We have all looked at millions of images and seen many and varied approaches to photographic representation. It is interesting how representational styles ebb and flow during different historical times. One that I have long been drawn toward is that of the New Realists as the images appeared to show the mundane things around us in a new light. Of course I can’t imagine what it was like for someone to see such images when they were created. Imagine seeing Paul Strand’s Geometric Back Yards in 1917 or Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Sempervivum Tabulaeforme in 1922.
I suspect I’d have been more used to paintings and Pictoralist photography back then and so these images – not wholly abstract yet not traditional still life or landscapes – showed the world in a new way and would have challenged my perspective. Many of the most famous images of these men are their most radical where they are, or at least border on, being abstract. Yet if you look at books like Joy Before the Object (Renger-Patzsch, 1994) you can see that even simple landscape compositions emphasise shape and form within a frame because of the photographer’s approach. In so doing they say something very different about the subject matter.
I like RP’s approach to subject matter. That is he takes something we think we know and shows it in a way that reveals other, new, aspects of it. This makes the invisible visible.
How often do we really look and the geometry of roofs? His photos display not only the subject matter but do so in ways that offer more than simple documentation. They emphasise shape and line and use the point of view and framing to create and emphasise relationships but they are never fully abstract. By the time of WW2 he turned away from industrial photography and focussed on nature. (And one can see why – that is the march of depression, totalitarianism, conflict and failure that accompanied his experience of modernisation). He returned to the Forest. So is there an equivalent Paul Strand and Albert Renger-Patzsch in contemporary art?
There are many famous conceptual artists such as Damien Hurst, Tracy Emin, Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood but I couldn’t readily site any that worked in purely digital formats or that make the invisible visible in the way the New Realists did. The only photographer that resonates although different in approach would be Andreas Gursky as nearly all of his images offer such strong form.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I began to work on a set. I kept my approach focussed on things I use to manage my impairment but also used light to emphasise form and shape. Here are some results.
I like these for their form and evocation but they are too close to the work I did for my BA (see here) and I feel that I am almost back to where I was this last Monday (here). I want to try and find something new to say about my experience now rather than repeat what I was saying back then.
I began looking back at the week’s work and spent some time contrasting two of the approaches and this seemed to work in a new way.
The different approaches appear to me to work off each other and modulate the view. We see items both isolated and very close and this hopefully evokes a sense of isolation and reduction – maybe compartmentalisation – that I like.
Struggling to find my voice
I am still not content with the work and am struggling to find my voice just now. However Jonathan has given us all a deadline of next Tuesday for us to have reviewed and prepared an updated project proposal. This is timely and so I will spend the weekend working on this and hopefully it will give me back the focus I need.
Renger-Patzsch A. (1994) Joy Before The Object, Aperture