Thoughts from David Campany and Paul Graham

Posted on September 8, 2012


Its a long time since I have posted to the blog. This should not be taken as inactivity. I have been progressing on a number of fronts simultaneously. My Urban Artists work is now very well advanced. I have had feedback from my tutor on Assignment 3 – I am an Ironman Self Portraits. I have visited three exhibitions in New York – Weegee (ICP), Rineke Dijkstra (Guggenheim) and Taryn Simon (MOMA). I have completed most of my portraits for the I am an Ironman series. And I have been reading widely focusing on work by Diane Arbus, Broomberg and Chanarin, Lee Friedlander, Paul Graham, Taryn Simon and Rineke Dijkstra. I have also decided on the structure of my written critical review which will be about Disarming the pose – strategies used by portrait photographers to distract sitters from conscious self presentation. I will be reporting on all of these in the next few weeks.

In my reading I occasionally come across ideas which are likely to have a major influence on my future photographic practice. I have not always noted these as I have been going along – a mistake I plan not to repeat!! Here are two such ideas in the form of quotations. The first is from a review by critic David Campany on Broomberg and Chanarin’s photo book Red House (Broomberg and Chanarin). The review was published in Aperture magazine (Campany). The book is a different take on war photography where Broomberg and Chanarin documented graffitti made by Kurdish prisoners who had been held in the Red House. Campany contrasts war photography from the ‘golden era’ with what he calls ‘Late Photography.

Many photographers have responded to the eclipse of their medium by seeing it as a new challenge and a new possibility. They approach the relative primitivism of their means of representation as an advantage, even a virtue. They forego the medium’s prior grasp of events, leaving them to video and television. They opt instead to take as their subject the aftermath of those events. In a reversal of Robert Capa’s call to get close to the action, proximity is often replaced by distance. Quick reactions give way to slow deliberation. The jittery snapshot is replaced by a cool and sober stare. Lateness replaces timeliness. The event is passed over for its traces. Here reportage takes a forensic turn and in doing so it openly accepts that it will be an insufficient and partial account of things. Most often it lands upon leftovers and signs of damage, both of which are highly photogenic but not easy to decipher. The image beomes a trace of a trace. More to the point this is an overtly allegorical mode of photography. The images present themselves as fragments not wholes, to be read through and against a backdrop of other media representations of warfare and international conflict. Photography becomes a second wave of representation, returning to look again at what was first understood, or misunderstood through television.

These sentiments struck a huge cord with me. I have been thinking for some time about what it is about  photography engages me so much. The more I have thought about it the more I have reaffirmed a view that it is photography’s inherent strengths – its ability to freeze a moment in time and to capture vast amounts of detail,  allowing the viewer time to look carefully and slowly, to see things which they might normally overlook and to contemplate what it means for them. The creation of work which plays to these strengths requires the documentary photographer to stand back and take time rather than rushing in and shooting from the hip.  It also seems to me that the photographic technique applied can reinforce this more slow deliberate approach. It is not surprising that some of the documentary photographers who approach their work in this way use large format cameras….Shore, Graham, Soth, Broomberg & Chanarin, Sternfeld, Kandar (Yangtse), Power, Epstein, Burtynsky etc. These are all photographers whose work I find very interesting. I believe I have made a start in this direction with my ‘ironman’ portraiture work. I could have very easily approached this project by using a dynamic reportage approach but in truth such an approach would have been better captured in video format. Instead I elected to produce a series of large still portraits which invite quiet scrutiny  and cross comparison by the viewer.

The second quotation is from an interview with Paul Graham conducted by Gillian Wearing which was published in the Phaidon book Paul Graham (Graham).   It is concerned with the issue of how well resolved photographs should or should not be. Perhaps it is my mathematics and business background which leads me to want to create photographs which fully explain themselves….I should be very wary of this!!!

Art isn’t about providing answers, is it? It’s more about the questions – asking thought-provoking, unexpected, unarticulated questions.

Broomberg A. & Chanarin O. (2007) The Red House London: Steidl Editions

Campany, D.  The Red House Aperture magazine, issue 185, November 2006

Graham P. (1996) Paul Graham London:Phaidon