Monday, March 25, 2013

Night Scenes

I am particularly interested in photography of the late 1920’s & 1930’s, an era that held the Great Depression , World War 2 and also the glamorous Art Deco movement. 

We rely on writers, painters and Photographers for their evidential records to allow many of us to build up an image of the what these times where like. For example when I think of the social landscape of the 1930’s, I think Art deco, glamorous buildings, elegant clothes and cars etc., but with this glamour brings the darker side of the social realm, the gangster, the criminal and the detective, this is the social landscape I want to delve more into.

It has become apparent to me through the researching process of looking into the social aspects of the 1930’s, the photographer became the investigator/ detective, taking shots of the hidden elements of society that a city would prefer to hide from its counterparts.

It is the night time shots by Brassaï, Bill Brandt and Weegee that captured my attention. Whether their dark night time shots were pre composed or not did not make a difference to me.  They were still able to share that sense that the streets were alive at night. The cast of shadow and light helped create the atmosphere of intrigue, mystery and suspense, some shots are like scenes out of a movie, e.g  The Third Man, Carol Reed 1949.
Brassaï a Hungarian photographer, famous for his book ‘Paris by Night’ (1933), illustrates Paris’s romantic, calm and unpopulated streetscape at night. It was the images that were not able to be published became the most interesting. These images were later published in ‘The Secret Paris of the Thirties’ (1934), these show a more interesting side to Paris at night.
‘The Secret of Paris in the Thirties’ allows one enter the nocturnal world of Paris. Brassaï gets acquainted with the intimate side of Paris, taking shots of inside clubs, brothels and prostitutes on the street. This erotic portrayal of Paris at Night was not published until 1976.

‘I was eager to penetrate this other world.’

‘this fringe world, the secret sinister world of mobsters, outcasts, toughs, pimps, whores, addicts, inverts.’

Bill Brandt, adopted as a British photographer, famous for ‘The English Home’ (1936) portrayed the upper class of the South and the working industrial class of the North.

Brandt later brought out ‘A Night in London’ (1938). This document of images portrays a more darker and mysterious Brandt. Examples of these are;

‘Footsteps coming Nearer’ (1936),
‘Street Scene’ (1936)
‘ Alley off East India Dock Road’ (1937)
Influenced by Brassaï , Brandt uses the man as a haunting figure approaching the woman, whereby in Brassaï’s case the men in the image do not seem to have that looming presence that Brandt represents in his.
Another Photographer of this time was Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee. Like Brassaï and Brandt, Weegee was a nocturnal freelance photographer based in New York City. His main attention was following drama, i.e . the latest police chase or ambulance query. He made sure he was first on the scene to grab a photograph for the next breaking news story, selling his shots to newspapers. He took images ranging from a social occasion at the opera, to tenement buildings on fire to the latest mob member being shot. Weegee brought out a documentary book of his work, Nakend City (1945).
                                                                     The Critic, 1943
The Tenement Fire
                                                                    Park Avenue 1938
                                                Body of Dominic Didato, Elizabeth Street 1936
Weegee’s shots are more raw/ violent, especially where a murder was concerned.
I hope to explore deeper into Brassaï, Brandt and Weegee’s technique of photography. Each focusing on different lighting, Brassaï's over exposure of the street light, to Brandt's calm moonlight and Weegee's flash. I hope to try and create something of a similar effect to see how difficult it may be to create the perfect picture that captures the right amount of shadow and light through natural light and how the manipulation of Artificial light can be advantageous to a shot. 

The subject matter I would like to investigate is the work of Swedish photographer Jacob Felländer, with particular reference to technique, composition and subject matter.  His work greatly interests me, specifically the sense of movement he encapsulates through the composition of his work, alongside the great variety of tone and colour produced through his process of development in the darkroom.  His favoured method of multiple exposures of course is not unique to Felländer as is demonstrated by the work of others such as Idris Khan, known particularly in the architectural realm for his representation of the industrial typology studies of the Behcers.  Jacob Felländer's method is more appealing to me however as his images are composed sporadically on location (in contrast to Khan who photographs or scans from secondary sources).

 Gas Holders; Germany, Britain and France (1963-1997)  -  Bernd & Hilla Becher

                  Homage to Benrd Becher (2004)  -  Idris Khan

     Cityscapes 6 - Jacob Felländer
A recent Jacob Felländer project of particular interest to me, involved the photographer completing a twelve day worldwide photographic trip, something not immediately unique in the world of photography.  His process however differs from his predecessors, including the Bechers, who choose to compose each frame carefully and methodically with a resultant output of a series of images documenting industrial built typologies. Felländer’s process documented a panorama of each city he visited on a single film, his final image unregulated or revisable until it’s development at the end of his process.  While Felländer’s images are bursting with “visual noise” pierced only by subtle details, the Becher typology images are very clearly defined pieces of work that Khan's reinterpretations serve only to reproduce as an overlay of multiple images.

     Los Angeles - Hong Kong - Bombay  -  Jacob Felländer
The work of Bernd and Hilla Becher is undisputably powerful and will serve only as a reference in this essay.  The writing will focus on the work of Jacob Felländer’s considered but unsystematic use of an inexpensive modified analogue camera, wound forward to expose the film piece by piece to capture his distinctive panoramic frames.  This contrasts heavily with Khan's process and indeed that of the Bechers – reinterpretation of a large 8 x 10 inch view camera objectively positioned relative to the subject, shot only on overcast days and early in the morning.  Another contrast between both photographers is the expression of activity.  Felländer’s images portray the passage of time, “space and perspective drift within a frame” to create a panoramic image filled with movement, colour and tonal variation.  Becher images typically freeze one particular moment, devoid of people or activity, producing something very different. 

    Chenai - Jacob Felländer

Common Colour

I propose to investigate the role of colour in showing the vitality in the banality of everyday life in America with particular focus on the work of the “new colour” photographers of the 1970s. 

Hot Sauce, William Eggleston

In an effort to explore the above, I have identified the themes below as potential areas of interest to explore further.  These themes could then be further supported and augmented by primary research in the form of a series of photographic projects investigating the applications of colour on everyday subject matter.

Acceptance. Investigate the change of attitude towards the use of colour in photography in the 1970s. Although invented in 1907, it took until the 1970s for colour photography to be accepted seriously into the photographic world. 

Black & White are the colours of photography – Robert Frank

Once upon a time there were jobs, Robert Frank, 1955

What were the underlying barriers to its acceptance? What was the tipping point (or points) that leads to its acceptance? What was the role of art movements such as abstract expressionism and pop-art, in its renaissance?

Advocates. William Eggleston was the first proponent of colour photography to be truly accepted by the art world when John Szarkowski showed his work at MOMA in 1976. The publication, William Eggleston's Guide, in which Szarkowski called Eggleston's photographs "perfect," focus on everyday, umdane and trivial subjects.

William Eggleston's Guide, 1976

Perfect? Perfectly banal, maybe…perfectly boring, certainly  Hilton Kramer, New York art critic 

The research aims to focus on Eggleston’s work as well as the other  “new color” photographers of the 70s and 80s such as Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld.

Ginger Shore, Stephen Shore, 1977

Uncommon Places, Stephen Shore, 1982

Uncommon Places, Stephen Shore, 1982

Joel Sternfeld

Application. What tangible attributes does colour bring to a photo (life, focus, emphasis, energy etc.)? What were the various processes used and why? (e.g. Eggleston’s discovery of the dye-transfer process in 1973) What meaning (psychological) can be attributed to the use of colour in photography?

Subject. What effect did the application of colour have on the representation of daily life in America?  How did it change the perception of everyday life in America? 

William Eggleston