A1 followup – photographers to research for A2

My A1 feedback suggested that I research the following photographers for Assignment 2:

  • Philip Lorca di Corcia (Heads)
  • Joel Meyerowitz
  • Gary Winogrand
  • Peter Funch
  • Andreas Gursky
  • Massimo Vitali

It did take me a while to get down to this research, I suppose partly because I already had a fairly clear idea of the research that I wanted to do for A2 and it didn’t overlap with this list very much/at all. I had also previously done some reading around di Corcia and Gursky for the Foundation course. I found it interesting that the list comprises only male photographers. I found it fascinating to see the links between these photographers, their work had more in common than I expected and I have tried to detail the links below.

I am struggling with my tutor’s comment that I should include more thumbnail images of research images and the fact that I keep reading about Getty Images invoicing individual blog holders and website owners for the use of images. I have not yet decided what, if anything, to do, so I have linked here to images on my Pinterest board or on the Photographer’s own website where possible. Getty have an agreement with Pinterest whereby money from Pinterest is used to compensate photographers whose work is Pinned there.

Philip Lorca di Corcia series “Heads” is a selection of 17 images from over 3000 photographs taken. He used scaffolding to support a remote controlled flash in Times Square New York and took the photographs from about 20 feet away with a telephoto lens. There was no setting up of the shots, no engaging with the subject. His work is cinematic, and shows the city through its inhabitants. He was sued by one of the subjects, who complained about his image being used for profit and publicity without his consent. The judge found in favour of di Corcia, saying that the art could not have been constructed had the subjects been aware. I do like this set, there’s a real theatricality to it and they do look to me like actors’ head shots, as if these ordinary citizens are literally playing their roles in the city. My favourite is the lady in the rainhat, I like the texture of the fabric, the way the light falls on it and the way you can tell what the weather is, even in the dark.

Joel Meyerowitz and Gary Winogrand were the two photographers that I found it hardest to engage with, and I’m not entirely sure why. They are both iconic practitioners of street photography, they often walked the city streets together and both demonstrated their skill over decades. I can’t dispute their technical or creative excellence yet I struggled to see a relevance in many of the images. I suspect this means that at some point in the future I will love both, but at the moment I am struggling with my largely ambivalent response. I have however just looked at some of Meyerowitz’s “Cape Light” images and I do like those – the colour and delicacy that runs through the set, the way he actually has captured the light. I took my problem to the OCA L1 Facebook group and had a variety of helpful responses, including a link to a series of interviews with American photographers including both Meyerowitz and Winogrand. So I now feel slightly better informed about them both as individuals, whilst feeling slightly less ambivalent about the work that I have seen. I hope that learning something about them as people and photographers might ease open a door into appreciating their work. Interviews with both of them can be found here at http://www.art.docuwat.ch.

Meyerowitz resigned his advertising job after accompanying Robert Frank on a shoot. He often talks about motion; about the flow of the street and Frank’s motion needed to get a snapshot of stillness. He also has a frequent metaphor of water through his speech, from his stream of life to the St Louis Arch by the river, to his comments about how the then Director of MOMA John Scharkowski (that is almost certainly spelled incorrectly, but I have not been able to find the correct spelling) would monitor the stream of creatives, putting the “little fish” back in to grow a bit more. He initially worked in colour, then switched to black and white, eventually moving back to colour when he considered the printing technology to be good enough to produce large colour prints. His move to a large format 8×10 was also a considered conscious decision (as opposed to Massimo Vitali who was forced to make the switch when all of his lighter cameras were stolen from his car and only the heavy 8×10 left behind). I think that I prefer his colour work, it speaks to me more than the black and whites. I like the emptiness of the Cape Light work and the way the light softens the colours. In his black and white work the one that keeps coming to mind is the one of the immaculately dressed and coiffed cashier at the cinema whose mouth and much of her face is obscured by the speaker grille (New York City 1963). This reminds me of the Doctor Who episode “Idiot’s Lantern” set in 1950s Britain where tv viewers have their faces and souls extracted through televisions bought for the Coronation.

Watching the equivalent interview for Garry Winogrand didn’t leave me in much of a more informed position, although I did have more questions. His work is about transforming a collection of facts by “putting four edges around them”. He looks for the transformation, the change of the banal, and often this is achieved simply by the act of skilful framing. He came across as quite commercially minded, aware of the value of his work and why it was bought. I found some of his quotes interesting, especially given my difficulties in engaging with the work. He was asked what his intent was with a particular photograph.

“I don’t have any intent. My intention is to make interesting photographs, that’s it”.

That word “interesting” came up again when discussing his book “Women are Beautiful”. He said:

“Is it an interesting picture, or is it the woman?….I generally deal with something happening.”

He died early, at 56, leaving quarter of a million undeveloped images in addition to his already huge body of work. I think the sheer scale of this work is another factor in my difficulty to engage – there is just so much of it. Yet as I look at more and more information on the internet and in books bits of his work do start speaking to me – the joy of the couple at the beach, the caught smiles, the small child on the huge driveway.

The issue is undoubtedly with me. I’m not sure that street photography inspires me in the way that conceptual work or constructed does. He didn’t actually like being referred to as a Street Photographer.  I’m not a huge fan of tilted frames (possibly because I often struggle to get a straight horizon myself).  I like my photographs to be loaded with intent. Perhaps I just find different things interesting. I will continue to look at his work and learn more, however, as I will do with Meyerowitz too.

Peter Funch was something of a revelation to me. I was initially drawn in by the “Vertical flowers on the table” series on his website. I liked the very domestic subject and setting paired with the painterly colours and light. Reading further, I thought there was a similarity between an image in his “Danish Diary” series and di Corcia’s “Heads” – both in the subject matter and the artificial cinematic lighting. Though Danish Diaries shows many heads, and I wonder if it might be a composite like Babel Tales (see next). I then moved onto “Babel Tales – Studies of human relations in a metropole”. For this series Funch constructed composites of the same street but at different moments. Everyone in the frame is engaged in a similar action – perhaps yawning, pointing, having their eyes closed…. it reminded me very much of Hans Eijkelboom but with typologies of gestures rather than clothes, and all the different instances confined to one frame rather than presented as a sequence. The result is real people in a real place but in a composite moment that never actually happened as it is shown.

Andreas Gursky. I always find something in his work, whether it’s the vastness of huge indoor spaces documented in the tiniest detail, or the architectural precision given to a row of shoes. His compositions seem to give order where there is none, such as the chaos of people on trading floors, or to reinforce architectural patterns such as the rows of Prada shoes that he photographed for Vogue magazine The photograph that I have linked to here made me think of Massimo Vitali’s beach work too – the large scale with the relatively huge expanses of water and the crowds of tiny people.

Massimo Vitali was completely new to me. He photographs beaches and nightclubs in Northern Italy, all crowded with people. Photographs are taken with an 8×10 camera mounted on an aluminium scaffold, to fix the camera’s limited depth of field. Although the colours are beautiful and the places remarkable, the images are really about the people who are enjoying themselves. Somehow they are shown differently to the crowds in say WeeGee’s Coney Island though, the individuals are a little less distinct, a little more lost in the crowds. A slightly different perspective shows refugees on a beach, the same kind of beach but a different population, one where the beach is hopefully a gateway to a new life rather than a holiday escape from daily life. These newcomers are marshalled and corralled though, rather than spread out on towels or loungers.

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