Here are some short notes on some of the work and ideas that have provided inspiration for this assignment. I will follow these up later with more detailed consideration in the photographers section.
Walker Evans: Subway portraits
Between 1938-41 Walker Evans made secret photographs of New York subway passengers, concealing a 35mm camera under his coat and pressing the shutter using a cable release snaked down the arm of his jacket. By taking photographs of people unaware, Walker aimed to bypass the barriers people place between themselves and the camera when they realise the lens is trained upon them. For me, this quote from Evans sums up his what he hoped to achieve with this process: “The guard is down and the mask is off…even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” (Rathbone, 1995: 170-1)
There is definitely something in what Evans is saying here, it is a fact that anyone faced with a camera attempts to project an image of themselves to the photographer. Like Evans, I hope to capture something closer to reality through my process.
Philip Lorca Di-Corcia: Heads
Di-Corcia extended Evans ideas but with increased sophistication. For ‘Heads’ (2002) he captured photographs of people on the streets of New York using a camera and strobe flash set up on scaffolding twenty feet away. The camera and flash were triggered using a radio signal, and since it was daylight when he took the images, the subjects were unaware of the flash firing. The aesthetic affect of the photographs is that the head and shoulders of each subject are isolated with the person illuminated in the frame and the background placed into darkness. This technique produces a photograph with great detail and no distracting background elements. I was interested to note that Di-Corcia also took some 4000 images over two years before selecting the 17 he includes in the series.
An interesting side note to this project is the (ultimately unsuccessful) legal challenge by one of the people photographed by Di-Corcia that by taking these images without his permission his right to privacy, and religious beliefs, had been violated. The fact that Di-Corcia is a famous photographer, the images were exhibited in a gallery setting with much exposure is significant. Although my process shares questions of ethics with Di-Corcia’s, my first reaction to the legal challenge he faced was that is not something that I will trouble me. It is quite possible however, that someone featured in my pictures could quite easily find the images as I will be publishing them on the internet. I wonder how they would react to this and also whether thoughts of possible reactions would (should?) affect the images I finally select?
Merry Alpern: Dirty Windows
Merry Alpern’s series ‘Dirty Windows’ extends questions about the ethics of taking photographs of people when they are unaware into the realms of morality.
The pictures are voyeuristic in every sense taken from a friend of Alpern’s apartment opposite a gentlemen’s club on the other side of the airshaft between the buildings. Alpern would wait with her camera and tripod for any activity to present itself at the two visible windows 15 feet and one flight down from her friends flat. Sights recorded range from people going to the toilet to drug taking and sex. Alpern describes herself as an anthropologist fascinated by the different ways the same activity played out (for example, how each man after urinating shakes his penis a little differently, but none seem to wash their hands. Angier, 2006: 61)
The images, as can be seen in the picture here, have an overt voyeurism – like a peeping tom with the exception that the photographer is female. Does that make the images any less lascivious I wonder? Stylistically the grainy, high contrast shots give a raw look that is in keeping with the seedy nature of the subject matter and puts the viewer into the mind space of the voyeur. I wonder if Alpern would have been so compelled to make these images if the view was less sensational, and if so would they have gained any recognition or notice?
Eamonn Doyle: On
Eamonn Doyle is a street photographer working in the same, geographically limited area of Dublin close to where he lives. Doyle talks about enjoying the energy of the area and seems to get a great deal of benefit from working consistently in the same place. His images are typified by unusual angles and viewpoints, often low down, high up or from behind. He takes the images up close using a wide angled lens, something that counterintuitively helps with the process as those he is photographing often think he is taking pictures of something in the distance. Capturing shots that are unposed is the key aim for Doyle, he states, “when they look into the camera, the image is dead.” (O’Hagan, 2016)
When I began thinking about how I wanted the images to look for my project I immediately thought of Doyle’s ‘On’ series – high contrast black and white adds a grit and mood to the shots. Also, I recognised similarities in the compositions I achieved as a result of my process, although for Doyle his was a considered approach taking pictures in the traditional sense.
George Georgiou: Last Stop
Georgiou is a photographer I admire, working broadly in a documentary mode he manages to create strategies that challenge traditional approaches with interesting results. With ‘Last Stop’, Georgiou chose to capture the vibrant diversity of London but limited himself to the confines of a bus seat. The constraints of his approach make the project an exercise in exploring chance and observation, the distance applied to the images due to his position on the bus and being separated from the action by the window puts the viewer unwittingly in the position of observer – for me I recognised immediately a voyeuristic
tendency to observe others from a position of comfortable distance. By transferring this into a photograph, however, Georgiou forces us to confront this and consider the ethics of our behaviour.
The output for this project was a crowd-funded book with an interesting twist that the images were presented in a concertina format so the viewer could alter the sequencing of the images themselves and achieve unexpected juxtapositions.
Daido Moriyama and the Provoke aesthetic
The influence of Moriyama and Provoke was more instinctual than informed, he is a photographer I have been interested in for a while but have not yet studied in depth. The style of Moriyama and provoke is described as ‘bokeh’ meaning grainy, rough, blurry and out of focus. Before I took any images for this assignment I was aware that the probable results would be described similarly, on reflection this has probably influenced my choice to convert the images to black and white too.
I was unaware of the strategies used by Moriyama to achieve randomness in his pictures until after I had shot my images for this assignment – an interesting, unwitting coincidence with concerns I have had for my project.
Angier, R. (2006) Train your gaze: (a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography). Lausanne: AVA Academia
Davies, B. (2017) Reigniting the PROVOKE aesthetic. Available at: https://bryn515919.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/assignment-two-reigniting-the-provoke-aesthetic/ [accessed 14th May 2017]
Ito, T. (2017) The endless outer world. Aperture, 9th May 2017. Available online: http://aperture.org/blog/moriyama-endless-outer-world [accessed 18th May 2017]
O’Hagan, S. (2016) The amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle. The Guardian, 23rd July 2016. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jul/23/eamonn-doyle-street-photographer-dublin-arles-martin-parr [Accessed 7th May 2017]
Moma.org. (n.d.) MoMA | Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Head #10. 2002. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-10-2002 [Accessed 7 May 2017].
Moma.org. (n.d.) MoMA | Walker Evans. Subway Portrait. from the series Subway Portraits. 1938–41. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/walker-evans-subway-portraits-1938-41 [Accessed 6 May 2017].
Belinda, R. (1995) Walker Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), 170–71. Cited at: Moma.org. (n.d.) MoMA | Walker Evans. Subway Portrait. from the series Subway Portraits. 1938–41. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/walker-evans-subway-portraits-1938-41 [Accessed 6 May 2017].