STREET PHOTOGRAPHY – The lost reality

The Concept

First of all, in the current situation, I am not allowed to go very far, which initially was a source of negative emotions, I struggled with the idea of street photography without the street and the people! Limitations, limitations… I concluded that the marina in which I live and the river bank are essentially my streets, so this will be my safe space for the project and my photographic playground. Additionally, the more I thought about the limitations, the more I realised that they are not what we think they are on the surface. With such a negative undertone, it’s hard to look beyond and see their potential. I discovered that limitations are, in fact, opportunities! What a revelation! My whole mindset transformed upon this breakthrough, I realised that I have a unique opportunity to immerse myself in the world around me, the closest, the overlooked, the discarded as uninteresting. I couldn’t be more wrong, thank you – limitations, never again I will reason that there is nothing to photograph unless I go out on a venture. Truly a mind-opening experience.
I thought a lot about how to frame my work, and an idea occurred to me. It came to life when I was analysing our current situation of a global pandemic and how I find myself within it. How do I feel? I feel disconnected like we lost our reality and live in an alternative one, the reality that is misshaped and twisted, so close to the one we know, yet not quite the same. Following that thought, I decided that for the Street Photography project, I will not take photographs of the ‘actual’ people and things, only shadows, reflections, rippled, distorted by other objects, wind, water, glass etc. I will make the world around me as abstract and surreal as I feel within it in the present moment.

It made me wonder, who are we but merely a reflection of ourselves in people’s eyes? Are we who we think we are or are we a person that others see, and most of all, is it the same person. I don’t think it is. I believe that there are many versions of ourselves, and we take various forms depending on the observer. This notion is inspired by Sam Harris, a meditation expert, neuroscientist, philosopher, and author. In his Waking-up app (that I am a long term user of) in one of the lessons – The Social Self, he speaks of being two different people within the time frame of one afternoon. He claims “how we feel as selves seem to vary remarkably depending on the context”. Then he goes on telling a little anecdote from his life that really stuck with me “I remember when I was finishing graduate school, I had the experience of being a semi-famous author and a lowly graduate student simultaneously. So I could literally feel my sense of who I changed drastically, by my walking from one building to the next on campus. I remember once meeting with my adviser, who was understandably worried about my progress and feeling like a total loser, and then I met his boss for dinner that night because he wanted my advice on how to lounge his book, with the same publisher I was in much bigger author. It was just a crazy juxtaposition, and who I was in those conversations seemed to be governed by my sense of how the other person saw me, really how I imagined the other person saw me. But we are all in this situation generally, we all have encounters with people which seem to destabilise us, when we don’t feel we have access to our full capacities as human beings, to our best selves”. He illustrates perfectly how fluid our sense of self is depending on the viewer. This notion resonates perfectly with my current perception of myself and the world around us, and I wanted to express that in my series of photographs. Is the world what it is, or just a twisted image of itself? Am I the only one holding on to the picture of the world as I know it? Or is it too late and my reality is slowly melting away, transforming into an imposter version of itself?

RESEARCH, LECTURES AND TUTORIALS

I commenced the Street Photography project for a Figure and Photograph Unit by looking through my notes and my usual process of researching a range of artist to, as I say, ‘tickle my brain’. As the inspiration and possibilities within the practice come from everywhere, I find it incredibly helpful to flood myself with images and ideas before I start. Afterwards, I sit down with a cup of tea and write down concepts born from this activity. I studied the works of artists recommended in brief: Lee Friedlander, Yves Klein, Gillian Wearing, Mark Power, Stephen Gill, Erwin Wurm, Christian Marclay, Richard Long, Shizuka Yokomizo, Gideon Mendel, Mishka Henner, and Michael Wolf. I also referred to classic, and my favourite artists like William Klein and Daido Moriyama, together with contemporary ones like Bill Viola.

William Klein, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966)

My favourite extract from the movie.

From Monday’s lecture (11.01.21), I made notes regarding approaches and helpful tips towards the Street Photography assignment. They included: observation of the street, doing things I wouldn’t do in public, how I move through space, a conceptual idea about giving up control, exploring, go somewhere only to see what it looks like, set a theme, wander, lockdown portraits.

Upon discovering John Blakemore during the tutorial, I watched his insightful lecture – On Landscape Meeting of Minds Conference (2016). To say that I am inspired after watching his talk would be an understatement. Everything that he touched upon felt so close to my heart, so relevant and, in its simplicity, so groundbreaking. Things so obvious, yet not, he speaks of his love and importance of detail and abandonment of grandiosity which applies through his work, from landscapes to the studio. When he says: “(…) people look at this print, and they’re not sure that they look at a photograph, and I like making prints that are on that edge of uncertainty”, it’s like he is speaking my language. I resonate when he addresses the meaning of a photograph and how people always expect an explanation handed to them on a plate. Sometimes it’s just best to let things be and take on their meanings depending on the spectator. The more I immerse myself into the photography and art world, the more I discover that there is always such an intense need for explanation. Sometimes, if not often, when I create, things just happen, and I can’t fully explain how and what it is that I’ve made, and I relish that, I like the idea of a viewer individually creating their own story out of it, give it a new life each time they look. John Blakemore made me feel more confident about that notion and hopeful that people will understand and not always ask for definitions, but be free to interpret, as I am when I conceive it. He also spoke about a burden of the (single image) masterpiece, and on a contrary of beauty, importance, and exploration that comes from continuingly photographing in sequence. I was also very impressed with his minimalistic approach to equipment (he only uses two cameras and three lenses). I found this talk incredibly valuable, and I found myself returning to it many times since, in search of knowledge and beauty.

John Blakemore – On Landscape Meeting of Minds Conference (2016).

My

Monday’s lecture (18.01.21)

During the lecture, we spoke about what to show but also what not to show in the image and photographers making decisions about what is in the frame. It seems obvious, however, there are many artistic and moral nuances when it comes to this subject, as photographers, we have to think critically about what the image we create does because photography affects everyone. We also discussed identity and other forms of photography that influences us, e.g. surveillance. We examined the word photography, breaking it down to PHOTO (light) nature, science, real, and GRAPH (drawing) culture, art, representation. We were introduced to several relevant to the subject artist: John Hillard – Cause of death, 1974 (portrait/landscape), Paul Hansen / Nathan Weber – Haiti, Fox Talbot – The Pencil of Nature (the first commercially published book to be illustrated with photographs, 1841), Louis Daguerre 1839, MacAdams – Port Authority 1975, David Hockney – The Scrabble Game, 1982.

During Monday’s lecture (25.01), we spoke of the “Intertextual” in photography, asking questions like, what are the implications, and can we read too much into an image? Intertextuality refers to how images reference one another, and how viewers interpret them in the light of other visual images or written texts. We also spoke od daguerreotype portrait of Louis Jacques Daguerre (the daguerreotype process, or daguerreotype, was the first publicly available photographic process, widely used during the 1840s and 1850s. Invented by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, and introduced worldwide in 1839, the daguerreotype was almost completely superseded by 1860 with new, less expensive processes yielding more readily viewable images. There was a revival of the daguerreotype in the late 20th century by a small number of photographers interested in making artistic use of early photographic processes, Wikipedia).

The artist we were introduced to this week were: David Hockney – The Scrabble Game (1982), Nicephore Niepce (1826), John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1847), Eadweard Muybridge – Motion Studies (1878), Henri Cartier Bresson (1932), Reni Burri, and Lumiere Brothers, Early Cinema – Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895).

The Lumière Brothers, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895).


On a subject of Intertextual we analysed and discussed works of Gregory Crewdson, Edward Hopper – The Hotel Room, William Eggleston (1973), Richard Tuschman, Csilla Klenyánszki, Karl Largerfeld, Jacques-Louis David – The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, (1789), Benjamin West – The Death of General Wolfe (1770), Abbas – Northern Ireland (1979), Don McCullin – Cyprus (1964), Jeff Wall – The Outburst, Insomnia, Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #21 (1978), Anna Fox from book Workstation (1986).

Tuesday tutorial with Alan (26.01)

NOTES: braking frames up with a composition, abstract, one assignment for each blog, Bill Viola concerning my street work, get Shaun to stand and make a video of him in shimmering water, shimmer and shift, objects carefully placed, composed, how to orchestrate things around me beautifully, context, light, make boring things beautiful.

Bill Viola, The Messenger (1986) (3 minute excerpt)

Bill Viola Interview: Cameras are Keepers of the Souls (2019). I found this interview incredibly interesting and inspiring, and I noted several things that Bill Viola mentioned, as they gave me ideas and stimulated my creative mind. I value learning about his origins and how everything started, from a drowning accident as a child to the encounter with a videocamera in his teens that put everything in motion. An absolutely fascinating character and story.

Monday lecture (01.02)

We discussed Blue Marble photograph, NASA (1972), and Mowgli, Jungle Book (1967), seeing his reflection for the first time, shown as parallel. We recognize ourselves as something else through the image. Following that, we discussed Dan Vojtech’s focal length (shape of the face, hair changes depending on it, 50 mm roughly how the human eye sees). Our understanding of ourselves is very distorted and makes us think about the relationship between truth and reality. Artists related to the subject: Slavoj Zizek – The Pervert’s Guide To The Cinema, fake fairy photography, William Hope studio, Victorian spirit photography, Victorian trick photography, Victorian mugshots, Alphong Bertillion – The Normalising Machine, John Hillard – Camera Recording Its Condition (1971), Andre Kertesz, Robert Capa – the death of a loyalist soldier (1936), Eddie Adams – Saigon Execution (1968), Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother (1936), Margaret Bourke-While – World’s Highest Standard of Living (1937), Boris Mikhailov – Case History (1997), Philip Lorca di-Corcia, Jennifer Karady – PSD Soldiers Stories (2011, reconstructed), Taryn Simon – The Innocents (2002), Stuart Franklin – The Documentary Impulse (book).

Tuesday tutorial with Alan (02.02) NOTES: typology, fixpoint of working from home, daily observations are of interest, documenting times, photograph coffee every day, coffee cup – the anchor of repetition = ceremony, rims etc. = typology, Sofie Calle – Exquisite Pain, investigate my space. Show people who I am, how my work was inspired by Irving Penn – beautiful composition, influence, methodology. What do I think of a photograph after seeing it?

After the tutorial, I watched a talk on Irving Penn and a brief video analysing his work, which later inspired me to choose him and his images for my presentation.

Irving Penn at the Intersection of Art, Fashion and Photography Forum – Session 1 (2015).

The Portraits of Irving Penn (2016).

For the street photography assignment, I watched several talks, documentaries about renowned street photographers like Richard Sandler, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, as well as a comprehensive documentary on street photography.

Richard Sandler – Street Photographer & Documentary Filmmaker (2019).

The Many Lives of William Klein (2012).

Artist Daido Moriyama – In Pictures | Tate (2012).

Daido Moriyama – Near Equal (2013).

Street Photography: Documentary (2017).

A few documentaries I watched on the subject of photography, art and creativity.

The Creative Brain Trailer (2019), Netfilx.

Abstract: The Art of Design (2019), Netflix.

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (2017).

STREET PROJECT PHOTO STATION

In a nervous stand by, waiting for the weather to change, I formulated a plan. Finally, a decent day for shooting! As soon as I got up and saw it stopped raining, I immediately got dressed and set up my work station. Powered on tea and some good music, I hang around outside for hours, chatting to people, taking photographs and enjoying myself till it looked like it’s going to rain again, so I packed up. I was satisfied as it has been a very successful day which took the edge of being stuck inside for two weeks of rain, wondering how I will complete this project.

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPEMENT

My additional research included attending multiple talks offered by the University (or extracurricular, like Rise). I attended all the Media Talks (Elizabeth Hobbs & Abigail Addison, Wolfgang Tillman, Sarah Gavron), all the Inspirer Talks from Unit X (Guerrilla Girls, Monster Chetwynd, Coco Capitán), Village Green lectures (Simon Faulkner, Silvia Rosi, Folium, Yoshi Kamentani), Fab February (Charmain Griffin), and Talent Lab ( Hayleigh Longman, Tami Afab, Ocean Farini, Mamama Attah and Harold Offah, Emma Howlett, Alys Tomlinson, Then there was us – Johnathan Tomlinson & James Wrigley. I believe that I benefited from them all, learning about people’s paths into the photography/art world, their experience with funding, collaborations and developing their practice. There have been many engaging speakers and stories, but the ones that I value the most were Guerilla Girls, Monster Chetwynd, Coco Capitán and Ocean Farini. I resonate with the female strength, feminism, freedom of artistic expression, right attitude, energy and ethics that shone through these artists. I took numerous notes, and I will return to what I have learned from them regularly. I enjoyed talks from everyone, each person having their unique story about their progress, each contributing to my knowledge and understanding of an artist’s life after University.

Conclusion

I have always been very keen on and connected to the idea of street photography, yet I have never thought of it the way I do now. This project started with a colossal bag of mixed emotions, but on finalising it, I can confidently say that I have learned A LOT and that I am grateful it happened the way it did (I am shocked by my own words). It undoubtedly pushed the limits of my imagination and creativity, and I feel like I have grown for it and getting more sense of which things excite me most within the art of photography. Throughout my research, lectures and tutorials, I increased my knowledge of this aspect of photography and believe that I have a much better understanding of it and broader horizons.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice we received during this unit, and I carry this thought with me at all times now, was to think not of what we can’t do but instead focus on what we CAN do. A slight change of perception can do absolute wonders to our mindset and creativity.

‘Reference List’

‘Abstract: The Art of Design’ (2019), [Online video] Available through Netfilx. [Accessed 06/02/21].

‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat’. The Lumière Brothers (1895). raphaeldpm. (2006) [Online video] https://youtu.be/1dgLEDdFddk. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 25/01/21].

‘Artist Daido Moriyama – In Pictures | Tate’. Tate. (2012). [Online video] https://youtu.be/foWAs3V_lkg. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 10/02/21].

‘Bill Viola Interview: Cameras are Keepers of the Souls’. Louisiana Channel. (2019) [Online video] https://youtu.be/w3VfWLlkuRI. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 26/01/21].

‘Daido Moriyama – Near Equal’. theradpho. (2013). [Online video] https://youtu.be/1O7mZE4xY1E. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 10/02/21].

Harris S. (2018) Wakingup. Version 1.6.45. [App] [Accessed 08/01/21].

‘Irving Penn at the Intersection of Art, Fashion and Photography Forum – Session 1’. Smithsonian American Art Museum. (2015). [Online video] https://youtu.be/YEvY7eV3mcw. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 02/02/21].

‘Richard Sandler – Street Photographer & Documentary Filmmaker’. School of Visual Arts. (2019). [Online video] https://youtu.be/LHkOzbR3F5c. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 06/02/21].

‘Street Photography: Documentary’. ShutteRev. (2017). [Online video] https://youtu.be/2s-00KFd23A. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 08/02/21].

‘The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography’. (2017). [Online video] Available through Netfilx. [Accessed 03/02/21].

‘The Creative Brain’. (2019), [Online video] Available through Netfilx. [Accessed 05/02/21].

‘The Many Lives of William Klein’. tw19751. (2012). [Online video] https://youtu.be/JnN9LMvjM7Y. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 07/02/21].

‘The Messenger’. Bill Viola (1986). 23skidoooo. (2009) [Online video] https://youtu.be/WHoE01WKDhM. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 25/01/21].

‘The Portraits of Irving Penn’. The Art of Photography. (2016). [Online video] https://youtu.be/39mPCf3fzx0. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 05/02/21].

‘Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?’. William Klein (1966). art lloyd. (2020) [Online video] https://youtu.be/_bD2hXTfOqY. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 25/01/21].

Wikipedia. (2021). Daguerreotype. [Online] [Accessed 25/01/21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daguerreotype

Published by Elzbieta Skorska

My name is Elzbieta Skorska. I am a second-year photography student degree at MMU.

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