Motion photographers and research

I have to say that much of this part of the course made me think “oh no, not again…” There’s a lot of similar work in the Foundation in Photography course both in research and practical work, so for now I will concentrate on the practitioners that are new to me. I scanned through all the listed practitioners early in the module, and researched further into those whose work I found striking, particularly Maarten Vanvolsem whose dance photography helped to inform and inspire my work on exercises 3.1 and 3.2.

Project 1 The frozen moment.

The course documentation has prints of Harold Edgeton’s Milk Drop Coronet (1957), a Nikon shot of a lightbulb shattering on a brick tiled floor, and Jeff Wall’s Milk, showing a young man sat outside a brick building holding a carton of milk from which the milk is bursting out. I like the continuity of milk and brick across this selection of images. We are asked if the camera captures motion in these images, or does it fragment time into thin slices to show something new and different.  The first two images (Milk Coronet and light bulb) are definitely slices of time, discrete moments of matter frozen in motion, time and space, at a level of detail you could never hope to see with the naked eye. I think the third image (milk) does this too, but you have a stronger idea of where the milk came from and where it is going, with the arc of white fluid against the geometric lines of the brick wall.

Project 2 A durational space.

Summary of photographers included in course notes:

Niepce (1839, long exposure of several hours, thought to be staged)

Eadweard Muybridge (1877) – “to break down the world and to dissect motion” – images that showed horses with all four feet off the ground. Seen at Revelations study visit on FiP.

AM Worthington (1906) – drops and splashes, baton twirling.

Harold Worthington (1939) – milk coronet and cats drinking milk, use of high intensity flash to isolate motion. I really like his use of flash and am keen to explore it further.

Jeff Wall (1984) – Canadian, born 1946, regarded as “the most celebrated practitioner of staged photography” (Hacking, p523)

Robert Frank (1955) – born in Switzerland in 1924 – worked in Switzerland, New York, South America (travelling), New York (again), and Paris. He was the first European national to receive the Guggenheim fellowship and used it to fund a journey across the US in 1955/56. The resulting photobook – The Americans – is legendary, and I was sufficiently intrigued by the “Elevator Girl” portrait shown in the course notes to order it. I will write a blog post on it once I’ve read it. In the image the girl is in focus, those leaving the lift are blurred. I like the idea of the lift door as a shutter, controlled by the girl and her button panel, it’s almost as if she’s taking her own self portrait.

Robert Capa Normandy Landings (1944). I’m still not very good at engaging with war photography. I find the story of this image mesmerising – that the characteristics that help to make it so memorable are largely due to a processing error by an inexperienced staffer. It’s such a universally known image that I find it hard to say anything that hasn’t already been said. There is so much controversy around his “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman” that for me it detracts from his work in general. Comparing Robert Capa to Cecil Beaton I think would be interesting – they both photographed in WW2 but the work is so very different. Capa’s work is focussed on the battlefield, Beaton’s extends to the civilian theatre of war and the impact on civilians, both were engaged to create propaganda for their respective governments.

Hiroshi Sugimoto – I really enjoyed watching the Contacts film referenced in the course notes. I enjoy long exposures for the multi-dimensionality they bring – this one shows time, space and motion. I like how people blur into nothing over longer exposures, and I like the tidal effect that his work implies of people flowing into, then out of, the cinema. He worked in the natural environment too, with mesmerising seascapes. Hacking talks about him measuring “the landscape through time” (hacking, p508) and this excites me.

Michael Wesely – he used exposures of two-three years to photograph city spaces (renovation of the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and MOMA NY). Like many, I would love to understand how he does it. I also wonder if the final images surprise him, are they what he thought he would make?

Maarten Vanvolsem – I read a lot about this photographer’s work when I was trying to find images that showed durational motion in rock climbing. The following is from my exercise.

“The stand-out for me was Maarten Vanvolsem’s essay on dealing with the paradox of motion in a still photograph. I was led there via the course note suggestion of his photographs of dancers. There is a quote that summarised how I thought about photographing climbing: “…dance is the controlled passage of bodies through time and space.” I wanted to show the time used, the space used, the route taken by the body. I think there are a lot of parallels between photographing dance and climbing (possibly fencing too) and would like to research this further.” “

He uses a technique that involves the photographer moving as well as the dancer. I haven’t been able to find the strip-scan mobile app for my phone but am very interested in learning more. He has written a book that I shall read.

Chris Marker – La Jetee – a film comprised entirely of still images. I didn’t enjoy the trailer that I found on You-tube, but I was intrigued by some of the clips where the images changed less frequently and the narrative tied in well with them.

Christopher Doyle – opening sequence to Chungking Express. This was more engaging than I expected, the chase sequence made of long exposures, but not all of them! I liked the idea of time as an elastic quality, and I was intrigued by the idea of using motion blur and a static view as separate background and foreground elements. The supplied link did not have a functional video but I looked it up on You-tube instead.

Francesca Woodman – I came across her whilst reading a book recommendation from my tutor in my A1 feedback (“Girls! Girls! Girls! In Contemporary Art” edited by Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman, published by Intellect Bristol 2011). I was reading on my way to a study visit to Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s, and was delighted to see some of her work when I arrived there. In her very short life she made some amazingly intriguing images, many of them reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, with her in unexpected spaces and engaging with an unfamiliar environment. I found an interesting co-presence of both fragility and strength, especially in the image 1977 Untitled Ny that shows her with a feather against her back, the delicate parallels evident between shaft and spine, vane and rib.

From my study visit notes:

“I was reading an essay about Francesca Woodman in the train on the way to London (Riches, 2011). The chapter was about playfulness, and I was smitten with Woodman’s work. There was something very Alice -like in the curiosity, the scale, the trappedness. I was thrilled to see a display of her work at this exhibition. There was something fantastically ethereal but also very strong about her swinging from a door-frame, or glancing into a mirror as she crawled past. “Talking to Vince” was very Alice indeed, in the same way as Anna Gaskell’s work – with a tight crop in a confined space and an open yet soundless mouth. I would like to explore this idea a little, with domestic spaces such as under the stairs, under the sink, in the utility room, loft and garage. Maybe shed too, although that tends to be a more masculine environment.”




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