Photography: What is Contemporary and What is Not?

This week, my objective is to understand the meaning of what is contemporary in the forefront of my field.  The answer to this question is that contemporary photography is that which brings focus to subject matter that is unusual and abstract, subject matter that the viewer has not come across before.

To further acknowledge this question, my research activity has involved observing the works of photographers I have previously come across as well as general visual brainstorming. Upon my survey, I have found that every image I have observed is completely unique in its own way.  From this I have learned that contemporary photography is method, process, futuristic and nostalgic and references life now as well as then.  However, contemporary photography can also reference how we wish life to be.  To follow up on this brainstorming activity, I have selected three particular categories which I find acknowledges the contemporary to a high extent.

 

Fine Art / Atmospheric Photography

Finding the contemporary in fine art category is never difficult due to its diversity in subject matter and location.  Fine art and ambient photographers such as Berndnaut Smilde and Gregory Crewdson are contemporary in how they transport the audience to a make believe setting where the audience is encouraged to question the narrative, the location and the subject matter all at once.  In photography such as this, it is a common to find that we can never fully understand the image or if we do, the viewer is still left to consider alternative possibilities to what they are seeing or to think of a further development in a visual narrative. The ‘contemporary’ is found in the act of making the audience use their imagination and to become immersed into an image.

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B, Smilde. ‘Nimbus D’Aspremont’. 2012′

Portrait Photography

In portrait photography, we can find the contemporary in aspects of fashion, make up art as well as recognition of the person in the photograph. Portrait photography is a category where the viewer is given full perspective of the individual where they may find they can gain interest or even relate to this person in some way.  Portrait photography is contemporary in how we can observe character in more ways than one.  Portraits can reveal people in a completely realistic and photojournalistic way where the images would be used in front page magazines and other forms of public social newsfeed.  In this instance we learn about the person in the image as the viewer is given additional information but also a realistic outlook of that person’s life.  However, portrait photography can also involve playing a role where the individual is placed as a set up character that they represent.  The contemporary in this if found in how we would expect to perceive a person (for example a celebrity in a fashion magazine) but also how we are given a more personal insight of a person that represents how we would not expect to see them.

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C. Sherman. ‘Film Still no 21’. 1984

Still Life Photography

Still Life photography can be contemporary not only for general art photography display but also in advertising product promotion.  This category can show objects or natural life forms in a perspective that is experimental and daring where the viewer develops a desire or bond with the item they are observing.  This can be done by photography the subject matter in a sense where it is given its own character or where it can be related to locations and activities.  Still life photography canals provide a sentimental value and also can address its importance by having the subject matter photographed in a dramatic sense.  Photographers such as Victoria Ivanova uses this to create a sense that even though an object is so small and ordinary, it is made to look as it it is the most important thing in the universe.  The contemporary is found in how still life is treated to appear more than what it is through exaggerated composition.

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Victoria Ivanova. ‘The Monument’

 

References

Copyright Berndnaut Smilde (2016) ‘Works‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.berndnaut.nl (Accessed 27/07/2016)

ARR MOMA (2016) ‘Cindy Sherman-Gallery 2‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.moma.org (Accessed 27/07/2016)

ARR WOoarts (2016) ‘Victoria Ivanova‘ {Online] Available from: http://www.wooarts.com (Accessed 25/07/2016)

Marton Perlaki and Berndnaut Smilde

Marton Perlaki

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M. Perlaki. ‘Bird, Bald, Book, Bubble, Brick, Potato’. 2014-16

Marton Perlaki is a contemporary photographer from Budapest who collaborates portraiture with still life.  Marton has exhibited internationally and in 2015, his work featured in the National portrait Gallery for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.  Perlaki has also been commissioned by various magazines.

Perlaki’s works strike a sense of ambiguity as he photographs a variety of subject matter from scenic views to close up perspectives of still life or portraiture.  One thing that Perlaki is well known for is how he groups or pairs images together in which he uses random materials often with ambient or dull lighting.  Perlaki often uses his images to reference each other as a way to relate the form or an aspect of subject matter.  For example, an image of the back of a man’s head from his most recent series ‘Bird, Bald, Book, Bubble, Brick, Potato’ (2014-16) Perlaki places a cartoon image of a potato with the anonymous portrait, referencing the similarities between the form of the man’s head and the potato’s familiar shape.

Another selection of images that strikes me includes an image of the artist himself peering into a bucket of water that sits on a plinth.  Here, Perlaki addresses the need for the natural element of water and could also reference the workplace as the man wears suit trousers.  It may even reference more than one workplace as the objects in the image could suggest a reference to a construction environment.  Perlaki keeps the scene clean only using basic objects, costuming and background.

I admire how Perlaki creates quirky compositions and observes spaces of different kinds and perspectives.  He leaves the viewer hanging by having the individual interact with objects in an odd manner and I think this makes the content more thought provoking as he also photographs from awkward angles where we may be unsure of what the subject matter actually is.  This brings further interest towards how I use interaction with objects in terms of having objects observed using different methods.

Berndnaut Smilde

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B, Smilde. ‘Indoor Cloud no 8’

Artist and photographer Berndnaut Smilde works with installation to create atmospheric imagery that brings question to space and its construction or deconstruction.  Smilde often presents narratives that focus on the fragility of space but also brings in subject matter that symbolises hope.  Following his studies at the Frank Mohr Institute, Smilde has become a leading figure in staged photography in which he has exhibited internationally and has been commissioned for various magazines.

One particular series that has grabbed the attention of art critics and the general art community is the ‘Nimbus’ series in which Smilde uses light, water and air to create real clouds within interior buildings.  By adjusting the temperature in the room, Smilde acts as the prefect example when using natural forms and elements as visual subject matter where we see these forms in spaces we would not normally find them.  The images are set within empty rooms in finely decorated buildings as well as abandoned buildings where the rooms are worn and old.  The images bring an eerie presence in the room surroundings and the way in which Smilde uses lighting to backlight the clouds forms evokes intensity but also curiosity.  The clouds almost act as lonely figures wondering the space as if trying to find a way in or out.

Smilde is an artist I am familiar with and I still find his photography unique as the process of creating these works are effectively inventive.  I admire how he sets the scene with no individual persons featured; Smilde creates a relationship between the space and the viewer alone.  Smilde also creates a merging relationship between the interior and exterior by breaking the rules and placing something of a worldly nature with an isolated environment.  I find this inspirational to my own creative practice as Smilde presents an intriguing and special subject that observes a life form that should exist elsewhere; this influences me to bring natural forms indoors and use these forms to an extent where the audience feels they are witnessing something from an alternate universe.

References

ARR Marton Perlaki (2016) ‘Bird Bald Book Bubble Brick Potato (2014-2016)‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.martonperlaki.com (Accessed 27/07/2016)

ARR Webber Represents (2016) ‘Marton Perlaki‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.webberrepresents.com (Accessed 25/07/2016)

Copyright Berndnaut Smilde (2016) ‘Works‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.berndnaut.nl (Accessed 27/07/2016)

‘Photo of The Week’ and Week Review

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David Claerbout ‘KING’, 1956, 3D Animation presented in 2015, Parasol Unit Gallery

Within the Parasol Unit gallery, David Claerbout presents a 3-dimensional experience that observes one of the world’s greatest music icons in history, Elvis Presley.  The image which was first photographed in 1956 captures the music ‘King’ in a relaxed home setting before Elvis reached fame.  The experience takes the viewer on an intimiate tour of Elvis’s body from various angles with the camera slowly zooming in from his feet and zooming out from his just above the torso.  The 3-dimensional image was created by gathering together a collection of original images taken by Alfred Wertheimer observing different parts of Elvis’s body.  I found the experience of viewing this 3-dimensional image the most uncanny piece in the exhibition as I felt it brought a sense that there was more to learn from this image.  The experience makes the viewer feel as if they are going to witness something unexpected or a change of positions in the image, similarly to that of a freeze frame photograph.  I, personally felt as if I were waiting for a reveal but it never came and I find this psychologically challenging in some sense.

The Week Review

To review my progress of my recent activities, I feel I have made a good start in terms of researching work by visiting shows in London.  Doing this has given me new potential ideas of how I can interpret nature and objects by executing basic narratives.  Upon sharing my ideas in tutorial, I have gathered new additional plans of participating in studio workshops as I intend to put my ideas to practice while also learning more about the basic principles of studio photography.  This will be useful in determining how I intend to light my subject matter when shooting the narrative.

I now intend to begin phase 1 of my photographic practice in which I have two ideas of progressing with the theme of the four natural elements;

Idea 1: Using fabric material to represent the natural elements – This idea will involve observing the movement of fabric material in which I intend to experiment with various methods such as the material in the air and capturing its form as a suspended object.  I have chosen to use fabric as I find it will work as a flexible item where I can change its form manually.  I will first begin with the element of water and use a blue fabric to represent this and I shall use a plain white background to bring complete focus on the subject matter.  I shall later experiment with portraiture by featuring an individual in this experiment by interacting with the fabric.

Idea 2: Simple gestures with forms of the natural elements  – This idea will involve placing objects within a blank white space and have the individual uses their senses to interact with the element of that object.  I intend for the narrative of this to pursue the narrative stages accurately as said in my proposal in which these include the uncertain stage, the experimental stage, the emotional stage, the discovery stage and the acceptance stage.  I intend for the individual to perform the senses including touch and smell as well as performing other gestures such as closing the eyes or lying down.  These gestures are intended to represent how the elements affect the individual in both body and mind where I shall interpret this by creating a spiritual atmosphere where the individual is in touch with their personal being.

These ideas shall be the foundation of my developmental narrative process where my first focus will be on how the being relates to the elements through direct contact.

References

ARR David Claerbout (2016) ‘Video Projections‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.davidclaerbout.com (Accessed 23/07/2016)

ARR Parasol Unit Gallery (2016) ‘Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.parasol-unit.org (Accessed 23/07/2016)

Exhibitions Part 2- Flowers Gallery and Rochini Gallery

Flowers Gallery – Boomoon

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Boomoon. ‘Skogar and Sansu’ 2016

Korean Fine Art photographer Boomoon presents the series ‘Skogar and Sansu’ in the Flowers gallery, London.  The series brings a collection of large scale prints depicting the movements of a waterfall both in colour and in black and white.

Following his studies in photography at the Chung-Ang University, Boomoon began his photographic career exploring the urban street environment in which he observed narratives involving the community and the endangered world in Korea.  Boomoon received some controversial judgements following his series ‘Photo Poems’, however, this ono strengthened Boomoon to delve deeper into worldly encounters of social modernisation but also nature.  Following his documentary work set within endangered villages in Korea, Boomoon began to focus more intensely on landscapes  as a way to express reflection and to emanate the concept of presence and absence.  Key works such as ‘On the Clouds’ explore nature with sentimental value and emphasises on the very existence of nature at its purest.

‘Skogar and Sansu’ brings a new approach to how one views water where Boomoon allows the audience to identify with water as a life form that is continuous in the state of falling.  The waterfalls in the series are placed from the exact same position and the only thing that we can see change in the images is how the water moves; in some images we see a mist of water vapour in the air as the water crashes to the bottom while other images show the waterfall with more clarity.  Boomoon captures the element of water at its most natural state and concentrates on nothing else.  We are not only able to see how the water falls but we are also able to see a second type of movement seen in the waves created from the waterfall.  Boomoon creates intense contrast in these images which highlights the various arrow like forms seen within the waterfall.

I find the series brings a sense of tranquility but also of power when viewing this natural form where Boomoon is aware of the element of rhythm.  I particularly admire his fuse of the blue colour filter when presenting waterfalls as well as other snowy landscape imagery where he captures the movement of falling snow.

Rochini Gallery – Massimo Vitali

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Italian photographer Massimo Vitali is a returning influence to my creative practice when observing both people and landscapes together as a harmonious collaboration.  The exhibition in the Rochini gallery presents several large prints of large tourist gatherings in Italy.  Upon viewing these large pieces, I find myself almost lost in the image as there is a lot to take in.  Countless people and events happening in one picture all at once is something that Vitali is well known for and I still admire how he gives the audience a distanced perspective that is far away enough to witness everything but close enough to pick out individual activities for the viewer to guess what is happening.

However, these images were not the only thing that caught my attention. One other image is completely opposite to Vitali’s usual observation of crowded spaces.  The image ‘Lencois Achrome’ depicts an empty landscape with only sand and sky as the central subject matter with not a single person in sight.  This image appears very pale and presents a cleaner style of voyeuristic photography in comparison to Vitali’s other images featuring people.  There is a much greater sense of space as the audience is open to observe as far as possible into the unknown distance.

I find Vitali’s images with less people bring more devotion to sensual experience which brings a ‘less is more’ perspective where the viewer can concentrate on particular aspects that is not too overwhelming.

Conclusion

I have found visiting these galleries has brought me a variety of different views and experiences.  I found the galleries where I received most influence was the works within the Parasol Unit gallery and the Flowers gallery in which I have particular interest in the works of Boomoon and Stephen Shore.  Both artists present landscape in different ways; while Shore presents a perspective of how we occupy the landscape occupied as living space, Boomoon presents a perspective of landscape with no disturbance.  This has been useful toward my practical development where I can experiment with simplifying my subject matter as well as creating images of a collage nature.

References

ARR Flowers Gallery (2016) ‘Exhibitions-Skogar and Sansu‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.flowersgallery.com (Accessed 21/06/2016)

ARR Boomoon (2016) ‘Biography‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.boomoon.net (Accessed 21/06/2016)

ARR Rochini Gallery (2016) ‘Massimo Vitali’ {Online} Available from: http://www.ronchinigallery.com (Accessed 21/06/2016)

 

Exhibitions Part 1-Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit Galleries

Installation Inspiration: Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro Gallery

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To begin my project research, I decided to revisit the works of installation sculpture artist Yayoi Kusama who is currently featuring her work at the Victoria Miro gallery in London.  Once again, Kusama presents her famous creations of sculpture and mirror rooms in which the theme explores the pumpkin form.  The exhibition brings a variety of immersive installation; one of the three featured mirror rooms ‘Chandelier of Grief’ consists of a rotating chandelier in the room’s centre as it reflects onto the mirrored walls creating a never ending pattern of the object.  Another mirror room ‘Where the Lights in my Heart Go’ is presented with punctured holes in the walls, creating the immersive illusion of stars when viewing from inside the room space.

However, it is the mirror pumpkin room that particularly caught my attention.  Kusama’s interior lit pumpkin sculptures transport the viewer on a whole new level.  What I found interesting about this installation in particular is how the luminosity of the sculptures as a repeated, reflective strikes the viewer as soon as one steps inside.  One thing that all three mirror rooms share in common is that viewers can only view inside the rooms for approximately 20-30 seconds.  This principle of viewing the work within a limited time makes the experience all the more valuable and this tactic has given me a new perspective of how installations that consist of entering a confined space would be carried out when presented to the public.

Yayoi Kusama also features several pumpkin sculptures outside of the mirror rooms within the gallery space.  This gives the audience a teaser of what they will find inside the mirror rooms, creating further suspense to the main display.  I find this an effective method of ‘build up’ of the central piece as this allows viewers to ponder the subject and encourages them to find out more.

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I found exploring Kusama’s most recent installation work very refreshing and I have found influence in how she creates an example of featuring items as individual pieces that still relate to the leading piece.  Although there is no photograph in sight, I have found my viewing experience of this show has given my ideas of using objects within the gallery space a major impact.  This comes in terms of separating images and objects but still relating them as partnered subject matter. From viewing this gallery, I feel I have learned new approaches to still life and how it can interact with the main event by ‘filling the space’ to give further establishment of atmosphere and theme.

Parasol Unit: ‘Magical Surfaces- The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography’

Stephen Shore

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S. Shore. Cabin, Badland National Monument, SD, July 14, 1973

American photographer Stephen Shore is widely known for his quaint documentary, suburban images of everyday American culture.  Following the success of his first solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Shore has featured his work in galleries and shows internationally including major galleries such as the Museum of Modern Art.  Shore has also published various books and acts as a fellowship member of the Guggenheim Foundation.  As well as working as a professional photographer, Shore is also a professor at and director within educational institutes.

Shore’s contribution to the exhibition comes as a series of various images taken in lonesome American environments. The series of five images featured brought the observation of quiet buildings, billboards, and street views set in wide spaces that brings a sense of ambiguity; there are no people in the images. Shore creates a light but also empty atmosphere as although the images appear bright and uplifting in lighting, they possess a very still and quiet atmosphere.  One could almost say the images are too quiet.  The series presents a controversial outlook in its approach toward the exhibition’s theme, however I do find the series brings a presence of absence in each image that may have the viewer question the setting.  Where are all the towns people? Is something about to happen or has it already happened?  This series also brings me back to reflect on the work of Gregory Crewdson in which Shore follows a similar example of presenting the audience with thought provoking possibilities of the narrative behind the image.

Joel Sternfeld

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J. Sternfeld. ‘McLean, Virginia, December 1978’

Fine Art photographer Joel Sternfeld works with large format cameras to create poignant documentary images of urban environments in the United States.  Following early education in the arts, Sternfeld began his career exploring colour theory in which he primarily took up street photography.  The series ‘American Prospects’ is one of his most famous works where one of the images depicts a field of pumpkins as a house fire is seen to in the background.  Sternfeld brings a sense of irony to his images as they possess hidden details that may not be all too obvious to the viewer at first.  However, upon looking closely at these details, Sternfeld relates the subject matter together as it if were a particular theme, especially in terms of colour.  For example, the fire in the image ‘Virginia’ (1978) there appears to be a dominant colour theme of orange as the fire in the background resonate with the colour of the pumpkins in the field.

In other images such as ‘Exhausted Renegade Elephant’ (1979) Sternfeld gives slight distance between the viewer and the subject matter as the viewer is made to look closer to see the occurring events in the image.  Clues of narrative events are left for the audience to discover themselves and this brings the audience to take on a detective role in learning of how the narrative events occurred in the first place.  Sternfeld is also known for capturing locations of historical events where in the Series ‘American Prospects-Strangers Passing’ Sternfeld captures both the landscape and the people he meets on his journey.

I find Sternfeld brings a noble balance between drama and simple observation as his work gives the audience something to witness, however at the same time, we are left to explore deeper to find hidden truths about the imagery that may present a different perspective on the main subject matter.  I admire how Sternfeld does this as there is no exaggeration of the narratives as we are only allowed to view the subject matter from a distance.

References

ARR Stephen Shore (2016) ‘Biography-Photographs‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.stephenshore.net (Accessed 01/06/2016)

ARR Luhring Augustine (2016) ‘Joel Sternfeld‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.luhringaugustine.com (Accessed 01/06/2016)

ARR The Photographers Gallery (2016) ‘Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography‘ [Online} Available from: http://www.parasol-unit.org (Accessed 01/06/2016)

AAR Victoria Miro Gallery (2016) ‘Yayoi Kusama: All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins and the Chandelier Grief‘ {Online} Available from: http://www.victoria-miro.com (Accessed 01/06/2016)