Saturday, 29 June 2013

Book: Photography Theory. Chapter 2: Starting Points

Conceptual Limitations of our reflection on Photography
The Question of “Interdisciplinarity”
Jan Baetens

This essay discusses the question of interdisciplinarity. There is a quick discussion at the start on photographic time and medium specificity. What is the difference between ‘meaning’ and ‘context’? Photography is no longer considered to be one single medium, and the practices of looking and making photographs are separated. Baetens states that ‘Interdisciplinarity is seen as the panacea we need in order to escape the limits of disciplinary and narrowing methods’, however the question is, what does ‘interdisciplinarity’ actually mean? (Elkins, 2007, p55).

When photography was invented, discussions on photography were held by photographers themselves. This contrasts with modern photography, where ‘specialists’ discuss photography (think of the key names in photography: Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, John Berger, and Roland Barthes, who are all first and foremost writers). Here Baetens asks if we can really talk about interdisciplinarity when the ‘professional discourse on an object is detained almost monopolistically by one type of scholars’? (Elkins, 2007, p58).

Following on from this, what impact has literature had on shaping photography? Diminishing discussions on ‘technological fetishism’ is one example (Elkins, 2007, p59) is mentioned, though any look online on a photography forum will still find predominately interest in this area (though perhaps this is not considered in the same category?). This has brought photography more in line with the other ‘arts’ and into culture. By reading photography in an interdisciplinary way, the basic assumption that a photograph is merely pictorial has been contested. Instead, it allows the photograph (or series) to considered temporal – that is it can be linked to the elements of time, story and fiction (Elkins, 2007, p60). Finally, literal discourse has allowed photography to be freed from only being for ‘meaning’ only – that is, the meaning can be determined by the viewer to be what he/she wants it to be.

It must be considered that the literary view of photography is the dominant one. That means that it can be said that interdisciplinarity narrows as much as it opens (Elkins, 2007, p62). Considering the temporal nature of photographs which has been emphasised by literary scholarship on photography has resulted in, for example, the ‘traces of the temporality of the picture’s taking and deciphering’, and also the ‘fascination with sequential arrangement of pictures’ (Elkins, 2007, p62). Thus interdisciplinary reading of photographs has resulted in a separation between two types of images: those which can be read within a temporal perspective, and those where it is simply not relevant.
Baetens closes the essay by summarising that though interdisciplinarity has its weaknesses, it is important to continue, though perhaps in a different direction. Photographic discourse should make room for research by artists (the real specialists in their field!). This is a trend I think we are seeing more and more since the advent of online blogs. Artists and scholars should work together to produce knowledge together. This also becomes easier with increased global connectivity. And we need to accept that there are limits to both words and images. ‘… whatever the obstacles may be, images do manage to say something, whereas words do not necessarily fail  to do the same? …clear and distinct ideas, not as something given that is to be dismissed because it can never be attained, but as a possible horizon for our efforts?’ (Elkins, 2007, P68).

An interesting discussion on a topic I’ve never considered before relating to how photography is discussed. I have read Sontag and a little bit of Barthes, but had only fleetingly considered that they were not photographers themselves. And It’s interesting to consider what influences photography critics and writings on photography have on the development of photography as a medium.

Elkins, James (2007) Photography Theory New York: Taylor & Francis Group, LCC

Assignment 4: Feedback

I received my feedback this week for Assignment 4, which was, predictably, not as good as some I've had. I'm OK with this but take all the comments on board as points to improve from.

My main issue was, as my tutor pointed out, access to the subject. I probably should have realised that this was a problem and stopped trying to get the photo, but once I had it, I thought it was better than it was, and this was my problem! And once I had worked on it and edited it and put all the nice neat text on it, I thought it was good, when in reality it was only average. A learning point. It's never too late (except after submission!!) to admit that I am wrong about an image and just start over! But I didn't (although but submitting a second example of my work I was in a way hedging my bets!) and next time need to just consider that I need to only present my best work even if it means 'wasted' time.

Anyway, enough on that, the main issues were (apart from accessibility):
  • Take more photos, different angles/focal lengths/apertures/lighting. Spend more time just looking at the scene and thinking about how best it can be photographed.
  • Use a tripod
  • Don't use lenses at maximum or minimum focal lengths and apertures - they are not as sharp (I have read this before but should probably do some specific reading on my lenses perhaps?)
  • Don't crop too heavily (more than 25% of image is too much)

In addition,there is a green colour cast on the flower. I'm disappointed in myself for not noticing this... I am not particularly good at looking at colour casts on the screen, and as I look at the print next to me (which I should have printed prior to submitting the assignment, not afterwards), I can also see the cast. So I need to do more printing also, and be critical of the prints. Now that I'm based in Adelaide with an excellent professional printer a short cycle from my office, I should have no excuses for not doing more regular printing.

My 'design' is fine, though my tutor has some excellent advice for future design assignments which makes for interesting reading.

I also should perhaps engage in more specific technical research, and subject-specific contextual research. This I have done more for my final assignment, but need to remember it for all projects.

My 'alternative' image does not suffer from the same problems, so I will be submitting this one for assessment instead, though I have made some small tweaks to the colour/vibrance of it in order to liven it up a bit. I also toned down the colour of the text as my tutor mentioned that very vibrant text colours could be difficult for printing.

Adjusted image, Assignment 4
So, another the process continues. I hope to have more time moving forward for photography (now that the little one is bigger - almost 1!) and to be able to actually get out on my own occasionally to do some photography will be possible perhaps too. I take my tutors comments on board and will attempt to slow down more, still do more research, and take more care in composition in particular.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Artist/Photographer: Ian North

I just read a really interesting interview with South Australian Photographer Ian North, on ASX website. I have been eager to find out about contemporary Australian photographers, as most of my reading is very UK or USA focused. There is something about knowing someone works in the same part of the world that is appealing and interesting to me.

He captures landscapes that are quite familiar and yet foreign at the same time. The simplicity of the framing and slight imperfections are interesting (Gesalt is mentioned – the example below has a power line cutting through the top right corner, I would have cropped it out, and yet it gives the image form and draws the eye in). His use of light is mentioned also – something that I continue to challenge here in Australia – the light is just so strong and harsh and needs to be used carefully. The strong shadows in these images add a three-dimensional feel. The subject matter is simple and everyday – the kind that interests me personally. I find his work truly inspirational and I know it will help me find my own subject matter as I continue on in my studies.

“My concern was not to dwell on that banality but to capture gestalts, these concatenations of built form and nature, especially the wonderful skies, which formed coherent wholes” 
(, 2012)

Felicia 16 (Goolwa, Fleurieu Peninsula), 1976 from the ASX website for personal study purposes

He has also worked in Canberra, documenting the streets around the small city, and the interactions between the wilderness and suburbia. Some images are shown on the NGA website here. And I have copied a couple below that are reminiscent of my own images that I will present for my final assignment. The same brilliant skies and similar framing of the houses with trees – the interaction between home and nature appears to be an interest of North.

An image of Canberra suite no. 17 by Ian North
Canberra suite no. 17, from the series Canberra suite 1980-81, from the Art Gallery of NSW for personal study purposes
An image of Canberra suite no. 3 by Ian North
Canberra suite no. 3, from the series Canberra suite 1980-81, from the Art Gallery of NSW for personal study purposes

From the NGA website (my highlights):

North’s methodology is concerned with the processes of vision and interaction as they have shaped the landscape. In ‘Canberra Suite’ North presents an encyclopaedic record of Walter Burley Griffin’s intricately designed city, exploring the spatial interface between nature and humanity. The works are absent of human life – reminiscent of Ed Ruscha’s ‘Twenty-six Gasoline Stations’. The emotional ambivalence of the images is reflected in their use of colour, like that of postcards. As one of the first instances of larger format colour art photography in Australia, the images topographically map space as a depersonalised, banal subject. Yet their colour, like that of landscape painting, highlights flora, revealing the number of non-native plants included in Canberra’s design. As such, these artefacts of North’s private wanderings and systemic mode of looking are able to subtly critique colonialism.

I will continue to research this interesting artist, I share an interest in both his work and driving inquiry.

De Almeida, P (2012) ASX Website. Online, available at: [Accessed 27/06/13]
Art Gallery of NSW Website. Online, available at: [Accessed 27/06/13]