography of Garry Winogrand and their position within the social and urban landscape of New York city

In the work of Garry Winogrand, the streets of New York and the women in them feature strongly. I wish to explore, aside for the obvious physical attraction, what it is about these women that attracted Winogrand’s attention. How do these women respond to their surroundings – does it engulf or empower them? What is it about the urban crowd and by extension, the urban street that enables women to feel both anonymous and exposed? By examining the photographer’s work method, I hope to uncover why exactly these two subjects were often favoured by Winogrand. 

 Garry Winogrand. Image Source: youthvoice.net

In order to gain a deeper appreciation and grasp on the impact urban design can have on people’s, and more specifically in this case, women’s behaviour in the public realm I have looked further back to the 19th century to a time when the modern city as we know it was in its early stages of conception and women had been given a newfound leash of freedom in society. The studies of Elizabeth Wilson in particular offer us an idea of how women’s role in the city has developed since this period and how their public persona has altered in an effort to adjust. By doing this I hope to unlock a new understanding on the work of Winogrand and his series of images in which women are the primary subject. This in turn may help us to identify what it was about a partiuclar moment which merited his attention. 

Finally I will look at ‘street photography’ and the understanding of the term in a contemporary sense. I am interested in discovering how this type of photography has developed over the years and also the varying approaches other well known photographers, in particular fashion photographers (some contemporaries of Winogrand), have taken towards it. 

New York City Street Map 1970s

Garry Winogrand’s Photographic Process

After a brief suffocating time spent in the army (Stack, 2002), Winogrand found his breath again in the streets. However, perhaps, unbeknownst to him, his time in the army may have equipped him with the skills necessary to capture his subject of desire in the high octane streets of New York. At a time when war photography allowed the world to witness events direct from the field, Winogrand had an approach not too unsimilar. He was fearless, and dove straight in to the action.

Winogrand’s shooting style mimicked the fast pace of the city. It was relentless; the shooting, the processing, his eye forever editing as he waded through the streets in search of life to transform into an image. Winogrand played with the limits of his hand-held Leica, pushing his Tri-X film to ISO 1200 and higher so he could shoot a 1/1000 second shutter speed at f/16 (Moloney, 2010).These settings were essential in ensuring that he would never missed a second.

He was fascinated by what could “happen in a frame... the transformation of when you put four edges around a bunch of facts...” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). Winogrand was known to shoot a roll across almost every city block he crossed. As a result, he was forever behind on processing these images he so energetically scoured the streets for. Winogrand’s Leica was rarely laid to rest, so much so that he is said to have left behind 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film and 300,000 unedited images at his death in 1984 (Aesthetica, 2013). Often he wouldn’t hold an image in his hand until almost two years after he’d shot it. This tardiness would I’m sure madden some photographers and indeed would never work in a commercial setting but it allowed him to forget the moment as he had shot it. The final image once produced would therefore recall in his mind not only the reason he had first captured the moment but also many others surprises that had initially gone unnoticed.

It is the frame which puts order and a moment of stillness on a complex moment of encounters that only a city street could offer. The relationship between, woman and man to the crowd by which they are surrounded and in turn the relationship of that crowd to the street, building and thus the extended city can be appreciated and examined once captured in film. Winogrand captures life when he shoots and then gains a deeper understanding of it once it has been processed... “I don’t see photographs when I photograph, I only see life.” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).When asked if his work is about capturing a moment in time, he replied, “They’re about stillness. I use a watch when I want to know the time”(Winogrand, ICP, 1979). Many of the people in these images are often rushing or pushing through the crowd but it not until they are frozen in motion that we can appreciate the moment as Winogrand had seen it; almost as though his eye was capable of seeing at the quickest of shutter speeds.

“I think that there isn’t a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability. Any of ‘em. They do not tell stories—they show you what something looks like… . The minute you relate this thing to what was photographed—it’s a lie. It’s two-dimensional. It’s the illusion of literal description. The thing has to be complete in the frame, whether you have the narrative information or not. It has to be complete in the frame. It’s a picture problem. It’s part of what makes things interesting.”
Winogrand, WNET, 1982

Winogrand may have created a demanding, high momentum regime for himself but his work defies this very process. It captures life that can so easily get lost in the throngs of people that fill New York’s streets. It offers a sense of identity to the individual who has become anonymous in the crowd.

Winogrand and the Crowd

Winogrand had grown up in the Bronx, a place where peoples’ lives spill out of their homes and on to the street; it was a mere extension of their own private realm (Stack, 2002). However, for Winogrand, it seems that this simply meant he was at ease there, amongst the throngs of people. From these people however, he wished to maintain an emotional distance. He often stated that he had never shared so much as a word with the people he photographed (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).

The nature of Winogrand’s work required him to be quite close physically to his subject. Hardly anyone ever knew they had become a Garry Winogrand photograph. On occasion however, when his well-mastered guise of going unnoticed failed him, he was known to be very skilful at charming his subject. (Garza, 2007).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s

A women has noticed Winogrand’s lens pointing in her direction and has appears flattered. Her body forms a vertical point of reference in the image. 

Perhaps this was an approach he adopted in the hope that he could lure his subject back to their stance when they were blissfully unaware of his camera’s lens pointing in their direction. On the other hand, this approach could be a defence mechanism against the defiant attitude common in New Yorkers. The urban crowd puts the individual in contact with many hazardous activities and one must keep one’s guard up and remain alert. In a rare case, when his subjects were not offended by Winogrand’s attention, the beauty of a particular image was in the very fact that his subject was keenly aware of his presence. The sense of flattery awoken in these people creates a moment of sheer bliss which can be read in both their face and posture.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s

Winogrand’s reflection in the shop window ensures us that the subject is aware of his presense. She seems unphased. Her figure appears to be the only vertical in the frame

In a constant state of flux, the street fueled and encouraged Winogrand’s energy. He would jump, duck, run through traffic, as though the people and cars were an obstacle course, in the way of his target. He even had special ‘moves’ he had developed in an attempt to get around people... “you should see my turnaround jumper!” (Stack, 2002). The momentum of the crowds, although an obstacle, were intrinsic to shooting his target. In particular, Winogrand seemed captivated by women, “Women interest me – how they look, yes certainly how they look, and their energy” (Winogrand, WNET, 1982). The only book ever he edited entirely himself, ‘Women and Beautiful’, was dedicated to this subject.

Women and Winogrand

Women of 1960s New York had discovered sexuality and a newfound sense of independence, and were embracing it: they had Winogrand’s attention. His work celebrates their beauty, their energy and the sense of empowerment that life in this city had brought them. The photographer himself said, “I suspect that I respond to their energies, how they stand and move their bodies and faces.” (Winogrand, WNET, 1982).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, Los Angeles, 1970s

A women’s hair is caught in a gust of wind as she attempts to adjust her purse. The left hand side of her body forms a point of reference to the vertical edge of the frame.

As a photographer, Winogrand’s involvement with his subjects never went further than these momentary exchanges in the street. He had no desire to photograph the familiar or those who were part of his own personal realm. ‘’I have a life! I don’t have to climb in to everyone’s I photograph” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). When asked about his travels, Winogrand expressed a preference for staying in a hotel over a friend’s home as he did not wish to witness to nitty gritty elements of their lives (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). His first wife said of their marriage, “Being married to Garry was like being married to a lens” (Stack, 2002). He was completely devoted to his art but it seems by devoting himself to a life of anonymity on the street, he was depriving himself of intimacy elsewhere.

Winogrand had little interest in penetrating his subjects on an emotional level, or indeed reveal anything deep about their character. He lived for the candid moment. His method of shooting, his chosen backdrop of the New York street, only offered him seconds to witness and capture a snippet of a passerby’s life. This time frame is barely enough to scrape the surface of their character, but this proved enough for Winogrand. For this reason beautiful women were the ideal subject for him and it’s in his images of them that I believe his work street photography is particularly successful. For Winogrand, “beauty is only emulsion deep” (Winogrand, ICP, 1979). He saw no point in trying to see beyond this veneer and explained that all a camera does is project light on to surface.

Winogrand has often been criticised for his apparent lack of disregard for the formal rules of composition. It was often concluded that the chaos of the street environment offered no time to adhere to such rules. According to John Szarkowski, curator of ‘Winogrand 1964’, his trademark tilt was a result of his preference to use a wide angle lens. When questioned once about his skewed horizon Wingogrand offers another answer, “The pictures are never tilted... the vertical edge is as rational to use as any”. Here he argues that he simply places more importance on the vertical edge than the horizontal. When quizzed about one particular image, he offers the answer that it is the line of a man’s jacket provides the compositional element (Winogrand, ICP, 1979).

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, New York, 1960s

This woman seems to be rushing and has become entangled by hair. Onlooking men have noticed. The right side of her body, from nose to knee,  forms a vertical line to the vertical edge of the frame.

Surface beauty was often all that was needed to capture the eye of this photographer and in the case of women, their attire can often be a contributing factor to this. The chaotic streets of New York and its suitably busy inhabitants provided Winogrand with many moments where the physical beauty of a woman was brought to his attention. The design of a city offers all sorts of extremes. Enter an over shadowed street and a pedestrian can become immediately much colder than they were on the previous corner. Enter into a throng of people on an over populated street and one can become flustered and hot. A gust of wind as a women crosses a wide street can cause garments to be blown out of their intended position and expose the wearer to the thousands of strangers walking past. Women’s attire is often impractical for these harsh conditions and when tested can alter the way they carry themselves in this public realm. As they brave these conditions, they strive to maintain control over their carefully constructed public identity.

These very moments facilitated Winogrand’s photography. While clearly captivated by a fleeting glimpse of body parts otherwise intended to be hidden or partially covered at least, I believe he was also drawn to the compositional possibilities their figures offered. In the hectic New York street which acted as a prop to which these women could react and respond, the horizon becomes mere background noise. The line of women’s body offered a new point of reference to which the vertical edge of the image could be aligned.

Women and Architecture in the City

Studying the work of Winogrand and his choice to use the city street as his main go-to location for his work, led me to wonder what it is about this public space that makes its inhabitants, in particular women, act in a certain way. Has urban design affected the way in which we, as users of this public realm, hold ourselves and interact with those around us? The human race has not always inhabited such unnatural conditions and we’ve had to learn to adapt over time. Has the creation and design of cities both modern and post-modern, forced us to create a guard to protect ourselves against the harshness of the city or has it empowered us, as women, to explore roles and opportunities that would otherwise not be available to us.

Elizabeth Wilson explores this topic extensively in her books, ‘The Sphinx in the City’ and ‘Adorned in Dream’.

The early 19th century city emancipated women in a way that had not previously possible. Women were now partaking in roles outside of marital life. They had jobs, they took public transport and they were free to walk the streets and encounter others as individuals i.e not under the watchful eye of their husbands or fellow suburbanites. But to men, this newfound sense of independence in women and their visual availability and such close proximity to men posed a threat. Wilson speaks of the city in the early 20th century as a place of temptation for men to stray sexually outside of the family unit. The city began to elicit a sense of paranoia in them.

Women’s presence began to be seen as a problem in the city. 19th century urban planning reports likened women to hysterical crowds and referred to the city as a new version of hell. In Vienna, scholars drew comparisons between the chaos of the city and women. Man was seen as the rationalising force which could bring order to this chaos. They represented the science behind the creation of the modern building and women stood for the dislocated consciousness it produced. 

Clothing and the City

In Theodore Dreiser’s novel, ‘Sister Carrie’, his heroine has just moved to New York from the American countryside and has to quickly adjust to city life. She was unaccustomed to the anonymity elicited by the urban crowd and disliked “the fine ladies who elbowed and ignored her, brushing past her in utter disregard of her presence”. Carrie quickly concluded that in order to be noticed, she would need adorn herself in suitable attire for, in her mind, “only by becoming part of the spectacle can you truly exist in the city”.

Carrie Bradshaw getting splashed by a passing by bus bearing her own picture, opening credits, Sex and the City

Many of the women who caught the eye of Garry Winogrand were particularly well dressed. As I have not come across any evidence to suggest that he was interested in fashion or personal style, my guess is that he was only aware of this on a subconscious level. These particular women wore clothes which were made to be noticed. Such attire can arouse confidence is the wearer and perhaps it is this attitude which Winogrand responded to. For these women, clothing was an extension of their personal selves which they were content with displaying in the public realm of the street. On the other hand there were women whose attire seemed to have attracted his gaze for an entirely different reason.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s
A particularly stylish woman and her son. Here the young boy creates the vertical. His kaftan mimics that of the woman behind him. 

In ‘The Sphinx in the City’, Wilson speaks of excursions she made with her mother to the city as a child. She recalls them being immensely fatiguing and flustered. In particular she remembers how her mother, a suburbanite, would dress for such an outing, “she kept her hat tipped forward, her little veil in place”. Although totally anonymous to the strangers who passed them by, the author’s mother made every effort to ensure that her pretensions would not be exposed. One tilt of her hat too far in one direction could render her appearance unkept. As we have seen, Winogrand’s work frequently honed in on instances and moments of unintentional exposure: when a women’s personal self is made public.

Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1970s.
This woman appears to have been caught in a rain shower yes does not seem bothered by Winogrand’s lens or by the way her top is now clinging to her, leaving little to the imagination of the viewer. She too acts as a compositional element in this frame

Architects such as Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, acknowledged women’s struggle to live and exist in the city. An avid purveyor of utilitarian design, Loos looked down upon women’s desire to self-ornament. Despite this he understood that this tactical on their part and was done with the hope of attracting male attention. Le Corbusier on other hand was apparently inspired by his secretary’s tale of dreaded crowded train journeys to and from work and from that began work on his design for ‘The Radiant City’.

Le Corbusier's 'The Radiant City'. Image Source: architzer.com

The Public Self and Crowds

The extraction of the individual from the urban crowd was a frequent theme in the work of Winogrand. He hunted relentlessly for that moment where life would capture his attention. It was only when he had shot the moment, processed it and held it in his hand, could he fully appreciate the individual who had caught his eye in the first place and the complexity of the encounter between themselves, the crowd and the city.

If the city held opportunities for women, the crowd stood in opposition. Wilson sees city life as ‘the intensification of contrasts’. One can be both alone yet surrounded by people. In a mere second a person can go from being lost in their own thoughts to being completely exposed. A simple trip or disturbance causes people to stare and take notice. “The streets belong to everybody”, and in them it is impossible for a person to exist as a private being. Despite this, the maintenance of one’s real self behind the cover of their public self is vital to some level of survival in a crowd.

Winogrand became a master of his trade, and his ability to dissimilate himself within a crowed facilitated this. He frequently expressed that he had absolutely no interest in engaging socially with his subjects and that he merely wished to capture a moment where their surface beauty shined. However I feel his eye was often attracted to moments ever so slightly deeper than his subjects’ guard wished him to go. Winogrand had a keen ability to look through the depth of the urban crowd and capture that spilt second where his subjects’ public guard had slipped and their real self was exposed. These moments in particular are evident in his work when a women’s physical self becomes more exposed than the subject had intended.

In some cases, the individual thrives in the anonymity (if left undisturbed) that the street can offer them. On the other hand, there is that rare person who wishes to be noticed. To them the crowd provides a breeding ground for chance meetings, social encounters and attention of a sexual nature.

Modern Street and Fashion Photography and the City

The streets of New York and their crowds  have long enabled exhibtionism and voyeurism. Today a the term 'street photography' is often associated with shots of beautifully adorned men and women, on their way to and from major fashion events such as in the work of Tommy Ton of jakandjil.com or in the case of thesartorialist.com, simply on the city street. The widely celebrated work of Bill Cunningham documents street style trends and that alone. These photographers however do not pretend to be concerned with communicating a deeper message about society.  Cunningham puts this bluntly in 'Bill Cunningham New York',

“But the difference for me is I don't see the people I photograph. All I see are clothes. I'm only interested in people who look good. I'm looking for the stunners.”

Bill Cunningham, New York Times

                                                                                                           Milan Fashion Week, jakandjil.com

The street however remains still for these photographers an essential backdrop to their work. The very nature of their work lies in its candid nature. It assures us as viewers that we are seeing real people who have not been heavily airbrushed and who are occupying the same spaces we can occupy ourselves. However contemporary street photographers of this kind have gained a huge level of recognition for their work and it is difficult to tell how many people are dressing for themselves and how many are, in a sense, 'peacocking' for their attention.

The work of William Klein and Melvin Sokolsky bridges an interesting gap between the women of Winogrand's street and those who feature in contemporary street style blogs. Perhaps Sokolsky's most well known shoot, his bubble series for Vogue in 1963 featured models suspended in a plexiglass bubble over the streets of Paris. In the majority of the images, passers by look on in a mixture of bewilderment and amusement while the model maintains her pose. She is defiant and seems undeterred by her surroundings, succeeding in looking effortlessly chic and at ease.

William Sokolsky, Paris, 'Bubble Series', Vogue, 1963

Klein is known for his innovative approach to fashion photography. He is perhaps the first to have brought his models out of the studio and in to the street. Here their role as simply beautiful women upon which clothes were hung was tested. They were forced to reckon with the raw energy of the New York street, all the while maintaining composure. Klein pushed the envelope even further in his work where models posed in front of mirrors in the middle of busy New York traffic, and on Brooklyn Bridge. The result is disorientating and forces us to consider the street beyond the mirror, the subject and the street as reflected in the mirror. The model is left in no doubt of her position in the city and her sense of self-awareness is therefore greatly heightened.

William Klein , New York , 1959, Life is good and good for you

Winogrand was attracted to beautiful women who were empowered by their surroundings and who showed a moment where their real self could be identified in the midst of a crowd who desperately clung on to to their anonymity. In a recent photographic series by Thomas Zanon-Larcher, originally known for his backstage photography, models are given a short scenario to act out in a city setting over the course of fifteen mintues. During this time Zanon-Larcher shoots only when a particular moment catches his attention. His models' clothes are carefully selected to add to the model's depth of character “How she holds herself and what she wears, are in a way symbols of her confidence and success”. The manner in which the photographer has edited this series is of particular interest. A certain level of importance was placed upon moments these models with such apparent natural beauty were caught off guard; in slightly unflattering lighting or where their expression hinted at a deeper level of emotion (Hazelton, 2013).

  Thomas Zanon-Larcher, Aestethica, 2013

By Ciana March


Wilson, E. (1991) The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women. London: Virago Press
Wilson, E. (1985) Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. London: Virago Press
Stack, T W (2002) Winogrand 1964: photographs from the Garry Winogrand Archive Centre for 
Creative Photography, The University of Arizona. Santa Fe, N.M. : Arena Editions
Winogrand, G.; Fraenkel Gallery and Lifson, B. (1999) The man in the crowd: the uneasy streets of Garry Winogrand. San Francisco : Fraenkel Gallery
Sokolsky, M. and Harrison, M. (2000) Seeing Fashion. Santa Fe, N.M. : Arena Editions
Klein, W. (1995) Life is good & good for you in New York: trance witness revels. Manchester: Dewi Lewis
Meyerowitz, J. and Westerbeck C. (1994) Bystander: A History of Street Photography. Boston, Mass. ; London: Little, Brown and Company

Hazelton, C. (2013) ‘In the Room of Dreams: Thomas Zanon-Larcher’. Aesthetica, Iss. 51 p.34-39
(No author stated) (2013) ‘Life Through the Lense: Garry Winogrand’. Aesthetica, Iss. 51 p.58-71

Lectures / Interviews
Winogrand, G (1979) Interview at International Centre of Photography, New York. ‘The Photographic Lecture Series’.Online audio archive available at: http://lectures.icp.edu/archive/1979.html
Winogrand, G (1982) In conversation with Bill Moyers, WNET ‘Creativity’.
Available at: http://2point8.whileseated.org/2007/03/23/garry-winogrand-with-bill-moyers/

Websites / Blogs
The Wapping Project Bankside (2013) thewappingprojectbankside.com Group exhbition feat. Thomas Zanon-Larcher.
Available at: http://www.thewappingprojectbankside.com/exhibitions/2012/zanon-larcher-falling-a-part/index.shtml
Messy Nessy Chic (2013) messynessychic.com How they did it: The Bubble Girl in Paris 1963, posted 4th Sep ‘12.
Available at: http://www.messynessychic.com/2012/09/04/how-they-did-it-the-bubble-girl-in-paris-1963/
The American Society of Cinematographers (2013) www.theasc.com Street-Wise: The Photography of Garry Winogrand and Alexey Titarenko, posted 7th Dec ‘09.
Available at: http://www.theasc.com/blog/2009/12/07/street-wise-the-photography-of-garry-winogrand-and-alexey-titarenko/
Moloney, K (2012) http://blog.kevinmoloney.com. Shooting the Mean Streets, posted 4th Aug ‘10.
Available at http://blog.kevinmoloney.com/?tag=garry-winogrand
Garza, O.C. (2013) Class time with Garry Winogrand, ‘07.
Available at: http://www.ocgarzaphotography.com/documents/ClassTimewithGarryWinograndfinal3.pdf

Friday, May 10, 2013

On the Road, the car window as a frame of the American society

The mediums of painting and photography have become inextricably entwined since their juncture in the nineteenth century.  Painting had been a primary source of historic documentation up until the Neo-classical era when the emphasis on practitioners was precision, detail and representation.  The emergence of the romantic and impressionist movements coincided with the development of the first primitive photographic images and it was at this time that the British painter JMW Turner came to prominence, positively and negatively, as a pioneer in a new way of representation. 
 Turner was undoubtedly a gifted artist and was recognised as so from a very early age when he became academically trained in painting and drawing.  It was not long before a young Turner began to adopt a style of his own.  This was a time of great change in the world of arts and Turner’s style would pre-empt, by almost half a century, a move for painters away from the role of recording the world as the evolution of the camera afforded photography this task. 
Turner was raised in London and remained there for many of his formative years, becoming popular with commissions at an early age that would see him earn much respect and the wealth that would accompany it.  He remained in London but soon grew weary of depicting a city of regency, wealth and a Britain that was looked upon as a model of political and social stability at the time.  Turner understood there was another side to his country and it was this that would become so influential in his painting from that point on.
Turner relentlessly studied nature and light and stripped both aspects of representation back to their basic forms.  It was during his extensive travels that the main inspiration for many of his greatest works germinated.  While travelling throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe, he fervently recorded what he saw in writing, drawing and painting.  His tour of France and Switzerland alone resulted in more than 400 drawings.  It is reported that on a walk with a friend in 1820, the two paused and sketched what lay before them as a storm brewed only for turner to exclaim that “in two years you will see this and it will be called Hannibal Crossing the Alps!”  Regardless of the accuracy of the legend, it is evident from his extensive works that Turner did indeed rely heavily on his obsessive fieldwork notations to inform even his most abstract paintings.
What is evident also is that Turner manipulated the canvas to present something to the viewer that interested him or that in his mind should interest the viewer.  His many paintings are undoubtedly beautiful pieces in terms of simple aesthetics.  What is also evident is that he presents an image that appears frozen in time, captured through a process of layers of brushstrokes and impasto, but that this image serves to draw the viewer to a subject matter that exists outside the enclosure of the frame.  We understand from his vast archive of preparatory works what interested this man, what he was passionate about and how he felt about political and social standards of that time.  What we also understand is that Turner felt compelled to create a style of representation that would best convey his emotions and perception of these thoughts.  His paintings often pitch us right into the midst of a scene of terror through his use of light and colour to create that particular atmosphere.  What exists outside the frame captured is what manifests itself within the image presented to us.

The evolution of the camera changed the way we look at the world at this time and continues to do so to this very day.  The evolution of the camera resulted in images being produced in a fraction of the time required to produce a similar painting with the advantage of also capturing ,much more detail, particularly in large format images.  Interestingly the evolution of the camera continues as the need to hang around for a long exposure is no longer necessary as the development of digital media continues to progress.  It is with reference to a practitioner of an 8x10 view camera however that this essay will look to to draw comparison with the works of Turner. 
Richard Misrach was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and is often credited as being one of the forerunners in the renaissance of colour photography and large scale representation since the 1970s. Much of his work is captured using an 8” x 10” view camera and a process the photographer describes as a ‘slow, meditative and contemplative way of working’.  Although it may appear paradoxical to compare one artist who spent a lifetime developing a new method representation with one who chooses to work with quite traditional methods, the point of study here focuses on what both pioneers chose to represent and what meaning can be read into this, not the tools involved in completing the process.
Misrach has completed many hugely successful projects over the past number of decades with series such as the Desert Cantos series or On the Beach exemplifying his skill in this field.  Misrach regularly refers to the theme of landscape and human intervention that interests him or what he describes as “the collision between man and nature”.  Many of his projects involve complete immersion in the subject, often for prolonged periods of time with the photographer capturing thousands of images as well as recording detailed analysis of location, time, light values, etc.  Similarities can be drawn at this point with the preparatory work of Turner who sketched many scenes before drawing from this resource to create a particular detail in a painting.  Similarly, Misrach’s technique involves capturing many images from dawn until dusk, whenever light and wind values allow for optimum use of his 8x10 camera.  He admits to being lucky to use on average one in every hundred frames captured in his works, a percentage return comparable with many of his peers, and one that remains constant even over a career spanning four decades.
What is also very much present in the series of photographs that Misrach does present to us is his use of imagery to communicate an idea.  He often refers to the influence of civil war photographs on his own work, their beauty evident yet also conveying a very poignant narrative of a historic event.  Misrach underlines the power of aesthetics in portrayal of such an event and the important impact this has had on his own works.  He recognises photographic images as important historic documents but also as things that change meaning over time.  And time is a key factor in his work.  His decision not to publish any images of the Oakland Hills fire for a period of twenty years after the event a strategic way of differentiating his work from that of glorified journalism to a more reflective piece of work.
Misrach’s photographs have previously been compared with landscape paintings of the past.  His images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Albert Bierstadt, his repetitive approach to subject matter likened to Cézanne, or to Monet’s depiction of Rouen Cathedral at different times of the year.  Misrach’s observations of this scene over a three year period are a very obvious example of his running theme of the relationship between man and nature, but what is also very important although less obviously stated is his interest in what happens beyond the frame of the camera.  What makes this series powerful for Misrach is the position from which the perspective is taken, a "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." In a publication accompanying his Golden Gate exhibition he states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures”.  In quite the same way Turner did, Misrach produces a beautiful, captivating image that draws the viewer into the subject matter while simultaneously encouraging them to explore something deeper that exists outside of the frame.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Colourful World of William Eggleston

Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him

William Eggleston's exhibition at MOMA in 1976 is widely considered to be the tipping point in the eventual acceptance of colour photography as a legitimate artistic medium.

Inspired by the visual arts, he has since gone on to inspire a generation of artists with his colourful vivid and sometime uneasy depictions of the everyday.

Green Dress, 1970

His subject matter is familiar to us. We relate to the images but are unsettled as, through his camera, we now see the familiar through a new light, a new angle and in a new intensity of colour.

There exists a heightened sense of reality. The everyday qualities of the objects, people or landscapes are replaced with an unexpected and unsettling aura through unusual but balanced compositions and real but unnaturally saturated colours.

Eggleston’s photographs look like they were taken by a Martian who lost the ticket for his flight home and ended up working at a gun shop in a small town near Memphis

William Eggleston, from William Eggleston in the Real World

The 2005 documentary William Eggleston in the Real World shows us first hand how the artist probes and searches out his subjects; peering into shop windows, front gardens, roaming the streets and buildings as if he had lost something precious.  When found, the subject is photographed, once, and the haphazard but exhaustive search continues again.

I believe in taking one picture of one picture

Green Car, 1965

Colour is the defining characteristic of his work.  Through colour, the ‘pictures’ relate on a sensory and emotional level providing the transformative power to turn the banal and common into the surreal.  Without colour the unusual would revert to its common state.  If reproduced in back & white Eggleston believes that his images, except for purposes of identification, “might as well not be reproduced” at all.

The following is an exploration into the role colour plays in transforming the world we know in into this world that we thought we knew.  It is a journey, under a number of themed headings, through the colourful world of William Eggleston examining his relationship with colour, his influences and his own influence on contemporary visual arts.

To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life


Any discussion relating to Eggleston and his use of colour has to include, or even start with, his discovery of the dye transfer process in 1972, a process exclusively used at that time for the commercial printing of magazines and advertisements.

That is what got me interested. I would look at these advertisements say in Vogue…and I kept thinking, 'I wonder what Eggleston would look like in this process?

Cigarette Advertisement, 1970s

It was a complex, expensive and time-consuming process that basically involved the separation of three color negatives, made by photographing the original negative with black & white film through three filters (red, green and blue). The separations (matrices) were in turn soaked in organic dyes of yellow, magenta and cyan and then meticulously aligned and rolled over specialist paper, transferring the dye to paper.

Two girls on couch, 1976 (separations)

Photographic colour prints were predominately produced at that time as a C-Print (chromogenic coupler print) producing more “faithful” and less dramatic results than that of the dye process. The dye process exaggerated the colour values of an image allowing a photographer to obtain higher saturation in nominated colour fields (e.g. red) without affecting the rest of the colours in the image.  It gave a new level of control only provided in recent times by the emergence of digital photography.

Eggleston now had a new lush set of paints allowing an unprecedented influence and control over his pictures.  He now had a medium capable of depicting the world he was seeing.

Green Window, 1993

The dye transfer process helped Eggleston inject the ordinary with a heightened level of colour, intensifying the atmosphere and tension in in the frame and dislocating the viewer form the real world being presented. 

Hot Sauce, 1980
Eggleston's work and career was now transformed.  Colour was now not just part of the picture but it was the picture.  A process that was  being utilised to best show off products for sale was now being used to to show vivid and visceral depictions of common everyday objects, landscapes and people.  

Peaches, 1973

As advertisements were presenting abstracted realities to its audiences so to was Eggleston and both used the dye transfer process to help achieve this abstraction.  A process used to seduce, entice and persuade was now being applied to the bland of the everyday.  It was this juxtaposition that in some way unsettled the viewer.  Eggleston used the seductive, enticing and persuasive colour dye process and applied it to common objects and in doing so made us think about the very nature of his subject matter.


It was also this abstraction of colour that turned what could be deemed photography into art. We were no longer seeing the world through the eyes of a photographer but through that of an artist with a new found medium.

I don’t think anything has the seductivity of the dyes…by the time you get into those dyes it doesn’t look at all like the scene, which in some cases is what you want

The vivid dyes defamiliarise the objects presented. We are provided a new intensifying filter of Eggleston to see the world through, rendering the ordinary strange.

You’re stepping into some kind of jagged world that seems like Eggleston’s World

Shoes under a bed, c. 1973

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Collision Between Man & Nature

Richard Misrach was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and is often credited as being one of the forerunners in the renaissance of colour photography and large scale representation since the 1970s. Much of his work deals with what he describes as “the collision between man and nature”.  In 1997 Misrach began a project from the porch of his home on a steep Berkeley hill in San Francisco with his 8 x 10 camera.  This work took place over a three year period in which time Misrach captured over seven hundred images of the vista beyond his porch which encapsulated the Golden Gate Bridge and the adjacent topography.   Images of the bridge in all states of visibility, luminosity and atmospheric conditions were recorded from a single vantage point at all times of day and night as well as encompassing the seasons of the year. 
The series shows the diminutively scaled bridge in the distance in a multitude of conditions.  Each frame displays a strip of land and sea oppressed beneath a vast sky.  We see iconic images of a global landmark in San Francisco Bay portrayed in flaming orange sunsets as well as being overshadowed by rolling storm clouds passing over head or even obliterated from view as incoming storm systems engulf the structure within their mighty form, leaving the viewer alone with the surrounding hillsides.  Misrach captures the Golden Gate Bridge in its celebrated as well as lesser seen states.  Sometimes the bridge is an eloquent silhouette, sometimes glistening in the sunlight while other times faint and shrouded in mist or cloud.  Each frame displays an extraordinary spectrum of light and colour. Each frame is unique.  Each frame is beautiful.
Richard Misrach - Golden Gate Bridge (1997-2000)
Misrach’s photographs have previously been compared with landscape paintings of the past.  His images of the Golden Gate Bridge have been compared to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Albert Bierstadt, his repetitive approach to subject matter likened to Cézanne, or to Monet’s depiction of Rouen Cathedral at different times of the year.  It must be noted however that Misrach’s concern’s are rooted further beyond the sheer physical beauty of the scene extending out beyond his porch.  His Golden Gate exhibition included a publication in which Misrach notes what is not apparent in his photographs is "privileged position high up in the peaceful, well-to-do, sylvan Berkeley hills." He states that "to own a view is as much about property values as it is about ocular pleasures."  What makes the series of images more powerful for Misrach is the perspective from Berkeley.

Claude Monet - Rouen Cathedral (1890s)

The photographic series offers a commentary on the politics of the view from this particular place in San Francisco, the relationship of wealth, power and privilege at this time as is particularly highlighted when the bridge is obscured from sight by atmospheric conditions and the eye is drawn to the island in the foreground that once housed a prison as well as the luxurious dwellings dotted along the hillside.  One of the recurring themes in Misrach’s works since the early 1980s is that of the “altered landscape” or the condition of aesthetic beauty of the natural world as mediated by human intervention in the landscape as he tries to “reconcile my interests” in topographical and political landscapes.  In this instance Misrach treasures this vista as he believes humans have affected the environment in a positive manner.
“I love it. It’s beautiful to look at, its scale. Everything about it was just magnificently done
Misrach not only photographs the content occupying the frame.  In an interview with Peter Brown, he outlines the great lengths he goes to in making formally engaging pictures, “I pay attention to the frame, to the light, etc. I've always felt that the best of my pictures function in a way that historical painting used to… just as Gericault's Raft of the Medusa was both a remarkable visual experience, it also embodies a specific political event”. 
Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa (1819)

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in London in 1775 during the Neoclassical period that saw him trained academically in painting and drawing.  However, it was not long before Turner began to adopt a style of his own and he spent the rest of his life developing this looser style, pulling away from the Neoclassical norms of depicting historical events in great detail, choosing instead a Romantic approach based on emphasised luminosity and atmosphere.  Turner relentlessly studied nature and light and stripped both aspects of representation back to their basic forms.  It was during his extensive travels that the main inspiration for many of his greatest works germinated.  While travelling throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe, he fervently recorded what he saw in writing, drawing and painting.  His tour of France and Switzerland alone resulted in more than 400 drawings from which he later drew information and inspiration from to create magnificent landscape paintings.  Over five decades Turner relied on these sketchbooks to inform even his most abstracted paintings.  Upon his death in 1851, Turner left almost 30,000 pieces of his work to the British Nation.

JMW Turner Sketchbooks

During his career, Turner progressively paid less attention to detail in his paintings and focused more on the effects of light and colour as achieved through his self developed use of watercolour and oil paints.  The result was truly magnificent with images increasingly immersed in strategically selected light and atmospheric conditions. 

JMW Turner - The Slave Ship (1840)