After 100 years of history, what next for the love affair between photography and the American road trip? And where might that take me?
“Some people think that the camera steals their soul. Places, I am convinced, are affected in the opposite way. The more they are photographed (or drawn and painted) the more soul they seem to accumulate.” (Wells, p60)
America is a vast country, with what might be considered as a short (recorded) history. However, in the last 100 years or so, it has been rapidly accumulating “soul” as artists and non-artists alike “go west” on their American road trip armed with a camera. The original pioneers, whose journeys these road trips often serve to replicate, travelled westwards by wagon train, taking months of supplies with them to support them until they reached a likely location to raise a settlement before the winter took hold. Not a journey to be taken lightly, and even many years later, not one that would lead to a lifestyle that might allow for luxuries such as making art for the rest of the world; Albert Bierstadt’s Looking down the Yosemite Valley (1865) [a] was amongst the earliest images from California to be seen in New York, even though this was well after the advent of photography (Wells). Later though, with the advent of the automobile, and the infrastructure that goes with it, and coinciding as it did with the simplification and commercialisation of the photographic processes, the great American road trip was born and subsequently labelled as the “first American popular culture that could truly call itself national” (Campany, p11). And with it, America’s soul (akin, it would seem, to Benjamin’s “aura”) has grown, at least within the confines of pop culture. The American road trip is now an iconic right of passage, a journey of discovery of things previously discovered. How will this be affected by a seemingly relentless tide of change to technology, to art and to culture itself, and to my own evolving practice?
First though, some thoughts of history. Back in the early 1900s, following in the footsteps of those early pioneers will have been a great adventure, the American version of the European “Grand Tour”. In 1903 there were but 141 miles of asphalt roads in the whole of America, and a coast-to-coast trip would take about 2 months. Just three years later, there were enough roads to warrant improved navigational aids and the Photo-Auto Guide was launched [b], a turn-by-turn photographic map to make routing simpler, and by the end of that decade, there were 130,000 cars in America. Another 20 years later, there were 26.7 million! (Campany)
Early road trip photography would consist of “picturesque albums of beautiful landscapes, interspersed with shots of awesome bridges” (Campany, p8), but notions have changed. Photography has cemented its position within the arts, and over a century of road trips have provided a growing knowledge of what America by car has looked like; the universal motifs of the gas station, the motel and the open road itself, and every subsequent image is now made through a tangle of preconceptions and memory. Photographs of gas stations taken today are taken with the knowledge of those seen before, through Stephen Shore, Ed Ruscha and others, or in the movies that work a similar trope, maybe adding sex and guns as further spice. Just as the reader caused the death of the author in the theorising of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, the author is also risking suicide through their own anachronistic reading of those before him!
Walker Evans’s photographs provide a direct lineage to post-war American photography; his images for American Photographs (1938) showed little in terms of a signature style or overbearing sentimentality in the vernacular scenes he shot. Robert Frank would continue this tradition in the seminal collection Les Americains (The Americans, 1958). He toured for 8 months in a Ford Business Coupe, shooting 800 rolls of film that were to become “essential for the understanding of both America and photography” (Campany, p42). Stephen Shore came from Warhol’s Factory to photograph his many road trips in an analytical yet un-critical, curious but distanced manner. A major early proponent of colour photography, he also foresaw something of the Facebook generation, photographing everyday life from a personal point of view, sharing the utterly mundane, from the Post Office to motels, crossroads to pancakes [c] to the people he saw on his travels, and many other things in-between. Joel Sternfeld captured surreal yet optimistic juxtapositions, Alec Soth was sleepy yet traditional. Amongst all that, Lee Friedlander took framing to a higher level.
Friedlander’s America by Car (2010) was photographed from the car’s interior, highlighting an important difference to photography of the road trip from that of the flâneur. Whilst Frank might have used a 35mm Leica in his work, Friedlander, Shore, et al, were known to use larger format cameras. The Leica can be thought of as an open view camera, you can use it with both eyes open, seeing both what is within and without the viewfinder. With the LF cameras, you are confined to only what is visible under the curtain; the world is framed. The same happens when shooting from within the car, the world is framed before you raise the camera to shoot: the windshield, the side windows and mirrors. Shore spoke of how “A photograph has edges, the world does not” (Shore, p13), his framing was often passive, a counter-response to his camera choice, Friedlander grasped at those edges, bringing them into the camera frame, dividing and sub-dividing [d]. Compositional nirvana.
Many of the current road trip photographers are following the same highways and byways, re-photographing rather than reinventing the genre. Kyler Zeleny, Jack Latham and Ron Jude provide pleasing photographs and their own chosen narrative, but seem at first glance to be bedded in our preconceptions based on what has gone before. The parallels can be drawn and we view them through our own experience of Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand and Shore. There is an interminable sameness of view, part of the attraction, but if in 1938, within the accompanying essay to Evans’s American Photographs, Lincoln Kirstein could elude to “the boredom of a sight-sated public” (Evans, p193), how bored must the Facebook generation be? Or does some photography now simply pass by as momentary glimpses in the media datastream?
A small number of photographers have been breaking the mould in different ways. Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood (2011) is a recreation of a journey, one taken 50-odd years earlier through Nebraska and Wyoming, one that was marked with murder; “A boy and a girl and a car and a gun. The formula is deeply encoded in American mythology.” (Patterson ). His forensic view of the crime scenes provides an oddly disassociated presence as the evidence has gone with buildings demolished in the intervening years, but there are also items copied from the archives to sit alongside his present day photographs. It becomes strangely compelling [e]. Ryan McGinley creates a fabricated reality in his journey, taking with him young models and artists to act under his direction in scenes of escapism within nature, a carefree world to share. The landscape is deconstructed and refabricated in the surreal images of Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, with varied stylistic tropes; only the idea of the road unifies the images. What are Onorato and Krebs getting at? I’m not actually sure it ‘means’ anything, other than it being a playful mash-up of motel rooms, fast food and the iconography of the open road, tilting towards more contemporary still-life and staged photography movements.
Doug Rickard’s imagery feels most like those more traditional artists mentioned earlier, and he acknowledges this. However, he hasn’t undertaken a road trip himself, instead investigating America’s troubled and economically devastated neighbourhoods via the means of Google Street View (GSV - a natural descendent from the Photo-Auto Guide?). Rickard acknowledges the power of technology, but he also acknowledges that he is tied to his own expectations: “I wanted each picture to give off a sense of place. I wanted Detroit to feel like Detroit. And part of that is based on my own idea of Detroit” (Polino). He has photographed black and Hispanic neighbourhoods in a way that appears to be missing from the traditional cannon, he has an access, albeit artificial, that might otherwise be unavailable to what appears to be a predominantly white (and male) history of recording of the journey. Here it feels like we might truly be at some form of cultural crossroads for the future of the road trip, where the traditional joins with the future to form the contemporary. From here it could go anywhere.
Technology is forever changing too; things come and go, such as the Kodak film hailed in the early 20th Century as making road trip photography simple [f] now all but consigned to the history books. These on-going changes will impact both the nature of the road trip and the art that comes as a result of it. The advances in automobile technology has already changed the landscape, and going forward there will likely be need for fewer gasoline stations and motels, especially if driverless cars come to the fore. These driverless cars might also lead to the demise of the explorative trip and the chance meandering down interesting side roads, with navigation handled by a computer based on a destination. Perhaps green credentials will push further, ushering in the advent of the cycle tour, as traced by Garry Loughlin (of the land and us). Granted, this isn’t for the faint-hearted!
And what for the art itself? Whilst it might be inconceivable to think of the end of the photographic print due to the current commodification of such, there are a growing number of alternative modes of presentation, many via video or digital means on the Internet. Instagram has become a powerful dissemination tool; even Shore has an account , with the contents also being transferred to book form . Richard Prince has mined Instagram for his appropriation art and it’s a tool already acknowledged within the artist and curatorial community. Other social media outlets might have their place for exhibition of art. The ability to perform direct and scheduled regular uploads (as with @555uhz tweeted film stills ), road trip art could be viewed almost in real time. Blogging (or indeed, vlogging) might also become an intrinsic part of the post-Internet photographers toolbox, the English photographer Simon Roberts has already made extensive use of blogging to direct his (English) road trip, and Soth is known to make use of Internet search engines for research. Personally, I have used GSV to identify potential photograph sites, as with my earlier Road to Joy project [g] and [h]. The future appears to lie in the Internet for more than this though; the road trip could conceivably become performative in some way through the use of social media.
I cannot actually say with any accuracy what the future holds for the American road trip or for its photography. However, in looking at the subject with a purpose of positioning my own practice in relation to it, it is clearer to me how my own work has been influenced by it, been informed by preconceptions formed from looking at it, and also the television programmes I grew up with and the cult of Americana they fed. It is also clear that I need to make my own journey and record it. When this happens, the photographs I would legitimately expect to make based upon my photographic leanings might be described as being broadly influenced by Shore and other similar colour practitioners.
Recent experiments through the course of the MA might indicate something else though. Yes, in many ways the photography of Le loup, le renard et la belette [i] can be thought of being in my existing style, but the presentation of it has not been. However I can now also draw on and build upon the GSV appropriation work (Ruscha’s Gasoline Stations and After Stephen Shore) and also the literal and linear journey presentation of Drive [j] to add to this, to take in a different direction, where the act of driving becomes part of the art process, not just the means of getting to the subject as it has been in the past. The car, the road trip and art will continue to be linked, for the near future at least; the growing pop culture soul of America will surely guarantee this.
[a] Bierstadt, A: Looking down the Yosemite Valley, California (1865), oil on canvas, 162.6x 244.5cm [online]. Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looking_Down_Yosemite_Valley,_California#/media/File:Looking_Down_Yosemite-Valley.jpg [accessed 27/04/2016]
[b] Sargent Michaels, H: Photo-Auto Guide, Chicago to Rockford (1905), book spread [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/media/full/505109/180011 [accessed 27/04/2016]
[c] Shore, S: Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973, photograph [online]. Edwynn Houk Gallery Tumblr, New York/Zurich. Available at: http://houkgallery.tumblr.com/post/73522167639/stephen-shore-american-b-1947-trails-end [accessed 27/04/2016]
[d] Friedlander, L: America by Car, 1995-2009, photograph [online]. Whitney Museum of Art, New York. Available at: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LeeFriedlander [accessed 27/04/2016]
[e] Patterson, C: Redheaded Peckerwood, 2011, book spread [online]. Photo-eye Blog. Available at: http://www.photoeye.com/magazine/reviews/2012/01_16_Redheaded_Peckerwood.cfm [accessed 27/04/2016]
[f] Kodak: Kodak as you go, 1920, advertisement [online]. Duke University Library, Durham. Available at: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa_K0339/ [accessed 27/04/2016]
Bibliography Campany, D. 2014. The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip. New York. Aperture Foundation Evans. W. 2012. American Photographs. 75th Anniversary Edition. London. Tate Publishing Frank. R. 2008. The Americans. Göttingen. Steidl. Friedlander, L. 2010. America by Car. New York. Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. Patterson, C. 2011. Redheaded Peckerwood. London. Mack Books. Shore, S. 2004. Uncommon Places. London. Thames & Hudson Ltd. Soth. A. 2010. From Here to There. Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. Wells, L. 2011. Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. London. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
Polino, J. 2013. A Street View: Doug Rickard And The New American Picture [Online]. Available at: http://www.dougrickard.com/articles/out-of-order-doug-rickard-and-the-new-american-picture-2013/ [accessed 27/04/2016] Of the land & us. 2016. Untitled (Garry Loughlin interview) [Online]. Available at: http://www.ofthelandandus.co/post/139736087395/betweenspaces [accessed 27/04/2016]
Other Internet References Stephen Shore Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/stephen.shore [accessed 27/04/2016] 555uHz Twitter stream: https://twitter.com/555uhz?lang=en-gb [accessed 27/04/2016]
A Vogue cover shot is not a serious portrait. Who would expect it to be? I’ve nothing against the romantic rural pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge that decorate the June issue of Vogue. Nice face, nice clothes. But is a glossy picture of Kate Middleton in any way a serious work of art?
Jonathan Jones does it again, pressing his overtly snobbish views (or opinions) about what constitutes art into the public arena. I've disagreed with him in the past, with his comments about other photographic portraits last year. This time... well again he is completely wrong.
There is some truth in what he says though. I can't argue with the sentiment that the Royal Collection could be made available for showing to the public in some form or another. Donating it might be going too far - would he expect other art owners to donate their collection? Granted, some of it might be deemed as being a national, rather than a personal, asset, but is all of it?
What irks me is that, once more, the supposed arbiter of artistic judgement is pushing photography away from the gallery walls. He asks "is a glossy picture of Kate Middleton in any way a serious work of art?" It could be, but in this particular case it is a magazine cover photograph, from Vogue, and is (if I understand correctly) being displayed as part of a commemoration of 100 years of the magazine.
They're also being displayed in the National Portrait Gallery, which as the name suggests is for portraits. This fits the bill... He was also similarly dismissive of David Bailey's Stardust exhibition at the NPG - "If artistic brilliance were merely the creation of snazzy, glamorous, eye-catching pictures, Bailey would indeed be one of the greats." and "This exhibition goes down as easily as a colour supplement, but has about the same claim to be art." (see here). Maybe the initial intent of these images was not as a piece of art in the same manner as, say, one of his beloved Caravaggios, but that doesn't mean that they're empty of any form of communication or aesthetic appeal. It also doesn't mean that they cannot be seen within a gallery context. Not all "art" is seen in a gallery context, and not everything seen in a gallery was conceived as being "art". Things change in this day and age, context can imbued over time, images repurposed or reimagined.
The fact of the matter is also that painting is not the only form of art, or that art has to be serious - Jones is simply living in the past.
One subject that seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years – with professional photographers at least – is the natural landscape in the traditional sense, the Ansel Adams sense one might say. There seem to be two reasons for this. One is that it has become increasingly apparent that there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ landscape at all. As everything in the world, from the biosphere down to the tiniest microbe, has been affected by the hand – often the destructive hand – of man. As a result, much landscape photography today is ‘documentary’ in style – think of Edward Burtynsky, for instance – recording the devastation and framing an indictment. Being ultra positive and celebrating the landscape for its beauty – think of Sebastião Salgado – seems too operatic and redundant, almost hypocritical.
I've got to get to this... I’ve got the nice little presentation box of the same name, and I’ve been looking at his work as part of the essay I’ve been drafting, so it would make a lot of sense to head over to Bradford. There might be something interesting on at the Impressions Gallery too - I’ve been a little lax this year, due to time, so I need to get myself into gear and head over to some exhibitions!
Robert Adams is best known for his landscapes of the American west, but for his series Around the House he focuses on the detail of domestic life – with the same desire to show coherence and beauty in the world
I’ve been a fan of Adams for a while (I wrote my Landscape module essay on him during my BA), I’ve got a number of his books, but this one is truly different, yet somehow the same. You cannot mistake the photographer’s voice in the images, but here (from what I’ve seen) he’s looking inwards, he’s far more introspective than I’ve seen in his work before. Yes, there is still some of the same work going on, but this has an interesting twist. There are people for a start. There has been before too I suppose, but not many of them, and not as the main subject matter - I’m thinking here of Summer Nights Walking, my copy of which is somewhere in a room of books piled on the floor after our house move, so I’m unable to verify, but I’m sure there are people walking in some (I need to get someone in to install bookcases soon...).
This could be one for the future (the reason not for now is in the preceding paragraph).
Perhaps the salient thing about food, from a photographer’s point of view, is that it doesn’t last. Even the most gorgeous, curvaceous pepper – those shot by Edward Weston in 1930 are among the camera’s greatest still lifes – must either be chopped up and eaten, or rot.
Well, for some reason, the Guardian didn’t ask me, but then that maybe because I’ve been less than complementary about some of Jonathan Jones’ views about photography in the past… Well, maybe not. Here’s my contribution anyway, from the project Andy Warhol’s Dead – a photographic study of 32 different tomato soup tins. I’ll still only eat “normal” Heinz tomato soup.
Last Monday, we were supposed to present the research question to the group and discuss it, question it. Unfortunately I wasn’t very well, so didn’t get to do it, but the group discussed what I’d submitted anyway, albeit without the benefit of any talk-over and Q&A, etc. to elaborate on the context. They very kindly sent me some questions and thoughts though, which I’ve responded to on a gut-reaction basis, the details are below:
Sue asked: What is the difference between taking holiday snaps on an American road trip holiday and the relationship between photography and the American road trip?
The difference between a holiday snap and contemporary photography of the American road trip will be “intent”. Whilst some photographers (Robert Frank for example) may have used a 35mm camera, many actually used large format cameras, albeit sometimes with the casual style that might be associated with the vernacular. Some of Stephen Shore’s images might be similar to things that you might see on Facebook, diarising a holiday, etc. They were taken in the 70s though. They’re also similar to some of the things that Martin Parr gathered together as his "Boring Postcards USA” - ah well...
Ines asked: If you were going to do a 'google' type photographic study of the American road trip?
I’ve thought about it, and you can argue that some of the work done on the MA is exactly this - using Google to recreate the road trip photographs of Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore.
Máire asked: Yours artists are a mix of photographers, writers and painters - I am wondering if this question might be about a photographic visual narrative but why do you look at writers and painters swell?
Writers? Kerouac has influenced those that have taken the road trip on, an inspiration to those outside of America too (Daido Moriyama has cited him as an influence) Painters? I find something of a photographic quality to Hopper’s paintings (especially in terms of composition), and his images speak of Americana, which is much of the attraction to the road trip for those outside America, and also to those within - the road trip has been described as the "first American culture that could truly call itself national” - are people looking for something of the way things used to be?
We all wondered why America, and not France? You spend a lot of time in France. Would you consider doing something on Brittany?
Actually, another part of what I’ve been doing is photography in France. It’s more about documenting an “area” though, rather than the “journey” per se. For it to be a similar scale, it would need to be more akin to the old “grand tour”, which I’d actually like to take on, but not sure when I actually ever could (something for my retirement perhaps?)
Máire asked: Im wondering if you could take an aspect of the American road trip and ask about an aspect of what seems interesting to the viewer i.e. fuel stations , Motels etc. and what aspect of the road trip are you interested in?
What do I find interesting? It’s the journey itself I guess, and all those mundane things that populate that journey. The things that pop up to make that journey possible. I wouldn’t want to take an element of that away from the others, I’m more interested on how the journey will change going forward now that that particular thought has raised itself in my mind - it’s a short history so far, and things are changing rapidly. I must say, there’s a charm to some older gas stations that’s lacking now...
Mathew mentioned the significance of the history of photography in France (re you having house there etc and might make a connection) There’s a far more significant history in France than America - Louis Daguerre for a start! I’m just not really sure it’s relevant to me though. Perhaps I’m being disingenuous, and perhaps a little uneducated, but for me, French photography is really all about Henri Cartier-Bresson or Guy Bourdin - both photographers I admire hugely, but not really all that relevant to my practice. I’m not up to speed on contemporary French photography, but for me it’s a historical thing...
I’ll ponder some of these questions more whilst I write my answer to the research question.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, Irish but Belgium-based photographer Garry Loughlin took to bicycle to travel on his very own version of the well-worn American road trip. Between Spaces is the series of work that resulted from his journey, focusing on Louglin’s interest in “documenting the beauty of banality”. The images are quiet and subtle, but in them Loughlin has fantastically composed moments and scenes which reveal the American landscape. We particularly love the often strong graphical visuals, the straight lines, balanced compositions and low lighting that make the images seem almost too perfect, as if they were computer-generated.
With a few notable exceptions, modern fueling stations are often a mishmash of depressingly decaying features: old bolts rusting onto cracked concrete, a plethora of punchy advertisements for junk (and junk food), and architecture inspired by the inside of a cereal box.
Yes, we’re cherry-picking some fantastic examples of retro gas stations, and yes, many older stops were little more than some pumps and attendants—but what gives? Why can’t all stations look fantastic?
One of Daido Moriyama’s best-known images is of a stray dog he encountered on a street in Aomori in northern Japan. Taken in 1971, it has become a metaphor for his way of working, symbolising his relentless wanderings though the streets of Tokyo in search of the essence of the city – an essence that for him often lies in the overlooked and the everyday, the makeshift and the mundane.
The architecture in Robert Götzfried's photography series Back Roads is unmistakably American. Wooden structures with tin roofs, often painted in shades of pastel or white, hark back to a bygone era. The Munich-based artist shot the collection of images during a road trip from Washington DC to Memphis, Tennessee. Rather than take the interstate route he instead opted for the roads less travelled, uncovering some "amazing places" along the way."When I drove through the southern states of the USA I decided to avoid the interstates and travel on the back roads instead. I found amazing places in a world that only existed in the past, I thought. Obviously I was wrong.
"Götzfried is familiar with iconic architecture, having previously documented Australian homes and shops. He has also turned his attention to bus stops, cinemas, bowling alleys and train stations. He excels at transforming something that might be considered ugly into a thing of beauty.
Route 66 is the quintessential American road trip. No other road has captured the imagination and the essence of the American spirit. It has inspired musicians, filmmakers and writers, from classic literature (John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath) to Pixar movie Cars and video game Grand Theft Auto. The highway’s soundtrack, (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, written in 1946 by Bobby Troup and first recorded by Nat King Cole, has been covered by more than 50 musicians, from Aerosmith to the UK Subs.
Works of Korean photographers presented in Korea Week have some remarkable visual creativity and their vision in photographs that are striking and intellectual challenging. Myoung Ho Lee’s Photography-Art Project is to introduce natural sceneries intervened by installing a white canvas as a metaphor of the re-presence and re-produce; Jeong Lok Lee has created a mysterious…
Tonight’s debate with Tanya is over... I think it went ok, but I guess I was talking too quickly sometimes (sorry to Ines and Monika if I was talking too quickly to follow). I was arguing for appropriation, and whilst, on the whole I do agree with this standpoint, there are exceptions. Exceptions I tried to brush over, but Tanya picked up on.
I’m not adverse to working the Appropriation Art trope. I’ve appropriated films, using them as a source material, transforming them visually and conceptually. I’ve worked with the ideas of others, Stephen Shore’s and Ed Ruscha’s photographs (albeit indirectly) and Andy Warhol’s soup. I’ve even photographed others images within my own image, notably in Speak My Language which includes a number of books, posters and the like. I wouldn’t take an image and leave it unaltered or without real context, which Prince flirts with. Yes, there’s slight transformation, but not a huge amount. Similarly, Koons but at least he (or his people) put some craft into what they’re doing... Prince’s recent portrait series I’m not so sure about. I suppose you could argue that anyone can do that (put a comment and some emoji on Instagram), but then anyone could turn a toilet on its side and sign it. One is art, the other is scandalous. Will we think differently of Prince’s work in the future? It is after all rooted in the Internet zeitgeist - is this an example of Post-Internet art? I’d not thought of that before...
Would I object if someone appropriated my work and transformed it? No, I don’t think I would. If someone just used a photograph without altering it for commercial reasons, then yes. Or if they passed my work off as their own... Yes, again I would. On my landing page copyright statement (yes, my work is copyrighted) I say “Please don't use my stuff in any commercial way without permission”. A “collaboration” though, where my work is used? How could I take offence if I do similar things myself?
It’s a muddy subject, one where right and wrong answers are bound up in copyright law, something that is not really suitable today in the format it stands - there was a good quote somewhere on this, but everything is everywhere in my studio space at the moment... It was probably Cutting Across Media, but that’s pretty irrelevant if I can’t remember what the quote was! The wealthy artists will get sued and fight their corner, sometimes winning other times not. Poor artists will more often roll over and remove the work from show, destroying it or whatever.
But of course, appropriation art is not just about stealing (or even using with permission) other works of art, symbols or intellectual property. It’s about detourning something from its original state into something new. Now that I do completely agree with.
In The Wake of Richard Prince and Instagram, Revisiting Copyright Law, Appropriation and History
In the three decades since artists Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince first exhibited their provocatively infringing appropriated photographs, inexpensive reproduction technologies and distribution systems have further thrown established conventions of authorial control into disarray, and at a seemingly exponential rate. Reactionary focus, then, to both the legal regulation of image production and the prosecution of violators has been rigorous. “Intellectual property” now figures significantly as a cross-over category between legal and cultural discourse. Within the domain of art, appropriation since the Pictures generation might have been determined by artists to be a very risky endeavor. But while there has been the occasional lawsuit, there is nonetheless no doubt that the practice of appropriation in contemporary art is alive and well. There is a lot of copying going on, with, as scholar Martha Buskirk describes, “The types of copies that appear in contemporary art…as varied as the materials artists have employed.”
Jeff Wall: 'I'm haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake'He provokes anger, awe and huge prices for his controversial staged scenes of hostage situations and homeless shelters. The pioneer of ‘non-photography’ talks cliches, creative freedom – and his regrets Just enough to keep you guessing …
“In my time, I’ve been accused of being afraid to go out into the world to take pictures, like a so-called ‘real’ photographer does,” Jeff Wall tells me, smiling. “And I’ve been accused of making art with a capital A – as if that, too, was a crime.”
This will form part of an ongoing series of research clips on Brittany…
The bonnets rouges (red caps) movement began in October, 2013 in Brittany. It was a protest movement, largely targeting a new tax on truck-transport (billed as an “ecotaxe” by the government). By means of large demonstrations and direct action, which included the destruction of many highway tax portals, the movement successfully forced the French government to rescind the tax.an anti-tax sign affixed to an “ecotaxe” portal a few days before it was destroyed.
The new tax was seen as harmful to Breton agriculture, which was already having a difficult time competing with its counterparts in Europe.The wearing of red caps was intended as a reference to the seventeenth century revolt of the papier timbré which was particularly active in Brittany, though the Phrygian cap as a protest symbol goes back much further.
Hundreds of red-cap-wearing demonstrators protested against the highway tax portal at Pont-de-Buis on 28 October 2013, and during the course of the protest a demonstrator had his hand blown off when he picked up a grenade thrown by law enforcement. Soon after, the French government announced that it would be temporarily suspending the new tax until 2015 at the earliest. This did not satisfy the demonstrators, who went on to destroy more than two dozen tax portals, and many smaller radar-camera-like outposts, by the first week of November. These would typically be destroyed by fire, often by filling tires, stacked at their bases, with flammable material and lighting them. Sometimes, less-destructive means were used, such as wrapping the radar cameras in plastic and topping them with bonnets rouges of their own.
By late November, 46 tax radars and portals had been destroyed, and other anti-tax groups were beginning to try direct action, including farmers and equestrians who snarled traffic in Paris with their tractors and horses. At the end of November, the movement massed in Carhaix and simultaneously used shipping trucks to blockade highways throughout France. At one point the demonstrators held an auction at which they sold off bits and pieces of previously-destroyed road tax portals as souvenirs. In an amusing moment, a hundred employees of Ecomouv, the quasi-private company responsible for collecting the new tax, held a holiday party in Metz. Posing for a group photo in front of the company offices in their Santa Claus hats, they were mistaken for a demonstration of the bonnets rouges by local police, who quickly intervened.
By January, the number of highway tax and radar-ticket machines destroyed had topped 200. This had the desired effect. In 2013, for the first time since ticket-giving radar cameras had been installed in France, the number of tickets issued by the machines declined. The government made its first big counterattacks in the Spring. Eleven suspected bonnets rouges were arrested and charged with conspiracy in April. The following month, the government convicted Samantha Prime of participating in the destruction of a radar outpost. Destruction of highway tax portals, however, continued. The eleven conspirators were convicted and sentenced to between four and 18 months imprisonment, along with a total of about €10,000 in fines. The same day the sentences were declared, farmers in Brittany invaded the city of Morlaix, dumped their produce in big piles in the streets, set fire to the tax office, and blockaded the area to keep fire trucks from responding. In September and October, three other French tax offices were put to the torch, and French tax officials complained of feeling threatened.
The French government finally decided, in late October, to abandon the hated tax entirely. The cost to the government was enormous. In addition to the loss of anticipated revenue from the tax (€390 million per year) and the property damage and other costs associated with the demonstrations, the government was required to pay compensation to Ecomouv, the quasi-private company that had contracted to administer the tax, and others — nearly one billion euros in all.
One of Britain’s most celebrated and respected photographers has lamented the digital domination of his field, calling it “a totally lying experience” that cannot be trusted.Don McCullin, one of the world’s finest photographers of war and disaster, said the digital revolution meant viewers could no longer trust the truthfulness of images they see.
Ok, so before I go anywhere with this, I absolutely think McCullin is a legend. The things he has seen and reported would reduce me to absolute nothing, a wreck of a man, and perhaps it does to him too, sometimes. But to imply that digital can't be trusted infers that film is truth. It isn't, just a version of it. And just because it's film, doesn't mean to say it's impervious to being played with. McCullin has done it himself, although he (and others) will no doubt argue that he's played within the rules. Maybe he has, but that isn't to say that he hasn't played.
Some years ago, I went to McCullin's retrospective at the IWM in Manchester, there a photograph of his "Shell Shocked US Marine, Hue, Vietnam, February 1968" sat beside a smaller version that contained the printing notes (see here). McCullin hasn't moved pixels, but he's changed the way the image comes across. He's made it more dramatic. More striking. More newsworthy. I want to stress that this is indeed within the bounds of what I deem to be acceptable. It's what I do in PS too. A bit of dodging, a bit of burning and tweaking the contrast.
Is dodging and burning for dramatic effect any different to making things look "attractive"? I don't think so.
I agree that there is an ease to these things with PS, and yes, people will move some pixels around, remove blemishes and make people look thinner. They'll even add people or remove them. This used to happen in the "olden" days too though. I remember OJ Simpson was made to look darker on the cover of Time when he was on trial, and the Russians were well known for it in the 1930s and 40s (this was discussed on the TV series Genius of Photography with Rodchenko's White Sea Canal, 1933). And what about Rejoinder? Yeah, it goes on. And it went on beforehand too.
I've not even started on framing and composition and (yet again) Errol Morris' elephant.
Prince proposes that “Rephotography is a technique for stealing (pirating) already existing images, simulating rather than copying them, ‘managing’ rather than quoting them. A re-photo is essentially an appropriation of what’s already real about an existing image and an attempt to add or additionalise this reality onto something more real”.
Source: Richard Prince - Biography, Exhibitions, and Art on ARTUNER
Images produced within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 30 kilometer radius no-entry area that was evacuated after the nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl Power Plant in 1986. The area contained one major city, Pripyat, over seventy villages and scores of farms. The people living in these locations were given twenty four hours to gather their possessions and were then moved to locations around the Ukraine, in most cases never to return.
Source: John Darwell – Category Default
It has been a while since I looked at this body of work, and I didn’t remember all of it. I only really remembered the sense of melancholy, of quiet and desertion. I was a little worried my approach to Le Loup… might end up like this (after the apocalypse…), but on re-looking at it, there will be quite some difference.
Artwork showing Sylvanian Families terrorised by Isis banned from free speech exhibitionIsis Threaten Sylvania by the artist Mimsy is removed from Passion for Freedom exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries, after police raise security concerns.Visitors to a London exhibition celebrating freedom of expression this week found plenty of familiar taboo-busting work, from Jamie McCartney’s The Great Wall of Vagina, an eight-foot long cast featuring the genitals of 400 women, to Kubra Khademi’s video of an eight-minute walk she made through Kabul in Afganistan, dressed in lushly contoured body armour. But they will have looked in vain for one work detailed in the catalogue by an artist known only as Mimsy.
Source: Artwork showing Sylvanian Families terrorised by Isis banned from free speech exhibition | Art and design | The Guardian
A: In what ways do you think your work interacts with and redefines the common spaces that you depict, particularly in abandoned spaces such as motels and strip malls?JB: Many of the motels I’ve chosen to photograph—older building stock representing the remnants of 1950s two-lane road culture—have seen better days. Instead of being overnight housing for a vacationing family as they once were, they are now sites of prostitution, drug dealing, or temporary shelter for society’s marginalised: the near-homeless, single mothers with children on government aid, or disabled veterans who are under-employed. This scenario is far from the road-trip ideal depicted in those happy road movies from the 1950s and 60s. These images, made in the late 1980 / early 1990s, don’t reflect the optimism of that prior era, but rather speak more about the failure of expectations, and the slow demise of “the dream” where something has gone awry (see Motel Drive, Fresno, 1992; Highway 395, Inyokern, California 1989; Moab, Utah 1992).Another motel image in the exhibition (Incursion V, Green River, Wyoming, 2014) deals with an entirely different issue: corporate America’s subjugation of the landscape and disregard for natural beauty. In this case a Hampton Inn gets built adjacent to historic landforms that once guided 19th century pioneering Americans travelling along the Oregon Trail. This aesthetic despoiling of the countryside is troubling to me. Instead of being sites of community, which the original developers hailed them as, we find alienated shoppers seeking solace by buying more “stuff” amidst a backdrop of stultifying, homogenous architecture, fluorescent lights, and garish display (see Franchised Landscapes #10, #20, #26, and Wal-Mart At Night). Hopefully my photographs highlight the discrepancies between diaphanous myth and concrete reality.
Jeff seems a really nice chap, and was certainly really helpful when I approached him for help for Ruscha’s Gasoline Stations Revisited. I’m hoping to get to Diffusion, although it may well prove difficult, but Jeff’s work would be good to see first hand, not to mention that of Todd Hido…
Source: Aesthetica Magazine – Interview with Photographer Jeff Brouws, Diffusion Photo Festival, Ffotogallery
Earlier this week I heard the news that one of the photographers that I’ve long admired, Takuma Nakahira, had passed away at the age of 77. Nakahira was one of the triumvirate of Provoke photographers, alongside the Yutaka Takanashi and the more celebrated (in the West) Daido Moriyama (who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago). Daido joined Provoke after the first issue had been published by Takanashi and Nakahira, with Koji Taki (a critic) and Takahiko Okada (a writer). The magazine looked to interrogate the relationship between the printed word and image, and it featured the following manifesto:
“The image by itself is not a thought. It cannot possess a wholeness like that of a concept. Neither is it an interchangeable code like language. Yet its irreversible materiality – the reality that is cut out by the camera – constitutes the opposite side of language, and for this reason at times it stimulates the world of language and concepts. When this happens, language transcends its fixed and conceptualised self, transforming into a new language, and therefore new thought.
At this singular moment – now – language loses its material basis – in short its reality – and drifts into space, we photographers must go on grasping with our own eyes those fragments of reality that cannot possibly be captured with existing language, actively putting forth materials against language and against thought. Despite some reservations, this is why we have given Provoke the subtitle “provocative materials for thought”.” (Vartanian, Kenekom, 2009, p17)
Their shared aesthetic was one of are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out of focus). In using this style, the photographers left information out of their images, reducing the clarity of narrative with the aim of creating “pure” images that were not so much a source of information, but a stimulus for questions. These questions are undoubtedly of a political nature given the economic and political status within Japan at the time, with cracks in the boom economy that came with American occupation beginning to appear. Certainly, Provoke style photography rebelled against what was perceived as a Japan becoming bland and perhaps somewhat sterile through subservience to the influence of American interactions and its pop culture. 1968, when Provoke was first published, was a turbulent time in Japan, and the rest of the world for that matter, and parallels can be drawn to the writings of Barthes, Debord and the Parisian troubles of that era.
There were three issues of Provoke, and the three photographers each created a photobook during the same era, For a Language to Come (Kitanubeki Kotoba no Tamenu) by Nakahira was the first of these books and was, from my understanding, the most political, railing against America and the way that the city was changing (and therefore the very essence of Japanese community too). The images across the pages are difficult to read because of the aesthetic, but also because they’re also very much black, and white, with very little between. Perhaps this is because the version I have, an Osiris reprint, will have to be based on the original book rather than on his original negative (he became depressed because they didn’t go far enough in terms of his new “language”, and he destroyed many of them). The original book will have been printed in a gravure method, with rich and deep, inky blacks. Perhaps it’s because many of the images are taken at night, starkly contrasted with the bright Tokyo neon. Whichever, the lack of definitive and descriptive information certainly achieved their goal, and will, I suspect, put many viewers off looking at them. They’re aggressive and difficult to fathom, you have to work at it. Personally, I find the reward makes this worthwhile.
Images from osiris.co.jp
Vartanian, I. Kenekom, R. 2009. Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s. New York. Aperture Foundation.
I came to this via Twitter and it struck me (quite obviously) as being related to last term's Ruscha's Gasoline Stations Revisited project... Some interesting effects, but I'm really not convinced it's something I want to explore any further. I feel like I've done it and need to move to something (a little) different. I fear that the process and the corruption it produces can become more important than the context and meaning.
According to his online biography, artist Brandon Seidler grew up in a part of New Jersey "where the ocean and the mountains met," a place that taught him to see the beauty in imperfections. These days, those early imperfections take center stage in Seidler's career as a photographer. His hallucinatory series, "Impure," features landscapes that appear to be ripped straight from a vintage science-fiction film, with colors and shapes blending in ways both creepily familiar and altogether alien. But sci-fi they are not. Seidler captures real places, mostly lands in and around New Jersey and the Hudson River, that have been historically contaminated by various chemical pollutants. He then takes his photographic negatives and soaks them in the very same chemicals found to be befouling the bodies of water and land he's documenting. The results attempt to reveal the tainted realities of America's natural havens.
"I started this project my senior year at Ramapo College of New Jersey," Seidler explained to The Huffington Post. "Originally I was just taking pictures and finding ways to alter the camera or film with chemicals. After a few critiques I decided that I needed to add something to my images to help give them meaning, and that’s when I decided to research chemical spills in the area and pair those chemicals with the film negatives."
Source: Chemical-Soaked Photographs Explore The Wild Realities Of Polluted Places
Stephen Shore photographed his iconic South of Klamath Falls in 1973. It's probably one of the first of his photographs I remember seeing, although maybe it actually wasn't. Many of his photographs are "ordinary" and don't necessarily stick quite so readily in the memory banks. In the video interview (below) he talks about how Klamath Falls is so obviously a photograph - "it didn't take a great leap of imagination", whereas the 70s lamp isn't, although it has become nostalgic. It was about what it looks like. Whilst I can't revisit Shore's hotel room, this is sort of what's at the heart of my After Stephen Shore project; to see what it looks like now.
With South of Klamath Falls being so iconic and significant for me, I was really happy to have found what looks like the location on GSV, the result of painstakingly moving along the road and seeing what the next section looks like, seeing if there are any clues that the location might be the same. In this case, unfortunately the billboard has gone, but there is enough to make me think it is right. Shore's journey is being layered with another temporal journey, an evidential progression that indeed illustrates what the passage of time has done to a space.
This comparison Shore makes in the video also brings in something I've long thought about, the fact that the meaning of photographs changes over time. I can imagine that, back in 1974, a large format photograph of a lamp in a hotel room will have been highly progressive. "It's not art" - still life "art" photography will still have been thought about in many corners as something the likes of Kertész made with his La Fourchette from 1928. Of course, this was changing as the modernists were being edged out, but Shore's photograph pre-dated Eggleston's colour MoMA show in 1976 which was credited as heralding the arrival of colour photography in the art world. Back to my point though, Shore states the image has become "nostalgic". All the "banal" or otherwise ordinary things that are being photographed today will soon disappear. Perhaps as the nature of our society changes, they will disappear more quickly in physical terms, but will probably have been recorded in one way or another by the plethora of photographs taken. Granted, not all these photographs are "art", there a lot of Facebook and Flickr dross out there, but there are a lot of people working in the arts that do record, do document in an aesthetically pleasing and intellectually questioning way. That's something I like about photography - it can be both documentary and art at the same time. Yeah, the other arts can do as well, but photography does it for me.
Decryptage : Stephen Shore, South of Klamath Falls, 1973 L'Oeil de la Photographie
US97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, October 2013
Some background on French privacy laws, via The French Privacy Law | Photo This & That.
Laws about shooting and publishing photos and videoBefore taking a photo of someone you are required by law to ask the individual’s permission. If you want to publish it in anyway you have to ask their permission for each specific usage. Any object that is created by or is the copyright of an artist, or designer must have permissions to be published in specific contexts. Any owner of property can assert rights of ownership of property, again the photographer needs permissions to publish, regardless of whether the image was shot from a public or private space.
This could be a beautiful shot of the Eiffel Tower at night, with it’s beautiful lighting. However, without consent from the lighting designer, we could not publish the picture.
It is advisable in France to always get a signed written permission by individuals, owners of property and creators of original works, whatever the situation whether in a public or private space.
Individuals can use two different French laws to defend their rights against publication of their image:
The right of your own image (Droit d’image)
In France each individual has the exclusive right to their image and of who uses their image. Not only publishing the image but even taking the photo of someone, the photographer has to have the individuals permission under French Law. The fact that the person accepts to be photographed doesn’t mean that they accept to have their image published. A minor aged between 12 to 14 years old can be considered responsible enough to decide whether he/she gives the right to use his image.
Circumstances where the public right of information might be stronger than the individual’s right of one’s image
When someone places himself or herself is in a public place then there is already a measure of tacit consent already presumed but this is reflected in each individual case. Normally the person only has a right of complaint if he/she is a principal subject in the photo.
If someone is in a photo but not an essential element – or when the person is not recognizable – or is an accessory by chance – say in an image of a public monument, or statue, then it is generally considered that consent is not necessary, even though people have taken photographers or publishers to court over this. The same goes when the person is part of a crowd. But again each case is taken on its own merits, as to what is considered a crowd or an accessory or not.
But in all circumstances the persons dignity must be respected.
I came across La Vallee des Saints near Quénéquillec in Brittany when looking for something to take my sister to see when she came to our house for the first time. Not that she’s particularly interested in statues or saints, it just sounded interesting and isn’t very far away.
Calling the location “The Valley of the Saints” seems odd to me, it certainly feels like more of a hill – at least you walk up to the statue park. When you get there, it’s pretty impressive. Large statues are scattered around, generally towering above the onlooker. Apparently they’re saints although I don’t know their history. They’re all made from local (Breton) granite of different colours. They’re all made on site using industrial machinery.
The finish they achieve is really interesting. I’ve never thought about sculpture in any great depth before (I’ve been to Rodin’s museum in Paris, and yes, I’ve seen the very public stuff that has been there for years in London and other cities. I’ve just never really thought about them, and how they’re constructed. Here though, you can see (from a safe distance) the creation of a monolith using angle grinders and pneumatic jackhammers, smoke pouring out from the stone. From rough and raw granite through to a polished, glass-like surface, the statues were very tactile. They weren’t purely visual.
The interaction with the landscape was also worthy of appreciation. Brittany is quite a rugged land, hilly but not truly mountainous as you might consider the Alps or Pyrenees. In many ways it reminds me of the Pennines or Cumbria. These statues are within this landscape, tall but not competing with it. Pathways have been forged through the tall moorland grass but without recourse to tarmac. It’s an “outdoors” space. It works for me.
In terms of taking some photographs of the place, the day was one of those with bits of rain and a totally flat white sky that is often a bit of a bummer in terms of photography (depends what you want of course). The weather introduced its own interactions (half dry, half wet statues for example), and it would be good to go back again when the weather is different to see how the space works then.
La Vallee des Saints website - http://www.lavalleedessaints.com
I'm not sure where Cindy Bernard's Ask the Dust sits in direct relationship with my recent work. I have an idea, that of "revisiting" something from someone else's experiences, but there is a niggle as to whether that is really it. It's related, of course it is, but is it the whole story? And is there any link at all to my other work at all?
Cindy Bernard - http://www.sound2cb.com/atdtrilogy/
In Bernard's work, she has gone back to scenes from well known films, from Vertigo, Faster Pussycat... Kill Kill and Dirty Harry and rephotographed them as they were when she was there, rather than as they were 30, 40 years ago (or longer...). I have done this virtually with Ruscha's Gasoline Stations Revisited and it is what I have started to explore with After Stephen Shore. She is in the LA area so can more easily visit the locations first hand. I use GSV.
Something else that does come through that has resonated within me and my early thoughts of Stephen Shore is the familiarity of some of these scenes. Yes, many of them are iconic films such as the afore mentioned Vertigo, but the films and the views from them all seem somehow familiar. Visual culture, notably from Hollywood cinema, but also for me from photography, has shaped the way we experience things that we have no direct experience of. I have never been to San Francisco, but I recognise the scene from Vertigo of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is in my memory. Similarly, one of the things I mentioned in my introduction notes on After Stephen Shore was that I felt a familiarity with the subjects of his images that should be illogical, but I feel that it stems from watching TV years ago (Kojak, Starsky and Hutch or The Streets of San Francisco). Not so much now, although maybe... I do feel a certain affinity with the landscapes of Breaking Bad because of the images from Shore, Ruscha and others.
The more I consider these things, the more I feel that memory is a fragile thing and easily mislead.