THEUNIS PHOTO STOFBERG GRAPHER

Week 9

 

This week  has been a bit of a revelation to me.  When confronted with what images I have seen today I was suddenly struck by the idea that I have in fact not seen any, and I have in fact seen many. In that moment I could not think of one image I have seen in the last 24 hours.  I quickly realized that i am of course wrong as I have been on both twitter and instagram numerous times in the last 24 hours so the possibility of that is nothing. On a bit closer inspection I recalled ones that immediately gave me a sense of recall.  One was that a friend on this course took and posted to instagram, a personal picture that touched me and made me look at the image a few times.  Three were of firefighters in the California fires, all were black and white, all  which evoked some emotion from me. (The fourth image that I could remember was of a model I know wearing a swimsuit and my thought about that was that the cut looked very uncomfortable).

Image by Effie Panagoula from Instagram

The interesting thing to me in this is that I must actually have been exposed to hundreds if not thousands of images today.  Why do I not remember them?  The triviality of images on the internet once again struck me. I was listening to a podcast earlier this week when a photographer from New Zealand pointed out that we as photographers cant compete with the amount of images out there. We will never be able compete with single images that were taken by some slavic kid in a far off part of the world. The only way we can compete with that and the other images on the internet is through the power of storytelling.  This brings us again to the about and the the for.  I think that unlike painting we as photographers have an oppurtunity to give something more. Szarkowski spoke about the 5 interdependent characteristics of photography being, the thing itself, the detail, the frame, the vantage point, the time.  This is so much part of our mien and the fact that we need to fully utilise these to convey a story, to completely translate the story into some kind of wider narrative. This is the power that we have to use fully. In the movie about her life a critic said of  Annie Liebovits's photos  "her stories are snapshots, once off moments, there is nothing deeper there". I do think that is the problem with the vast amount of images we consume every day. There is a reason the few images I saw that spoke to me today was that of professional photographers telling stories and also images that touched me emotionally.

 

I Am A Camera by Tierney Gearon

Back on the set work for the week, it was very interesting to look at the differences between Sally Mann’s images and that of Tierny Gearon.  I have been familiar with Manns’ work for a couple of decades and I have always been a fan.  Gearnies images I have a passing familiarity with it but I have never really spent any time thinking about it.  In the end I have to compare the works though and after reading Gearon’s article in the Gaurdian I am not that happy with her. The fact tha she chose to throw Sally Mann under the buss saying that Mann’s images depict more of her children and more of her children's personality “My pictures are about a captured moment, rather than about the person. They are about a feeling, and to that extent they preserve my children's anonymity. They are disguised somehow. I'm showing a moment of life, not part of their personality, and to that extent they could be anyone.”

This showed me that she has very little awareness of her work. The fact that it does not show the personality of the children but just random bits of nudity is more troubling than Sally Mann’s images where the personality of the child can be seen through the series of images.  The fact that Gearon chooses to give her children masks to wear is also very odd pointing to the fact that she has a very hard controlling hand in some of the images, realizing that the nudity in these images will become an issue in the long term. After Mann’s well documented battle with the far right press over her images it is slightly disingenuous to suddenly claim  shock when the press started making complaining about the images.

As for that selection of images I will state that I am not a fan of Gearon’s images. The use of colour gives and immediate and current feel to all images and it creates a contemporary feel to all the images, an image trapped in a time and place.  The fact that the images has very little further development for me than the idea of kids in masks running around naked shows very little story telling and just reminds me of the the early new millennia’s obsession with selling the “dirty truth” in the lines of i.D. Magazine.  Gearon’s website further obfuscates the matter.

 

“Poses and situations are not set up, although props are added to what at the outset was a documentary record of the artist's family. What look like snapshots are carefully-caught compositions that uncover something strange in suburbia.”

 

She states in once sentence that “poses and situations are not set up” but then tells us in the next sentence that these are not snapshot but carefully-caught composition. Either Or love. Pick a thing here.  In the end I find something a bit more exploitative in the Gearon’s images.  I cant help but have the cynical commercial voice in the back of my head telling me that this was the perfect way for her to capture the right audience with a known liking for what was the fashion in photography at the time.

Hold Still by Sally Mann

Sally Mann’s images I have also had some issues with. At times the nudity in the images comes over as jarring but that might just my puritanical upbringing. The different for me comes in the telling of a story. Over the images you she has captured the personality of her children, something that Gearon’s work never achieves as the children are wearing masks in many of the images.  By getting and portraying her children's personalities it reaches further than just depiction but starts telling the story of their childhood.  The brief glimpses that we get from Gearon does not constitute a story but instead becomes what she has stated, a snapshot.

 

Manns use of black and white further lends the idea of timelessness.  These images could have been taken any time from the 1950’s to the 1990’s.  There is an ethereal quality to them that transcends the era of their taking that Gearon’s images do not have. Like the cover of a Take That or BLUR album it has a time stamp on it that will be hard to escape.

There seems to be fine line between intellectualism and art photography. While I have always associated intellectualism with art photography the boundaries seem to be more blurred these days. Does it evoke an emotional response when you have to have it explained to you? Yes, it can and Barth’s images are testament to that. Can we see the art for the arts sake without the explanation though. That is the main problem that we will have.

 

 

The cognitive and the emotional balance in my images is difficult to define. I mainly specialize in portraiture so images and subjects have their own emotional baggage that they bring to the image and the reflection of humankind in an image will almost always evoke some kind of emotion from the viewer as there will almost always be an identification, subconscious recognition, whether negative or positive, from the viewer.  I do want to balance my  portraiture more and think that I should look at ways to focus more on cognitive aspects in the image as an image based purely on emotion does not necessarily give the right response that I am looking for. My biggest challenge in my images would be allow my images to be more cognitive and less plaintive and emotive.

 

I think i have found a way to do this by separating my images. By putting the images next to each to each other you are separating the location from the subject, giving you time to examine the location separate, giving you more time to read the subtleties of the place, independent of the strong gaze from the subject.

Week 7 and 8

 

For Week 7 I was assigned a short task by one of my team mates Martin Brent Guest.  The task was as follows.

 

On the theme of Colour Of The City how about looking for images where a dominant colour pervades so it becomes potentially monochromatic. It doesn't have to be the same colour in every image or it could, entirely up to you. You could go an entirely abstract route or look at a wider scene where the colour may come from the quality or colour of light rather than the objects in the scene or even both.

 

Style entirely up to you, just about every photographer working in colour has dabbled in this at some point, Saul Leiter was an understated master of this proving the colour didn't necessarily have to be insanely intense to produce the effect.

 

 

 

Ok. My reply was mixed because... I suck at street photography. I definitely  don't have the guts to just take photos of random people in the street. I walked around for a while but i think to get the best out of this you need to actually go at night, not during the morning like I did.

I ended up  looking for a few dichotomies like the new versus the old.  then also at some reflections.  Cape Town is a city that has at times a decided split personality where the old colonial style is flush next to glass and metal structures.  I ended up taking a reasonable amount of images but I have to admit that I am not that happy with the result. In the end I just dont think this is my strong suit. It was good for me to just walk around though. I am far more at ease with taking portraits of people but specifically didnt approach anyone this time to ask them for a portrait.  By also only having two prime lenses with me, a 24mm and a 56mm, I restricted myself more and made me think more about what I could do with each shot.

 

 

Week 5 and 6

 

 

 

During the last few weeks I have been working on the video where  i have to reflect on my current practice and also talk about what my future project might entail.

 

 

 

This project was difficult for me as it mixed film/video, which is very much an artform of its own, with academia.  I feel that writing a 6000 word essay reflecting on my current practice would have been a lot easier to than it would have been to make a video and reference the images according to academic practice. It broke the rhythm of a video and further restrictions like no sound also made it more difficult. In the end what we end up with is something that is as cold as a powerpoint presentation.  That then subverts the whole point of the thing for me. If I had to stand in front of a class to deliver this powerpoint presentation it would also have been more effective as I can then transfer my energy to the room through my body language and lecturing style.  A cold voice over without any music to help lighten or create mood leaves the whole thing dead. I feel that this video could have been so much more if we were to drop some of the restraints but I guess it is ok in the end. At the end I was going through the old editors mantra of “good enough” in my head as you can spend hours on a video like this tweaking small things that will have very little effect in the end. If you have time, watch it.

Week 4 Collaboration

 

 

As someone who has dabbled in fashion photography I am not a stranger to collaboration as most fashion shoots are a a confluence of the influence and ideas of many people. In the end, in fashion photography the photographer is usually the director and even though people work together, it is mostly his vision that will be captured. In the past few years I have also worked with another photographer in shoots, specifically a shoot we did for a charity called Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) where we shot together, with her sometimes pressing the shutter button and sometimes me doing it.

SWEAT portraits by Theunis Stofberg and Irene Grobbelaar (Rest of Series available here)

This was far away from what I experienced this week. The first steps was always going to be tentative. We didn’t know each other and had to work quickly to get something done as we were all busy people with work waiting to be done at home. It has to be said that Whatsapp was our saviour in the end. Although the lecturers said that they prefer us discussing images on the Canvas chats the whatsapp chat was soon lit up with plenty of conversations about our projects and our images. The ability to immediately discuss what was happening on three different continents (and an island) was incredibly handy. We established a loose structure of what we wanted to shoot and then over two days returned to it registering what worked and what didnt work. Although I do think our collaboration could have been better if we were given a bit more time and had a bit more time to properly plan the images they seemed to work together on a strange level and the echoes of the consistent urbanisation and neglect echoed across all the images.

 

In the end I compiled the images together to form a unit of 6 diptych images.

the most interesting thing I have gained from this exercise was the sudden acquisition of friends who are going through the same things that I am. Roughly the same age and facing the same challenges that I am it was not only interesting but also empowering to chat to them. We discussed other photographers, current styles in photography and what we see as problems in the current styles of photography. The awarding of the Taylor Wessing prize to a South African photographer also led to some discussion about what is wrong with this type of portraiture and the western “white gaze” so pervasive amongst photos of africans.

 

It was quite an eyeopener to hear other peoples views and also to get some support from everybody for work I am doing and also to support other people. Even though our collaboration is finished for now we have already started supporting each other for our next project sharing tips on how to do video effectively. After this exercise I would recommend working with other people more and will definitely work with my group again.

Week 3

 

 

 

This weeks work on photographers and film togheterh with the whole idea of citizen journalism has had me thinking in a few different way. Never have we had such mistrust in the media as we do now and I am not always so usre if the idea of citizen journalism adds or subtracts to that. Is the gnereal public more inclidned to trust jourlaism if it comes from citizen journalisist armed with iphones or are they more trusting of known journalists. I guess if it comes from whence you look at the thing. On the one hand, if you are more inclined to believe a certain president, then sure, you will believe the citizen journalism if it extends your view of the issue, if the issue was given by a journalist and the viewpoint was the same then you would believe it too. I guess what I realised is that Fox viewers believe whatever Fox says and MSNBC and CNN viewers like to believe what their news anchors tell them, they are watching the shows to affirm their beliefs, not to search for new ones

Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park, New York: footage was broadcast live from the site by bloggers Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

 

 

Citizen journalism can become a problem though. It is too easy to fake digital content these days and the reality of the situation can be misinterpreted by them and then reinforced by the newsmedia who, due to massive cutbacks, dont have the manpower to be everywhere and cover every story.

 

 

 

One of my main issues that I personally have is that of the democritisation of photography. Now that everybody has a camera, everybody can take a picture. The problem is that everybody takes mostly mediocre images. And the public has become so used to mediocrity that they dont seem to understand or recogise what good photography is… “Naah, I could have taken that photo..”

 

 

 

But that is probably something to rant about another day

The interesting thing that happened today was that in my planning and talking about my planning I came to a bit of a breakthrough due to the people that was on the group with me.  Over the last few years I have been doing a series of photos on domestic workers in South Africa.

 

 

 

During this I showed an image that I have completed and an image that I was busy working on. After a bit of chat with the group I realised that by over sterilising the image through photoshop I actually took away a large part of what makes the image effective.  This will be especially interesting in my continuing work with social groups as by using the fracture look I will be able to increase the tension in the image.

 

 

Week 2

 

This weeks reading has been very interesting but I will get to that later.  The first thing that we looked at was the way photography tends to cross disciplines. As such I have had to look at my various inspirations. The first and easiest inspiration that comes to mind is of course the movie and tv world. As it is made of moving images it is easy to see how the two would inspire each other and there is a genuine feedback loop between the two where famous DP’s would say they were inspired by photography and photographers would say they were inspired by movies.  As I have discussed in the forums I have a great admiration for Roger Deakins and his work in film but I have to also look further than just that. I have in the past taken inspiration from famous portraitures  like Grant Wood’s America Gothic. This is one of the interesting things about photographers. We are all image junkies. We actively search images that work and inspire us. Are the images as on the nose of an inspiration as the example here? Probably not, but our ability to retain images are what makes us photographers in the first place. When we have a lot of images rambling around in our heads we will see and recreate some patterns as it suddenly looks familiar, consciously or subconsciously to us, and familiarity works and gives you comfort.  This is especially something that happens quite a lot with fashion photography. As the photographer and the stylist prepares they will no doubt have a wide range of images they are working with and use on their art boards for scamping or examples. Even though it is subconscious some of those images will be retained and will, for good or bad, be recreated in at least some of your images.  The great thing about fashion photography is that it is up to more than just the photographer. True fashion photographer is an collaboration between photographer, stylist, make-up artist and model. That is 4 people that can make or break the shoot.  You end up and interesting mix of ideas. Although the photographer has and always will have (unless it is for advertising purposes) the last say the input of others in a shoot will have an effect on the directorial view of the photographer.  This is some images I shot a number of years ago.  It is something that I shot without doing mood boards or scamping yet I subsequently found images that I clearly have based this on subconsciously. It has been interesting to see other students use the images subsequently in scamping and moodboards without realising I took the images.

 

Grant Wood's American Gothic and my subsequent image

This brings us to the reading and I took special note on the article by David Campany: Safety in Numbness. Even though I started off disagreeing with him on certain aspects of his ideas he did convince me in the end. Documentary photography has changed in the last few decades and to a large extent this is due to the easy use and spread of video camera. These days a video, if it is not live, can be shot, edited and spread online (twitter) within in a few minutes. Even still from video is frequently used as images in news stories.  The news media’s consumption of video shot by both professionals and amateurs are insatiable.  Compared to this the spread of photography is slow. Photography, even though it can be spread digitally, is best consumed through print. With print media getting less and less money there is a drastic reduction in the money that can be spent on images. The media’s move into the digital world also now has opened the door to what used to be print-media now also using video.  This has meant a massive reduction in staff photographers and paid assignments as the video has already captured the action. This is where the idea of “Late” photography comes in.

 

Simon Norfolk. Afghanistan Tearoom

Photographers go in after the battle is over to capture the extent of damage, the human suffering, the aftermath.  What was traditionally documentary photography has not become art photography, and it used to  not only inform like documentary photography but also to move past the print world into the art world.  Photographer Simon Norfolk is an interesting example of this. After the war in Afghanistan he documented the damage and  left overs with careful and slow large format exposures. Pictures of burnt down tea houses and buildings remind of the Valley of the Shadow of Death image as shot by Roger Fenton in the Crimean War.  These are cold or late images, images that document the war without the action but still have an emotional impact.

Simon Norfolk. Afghanistan: Chronotopia

Although Norfolk’s images still showed a time and place that is recent and real Gregory Crewdson’s images have gone larger. He stages cinematic scenes in surburbia to create drama and his own short form narrative.  In his own words he  is searching:   “My pictures are about a search for a moment—a perfect moment”.  A short moment it might be though but through  his (sometimes  disjointed) sets of images he tells a story not unlike Norfolk.

 

Gregory Crewdson, Various Exhibitions

A further example of this is the images of Stan Douglas who, using much the same techniques as Crewdson chooses to recreate “hot” moments using “late photography. His recreations of events like the Gas Town riots are then shot and displayed in massive formats. This then increases its immediacy and the impact it has on the viewer.

 

Stan Douglas Gastown Riot

The interesting thing for me is that there seems to be a stronger crossover between photographer and director than ever before. Although Norfolk does his work alone both Crewdson and Douglas has massive crews that assist him. They use very large 4K movie lights to light their sets and as such their photo sets sometimes resemble movie sets more than photosets. They are also meticulous in the set-up of their people in the images, placing each person in a shot for a reason.

 

Stan Douglas on the set of Gastown Riot

This is a direction I am very interested in. In the past few years I have done varoius small DP jobs as well as some directing and i am strongly thinking of using some of these ideas in my final project.  Even though I will take inspiration from these projects I am leaning strongly towards a project away from the historical aspects of the work above but using it more as a comment on social justice and social structures within South African society.

Week 1

 

Thinking about the what constitutes a global images was actually more difficult than I thought. The problem is that there is actually a surfeit of what can be considered “global” images mostly thanks to our use of social media. The first thing that really comes to mind for me when we talk about global images happen to be advertising related. Few industries actually make their money from promoting and using global images the way the advertising industry does. If we look at Coca-Cola adverts for instance it can be seen as having created and maintained a global image through their careful manipulation of what they want their image to portray. If we close our eyes we can see any coca-cola advert. It will always have happy people in it, they will always be smiling or laughing, sure the ethnicity might change but the picture stays the same.   That is in the end the goal of advertising. They are selling you something to aspire to, whether this is having good times drink a soda or a buying that new pair of jeans that GAP has in store for a limited amount of time.  The advertising industry uses easily recogniable global images to strengthen their brand.  They do this through repetition of logo placement, colour scheme and background. In the end they want you to recognise the image and know what the brand is before you even see the logo.  Although this can be seen as global images the view and the talent of the photographer is very much of lesser import than the image that the brand creates through careful planning and research.

 

Chanel Campaign 2013 as shot by Karl Lagerfeld

 

 

 

Easily recognisable images are something that I personally feel is becoming more prevalent.  The spread of photography in the 1800’s, even though it was slower than what we now see, can be seen to be just as rapid as we see currently. Photography became a shared resource, something that anyone could do and share. This is much the same as it is today. Photographic trips to underpriviliged communities have changed in the last few years. Whereas no-one had access to cameras a decade ago the prevalence of smart phone photography has become such that there is no more “mugging” and posing when a camera is taken out. What was seen as special a decade ago now has become mundane. These images are all shared in much the same way that images was shared 200 years ago. The speed of sharing and the circle of sharing might be faster and wider but the impact  from the easy spread of images is much the same.  Do all these images have the same emotional or social impact though?  It is easy to point out the Nick Ut image from Vietnam but with the deluge of images we are subjected to today is it is still the truly horrifying  image that leave us reeling and will leave an imprint in our brain. The image of three year old Alan Kurdi’s body on an Italian beach, the detainees at Abu Ghraib, the assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Anakara, these images connect with us on a different more emotional level than the thousands of social media images we see every day.  Yet there are other images, less graphic and shocking that these that also stick in the communal psyche and play an important role in the power of the global image. The pertinent question, past the obvious answer is still why do these images have such a lasting power over people. Even though the Nick Ut image had a video that showed everything that happened while the image was taken that was not what we remembered. Our brains seem to have less ability to retain information if it is in the form of a combination of sight, sound and movement. This shows me that the photography will and still will have an important role to fill in the world. Even what can only be seen as unimportant stock images like the boy with the girlfriend looking back has gone viral and has become a easily recognisable and much copied image. The lasting power of the global image will stay even as it is being adapted to suit everybody's needs or agenda.   This might be the single biggest reason that might still trip photography up. As images spread across the globe the original truth of the image can be used or warped in whatever way people want. Images can be photoshopped and text added to give it a different meaning. Even though it is not photograph’s fault its  accessibility to “fake news” creation will always cause problems in the digital age.

The gunman gestures after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, at a photo exhibition in Ankara on Dec. 19, 2016. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

 

 

 

 

Looking at my own images critically in the last few months I have come to realise a few things. My portraits as such specifically sometimes to fall in the category of “photographic document” where the subject and the photographer has not real contact. I would like to think that unlike the old document style of photography as used in Victorian times my photos are not subject to the blatant condescension that theirs were prone to but more gentler, more questioning. The photographs do exhibit a defined state of ‘window” rather than mirror. As can be seen from the images that I took for my still continuing photo essay Domestique. The images, even though they are and include the background and locations of the subjects, isolate the subject from the background, even though they exist in it and are part of it it is still not theirs. This was done on purpose in the planning of the images to highlight the strange dynamic that domestic workers inhabit where they spend more time in houses that they work in than their own. This juxtaposition of time and place I felt I highlighted.

 

 

the body of 3 Year Old Alan Kurdi (still taken from video)

Pamela.  Domestique by Theunis Stofberg

Mona-Lisa and Oliver.  Domestique by Theunis Stofberg

 

The images are definitely part of what can be seen as “document’ and I feel easily recognisable as a portrait of someone in a time and place.  In discussion with my tutor Michelle she did point out to me that my predilection for keeping the background blurred and only focusing on the subject in portraiture can sometimes be wrong. As discussed with her the images of the couple living next to the railway line would maybe have been stronger if we did see the burglar bars on the windows, the dry and dusty garden. It is definitely something I will have to think about in the future as my portraits are sometimes just off the cuff events and it maybe needs some more thought during the process to get the right results.

Living next to the Railway by Theunis Stofberg