Stephen Shore

About the MOMA exhibition ‘How to See’. A retrospective looking at different ways in which Shore’s photography reflects different conscious ways of seeing.

In some photographs he wanted to show what the experience of seeing looks like, taking ‘screenshots’ of his field of vision, seeing things the way he sees them – subject in the centre, converging verticals etc. Other photographs are creating a view for the viewer to explore, portraying how we see our environment when consciousness is heightened . These are have high structural density as an examination of interrelationships between the different elements .

In some of his landscapes he also reproduces the way the eye sees – the way it seems like the eye changes focal distance on a 2D landscape surface is an illusion produced by different sharpness through the image.
Review of iBooks produced as print on demand. He did a book a day of what everyday life was like on days when significant events were being reported in the news.

New Topographics

“New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” was  curated by William Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York) in January 1975. In his introduction to the catalogue, Jenkins defined the common denominator of the show as “a problem of style:” “stylistic anonymity”, an alleged absence of style.

The exhibition was a reaction to the idealised landscape photography  of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and was influenced by Ed Ruscha who, in the 60s, had made a series of artist’s books with self-explanatory titles such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Some Los Angeles Apartments, Every Building on the Sunset Strip and  Walker Evans, who had photographed the vernacular iconography of America in road signs, billboards, motels and shop.

“The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion,.” “[…] rigorous purity, deadpan humor and a casual disregard for the importance of the images.” Technically, half the photographers were working with 8″×10″; (20 cm × 25 cm) large format view cameras; those who were not were using either square medium format (Deal, Gohlke), or in the case of Baltz, 35 mm Technical Pan, a slow and high-definition Kodak film that the photographer printed on 8″x10″ paper. Only Baltz and Wessel were using regular 35 mm cameras and film. A notable element of the show was that the artists were, or would be, linked with higher education as students, professors, or both—a change from the preceding generations.The shift from craft or self-teaching to academia had somewhat been started by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Minor White, but the new generation was turning away from the approach of these forebears. This was illustrated by the subject matter that the New Topographics chose as well as their commitment to casting a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become. They all depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach. In most cases, they gradually revealed themselves as coming from rather critical vantage points, especially Robert Adams, Baltz, and Deal.

Photographers

Sean O’Hagan

The show consisted of 168 rigorously formal, black-and-white prints of streets, warehouses, city centres, industrial sites and suburban houses. Taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal. …Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental.

The prints were in a 20 cm × 25 cm (8″×10″) format except for Joe Deal (32 cm × 32 cm), Gohlke (24 cm × 24 cm – close enough to 8”×10”), and the Bechers with typical European (for the time) 30 cm × 40 cm prints.

However despite their similarities, there were significant differences between the photographers in their reactions to, and portrayal of, the suburban environment and their political conclusions on responses to it.

See Greg Foster-Price and John Rohrbach ‘Re-framing the New Topographics’ 2013 University of Chicago Press

Robert Adams: disappearing wildernesses, pointed his camera at eerily empty streets, pristine trailer parks, rows of standardised tract houses, the steady creep of suburban development in all its regulated uniformity.

Lewis Baltz: stark photographs of the walls of office buildings and warehouses on industrial sites in Orange County.

Joe Deal

Frank Gohlke

Nicholas Nixon: innercity development: skyscrapers that dwarfed period buildings, freeways, gridded streets and the palpable unreality of certain American cities in which pedestrians seem like interlopers.

John Schott

Stephen Shore : shot in colour. It seemed to heighten the sense of detachment in his photographs of anonymous intersections and streets.

Henry Wessel, Jr

Bernd and Hilla Becher: stark images of Pennsylvania salt mines and giant coal breakers were as coolly architectural as their images of German cooling towers and industrial plants. The suggestion was that there was something determinedly European about this new American gaze.

Ecological citizenship and automobility

The works in different ways question our responsibility in relation to the natural environment. Taken at a time of rapid environmental change, commercialisation and often homogenised destruction of the natural wilderness romanticised by Ansel Adams, they aim to promote a sense of responsibility for what Robert Adams calls the ‘half wilderness’.

There is a general concern with the homogenisation and also isolation of much of modern construction and urban sprawl. Roads that cut of and surround dwellings that can only be accessed by cars.

They differ in their approaches to technological advances like the reliance on the motor car. For Shore and Schott however there is more of a celebration of the accessibility and democratisation of life. Shore in particular celebrates the colour and vibrancy of cities and parking lots.

‘Shore’s images may be seen as ignoring environmental degradation…Yet his photographs encourage a sense of wonder and appreciation, even in the most familiar, most mundane spaces’.

There is thus a core message of the exhibition as a whole: we need to notice and appreciate what is around us in the ‘semi-wilderness’ and make sure we preserve and protect what is valuable in it. In terms of human colour and nature. Not relegate ‘conservation’ to an ever-shrinking small protected area of idealised wilderness. It is all important.

Legacy

The exhibition was recreated in various locations: in 1981, six years after its original presentation, it was shown in reduced form at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, UK, under the auspices of Paul Graham and Jem Southam. A large scale presentation of the exhibition was organized in 2009 at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. “New Topographics” began an international tour in 2009, with stagings at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2011 the exhibition was on view at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and later at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in Spain.

Baltz, Gohlke, and Shore were later commissioned by the French government for the Mission de la DATAR.

The exhibition was very influential in the subsequent developments in both US and European landscape photography, including the work of Andreas Gursky, Paul Graham,  Candida Höfe and  Donovan Wylie.  See the following interviews with LA photographers discussing how they have been influenced by the photographers at the exhibition:

Documentary Photography

(in process)

What is documentary?

The Latin word documentum means, amongst other things, proof or evidence. Director, producer and writer John Grierson (1898-1972) was the first to use the term ‘documentary’ within the visual media in a 1926 article on Robert Flaherty’s 1921 ethnographic film ‘Nanook’.
Until then, realist photography had been accepted as the norm. So it was seen as inherently ‘documentary’ in the sense that it ‘ promoted a systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world (Rogers, 1994)

‘photography itself was the technical analogue to the absolute belief in the legitimacy of appearances, a belief whose philosophical expression was, of course, positivism and whose artistic expression was realism and naturalism’

Solomon-Godeau, 1994, p155)
Arguably all photographs become documents.

Social documentary records the conditions that humans endure and the nature of their interactions with the world. In a practical sense it is the re-creation of a condition or event, something factually accurate that doesn’t contain any falsity or fictional element. Rather than making an account of the subject in words, the photographer chooses to use a method of visual communication to inform the viewer.

Gesture and Meaning pp??

Actually there is no limit to the world of external reality the photographer may record. Every subject is significant, considered in its context and viewed in the light of historical forces. It is the spirit of his [sic] approach which determines the value of the photographer’s endeavour, that plus his technical ability to say what he wants to say..His purpose must be clear and unified and his mood simple and modest. Montage of his personality over his subject will only defeat the serious aims of documentary photography.

McCausland 1939
The development of documentary has been multi-dimensional. Visual recording of events has mushroomed with the spread of visual media like the Internet, iPads and mobile phones. Uploading immediate images has been instrumental in informing us of unfolding events, disasters and conflicts. Instagram meet-ups enable many people to jointly document places and events and share their views on social networking sites. In a sense, then, we have all become documentary photographers.
Listen to Miranda Gavin
Types: reportage, visual ethnography, street photography, travel photography.

Documentary photography: approaches and photographers

The documentary photograph is mute. It doesn’t tell us anything; rather it shows something. But it shows it in a way that offers the viewer the possibility of connecting with it and starting to ascribe meaning to the photograph.

(Navarro 2012 p20)

A documentary [photograph, film] takes an audience to an existing or past reality and is so compelling that they can empathise with mind, emotion and imagination. In that sense documentary is an ambitious creative and critical enterprise.

(deJong, Knudsen and Rothwell 2011, p23)

Documentary testifies…to the bravery or the manipulativeness…of the photographer, who entered a situation of physical danger…human decay…and saved us the trouble. Or, who, like astronauts, entertained us by showing us the places we never hope to go.

Martha Rossler 1992 p308

Key issues

Can documentary photography ever be entirely value-free?
Documentary purports to produce truth and fact for us rather than the connotations required by the photographer, art director or editor. But, all photographs are subjective in the sense that they represent the creator’s interpretation of the scene – the photographer chooses what to take and when, even if they don’t have a conscious motivation.
See Documentary typologies for Eugenics
Where does the boundary lie between social documentary and photojournalism or editorial photography (pp.69–71 of the course reader )?

Ethics, integrity and truth

How will you operate as a photographer?This is a major question relevant to your production ethics.

  • Will you ask permission or will you be a fly on the wall, a ghost who never affects the image?
  • If you tell people what you’re doing, then they’ll react differently to you; they may be guarded or wary of how you’ll portray them.

Photomontage, Mohamed Bourouissa and performance.

The Decisive Moment (or not?)
Spectacle and voyeurism
Street Photography
Portfolio: Shooting from the Hip
Portraits
Can a documentary photographer make a difference?
Reality and hyperreality
Denotation and connotation
Exhibiting documentary images

Key questions in analysing social documentary

• What is the subject of the photograph?
• What was the context?
• Was the photographer working for pay?
• Was the taking of the photograph consensual or non-consensual? (i.e. did the subject agree to have their photograph taken?)
• Does the photograph reveal any particular ‘trademark’ or style of the photographer?
• Is the photograph successful?
• Is the photograph an example of social documentary or is it photojournalism?

Key questions in analysing documentary photographers’ work

• What is the main strength of their practice?
• What makes them different to other photographers working in a similar genre?
• Where do your chosen photographers fall in the social documentary–photojournalism spectrum? Does this matter?
Part the motivation in my image-making is therefore political. Photography as a referential image, or series of images, can raise questions about the complexities, contradictions and challenges in the ‘real world’ in a way that other types of art do not.  ‘Landscapes’ are multi-layered, changing and often manipulated in attempts to shape power relationships between people and groups of people and peoples’ control over and use of ‘nature’ and other resources.

Brassai

The flâneur archetype takes different forms but can easily be identified in the figure of Brassaï (1899–1984) who embodies Rebecca Solnit’s description of the flâneur as “… the image of an observant and solitary man strolling about Paris” (Solnit, 2001, p.198). Brassaï photographed, in both senses, the darker side of Paris. He photographed transvestites and homosexuals at underground bars and clubs, and he photographed the streets of Paris extensively at night, published in the celebrated Paris by Night (1933).

Hiroshi Sugimoto

website

Google images

from Wikipedia:

Sugimoto has spoken of his work as an expression of ‘time exposed’, or photographs serving as a time capsule for a series of events in time. His work also focuses on transience of life, and the conflict between life and death. Sugimoto is also deeply influenced by the writings and works of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the Dadaist and Surrealist movements as a whole. He has also expressed a great deal of interest in late 20th century modern architecture.

His use of an 8×10 large-format camera and extremely long exposures have given Sugimoto a reputation as a photographer of the highest technical ability. He is equally acclaimed for the conceptual and philosophical aspects of his work.

Exerpts from his description of selected works from his website:

Joe:  Like a work of architecture, this sculpture has to be experienced by walking around and through it… Joe is different according to the time of the day, the season, and the viewer’s position. It is in the visitor’s memory that the sculpture “takes shape” in the most complete way…Using a photographic technique involving areas of extremely soft light and blurred darkness, he sculpted views that seem like aspects of visual memory: the arts of photography and sculpture overlap and memories of the two-and the three-dimensional mix.

Revolution: For a long time it was my job to stand on cliffs and gaze at the sea, the horizon where it touches the sky. The horizon is not a straight line, but a segment of a great arc. One day, standing atop a lone island peak in a remote sea, the horizon encompassing my entire field of vision, for a moment I was floating in the centre of a vast basin. But then, as I viewed the horizon encircle me, I had a distinct sensation of the earth as a watery globe, a clear vision of the horizon not as an endless expanse but the edge of an oceanic sphere…There remains… a great divide between comprehending (i.e.explaining) the world and being able to explain what we ourselves are. And even then, what we can explain of the world is far less than what we cannot ― though people tend be more attracted by the unexplained. In all this, I somehow feel we are nearing an era when religion and art will once again cast doubts upon science, or else an era when things better seen through to a scientific conclusion will bow to religious judgement.

Seascapes:  Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence…Let’s just say that there happened to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, we search in vain for another similar example. Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.

Lightning sheets: The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.

Architecture: I decided to trace the beginnings of our age via architecture. Pushing my old large-format camera’s focal length out to twice-infinity―with no stops on the bellows rail, the view through the lens was an utter blur―I discovered that superlative architecture survives, however dissolved, the onslaught of blurred photography. Thus I began erosion-testing architecture for durability, completely melting away many of the buildings in the process.

Chamber of Horrors: People in olden times were apparently less fearful and grievous of death than we are today. To some it was even an honor to be chosen by the gods as a sacrificial victim, a liberation from the sufferings and strife of this life…Must we moderns be so sheltered from death?

Feminist landscape

Photography

Some early women photographers did do serious topographical work in the late nineteenth and early 20C:

  • Evelyn Cameron,
  • Laura Gilpin,
  • Frances Benjamin Johnson
  • Elizabeth Ellen Roberts

Artistic photography, continuing the ‘genteel’ occupations for lady sketchers and watercolourists, was also conducted by:

  • Anna Atkins
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Lady Hawarden
  • Lady Elizabeth Eastlake

But their work  was more closely aligned with the family album, documentary and performance, rather topographic.  (ibid, p.188).
Feminist discourse since the 1970s has rejected the monopoly of the male gaze and articulated the female point of view in relation to the landscape. Social and technological developments have also made serious photographic excursions into the landscape considerably more accessible (Wells, 2011, p.189). A number of female photographers have, in one form or another, engaged with feminist politics in relation to the landscape and the concept of nature, as well as the male gaze.
For interesting feminist and other modern approaches  see:

  • Helen Sear’s series Grounded (2000), in which she digitally combines photographs of skies with images of animal hides photographed at a museum.
  • Jo Spence subverts classical depictions of nude female figures within idealised settings.
  • Elina Brotherus
  • Karen Knorr
  • Susan Trangmar
  • Sian Bonnell
  • Barbara Kruger
  • Joan Fontcuberta Bodyscapes (2005) employ three-dimensional imaging software used for military  applications to render landscape images of close-up photographs of his own body.

Women Photographers

List of women photographers by country

Portrait

Landscape

Some early women photographers did do serious topographical work in the late nineteenth and early 20C:

  • Evelyn Cameron,
  • Laura Gilpin,
  • Frances Benjamin Johnson
  • Elizabeth Ellen Roberts

Artistic photography, continuing the ‘genteel’ occupations for lady sketchers and watercolourists, was also conducted by:

  • Anna Atkins
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Lady Hawarden
  • Lady Elizabeth Eastlake

But their work  was more closely aligned with the family album, documentary and performance, rather topographic.  (ibid, p.188).
Feminist discourse since the 1970s has rejected the monopoly of the male gaze and articulated the female point of view in relation to the landscape. Social and technological developments have also made serious photographic excursions into the landscape considerably more accessible (Wells, 2011, p.189). A number of female photographers have, in one form or another, engaged with feminist politics in relation to the landscape and the concept of nature, as well as the male gaze.
For interesting feminist and other modern approaches  see:

  • Helen Sear’s series Grounded (2000), in which she digitally combines photographs of skies with images of animal hides photographed at a museum.
  • Jo Spence subverts classical depictions of nude female figures within idealised settings.
  • Elina Brotherus
  • Karen Knorr
  • Susan Trangmar
  • Sian Bonnell
  • Barbara Kruger
  • Joan Fontcuberta Bodyscapes (2005) employ three-dimensional imaging software used for military  applications to render landscape images of close-up photographs of his own body.

Jo Spence

Jo Spence (1934–92) had a highly politicised approach to photography, creating photographs that run counter to the idealised imagery offered by advertising. Spence often worked collaboratively and sought alternative distribution models, laminating work for durability and renting out her photography to conferences, libraries, universities and public spaces to broaden its audience. She also documented her own struggles with cancer.

Website: http://www.jospence.org
 


‘Putting Myself in the Picture’ (Camden Press 1986) brought together her raw and confessional works to inspire a younger generation of photographers.
Remodelling Photo History (1982)  a series of self-portraits in collaboration with Terry Dennett. The work consists of a series of diptychs where two photographs of Spence are juxtaposed. In some pairs, the first is a parody of a more traditional pictorial image; the second shot is less conventionally framed and the irony is articulated with less subtlety.

‘Industrialisation’ places the female figure between the viewer and the view beyond, challenging the male gaze and the objectification of women.


‘Victimisation’ “Here we see that the estate will not admit trespass, and that it stands in for the heroic (male) defender of the ground, repelling weak opposition at its border. Jo Spence failed to cross the barrier, allowing the absent landowner (through his gate and sign) to become hero, male, the creator of difference… her mockery diminishes the victory won by the landowner.” (John Taylor 1994, p.282 quoted Alexander p133)