Project 2 – A durational space – Photographer Research
As part of the course we are asked at intervals to consider the works of, and research, certain photographers who have used techniques similar to, or the same as, those being studied in that particular part of the course.
For Project 2 of ‘Traces of Time’ which covers shutter priority and exposure times, I have chosen to do research on Robert Frank, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Francesca Woodman’s who have produced work which have parallels to the particular study area covered in this section. I have kept to one or two relevant points.
Frank (b: 1924 Switzerland) is an American photographer and film maker who used motion blur specifically as a style for creative effect. As a young man he went to New York and worked as a freelance photojournalist for magazines such as Harpers Bizarre and Vogue.
In the 1950s Frank secured a Guggenheim fellowship and was awarded a grant to go across America recording the everyday lives of Americans. Frank’s 1958 collection ‘The Americans’ has been one of the most notable bodies of work since the second world war. The collection is split in to 4 parts, each addressing a different aspect of American culture. The images are raw, not technically great but Frank wanted to capture a time, a feel and an emotion which he achieved through his methods albeit they were not the best technically produced images.
The course notes refer specifically to a 1955 image titled ‘Elevator girl’. Frank’s ‘new’ style was said to have appalled older photographers. In this photograph he used burred out of focus subjects and a tilted horizon, which portrayed immediacy but was against the standards that constituted a great photograph in the 1950s.
Interestingly, the use of elevator doors closing and opening as a motif, and as referenced in Geoff Dyer’s quote within the course “An elevator door is about to close, like a shutter that will open again, for a moment, not on another floor but in another building or another city” (Dyer, 2012, p210), has been used a lot in the art world over the years and is still being used today. This motif is also referenced in Christopher Doyle’s opening sequence of the film Chungking Express (1994).
Sugimoto (b: 1948) is a Japanese photographer whose interest in photography started in high school with some of his first recorded photographs being of movies playing on the big screen, so it is not surprising that this later developed conceptually in to a body of work titled ‘movie theatres’.
‘Movie theatres’ (1978), as referenced in the course material, was a series of photographs which captured movie theatres/screens using a slow shutter speed. In 1974/1975 Sugimoto’s work took him to American movie theatres so he would bring his camera along and experiment with opening the shutter when the movie started the titles and then closing it at the end credits (exposure of typically 2 to 3 hours), then developing the film. The result of this technique was to reveal the inside of the movie theatre using the ambient light emitted from the screen throughout the movie to expose the interior. The screen however where the light was being emitted was purposefully white and blown out as a result of the long exposure time. The white rectangle (screen) placed centrally in the frame adds a strong focal point which draws your eye in initially and it is only once you are there that your eye then explores the rest of the captured image: the stage, the seating, the balconies and interior, which has a haunting quality to it.
There is always a debate as to whether it is ‘the idea/concept’ or ‘the recording of the idea/concept’ that is the art.
I would say that the art in this particular body of work definitely comes across as more weighted towards ‘the idea/concept’ rather than technical capture. Sugimoto refers to the concept being the starting point in his ‘contacts’ film which can be found on YouTube. Although I can imagine there were probably a number of failed attempts at capturing the idea on film as he honed his capturing technique. That said the final results are compelling and as a result of his work Sugimoto has acquired ‘a reputation as a photographer of the highest technical ability’[i].
In 1998 Sugimoto produced another series ‘In praise of Shadows’ (sharing its name with a 1933 essay on Japanese aesthetics, not sure if this is relevant…), which explored the concept of time, again working with long exposure times, where he photographed a burning candle on a black background from the time it was lit to the time it burnt out. Conceptually this series was based on Gerhard Richter’s paintings of burning candles.
Woodman (b: 1958-d: 1981) was an American photographer who took black and white photographs of herself or female models, mostly nude and blurred (using movement and long exposure times). She sadly committed suicide at the age of 22 and much has been written about her work in relation to her mental state.
From the photographs I have seen, conceptually Woodman’s images appear to be unique and you do get a sense of her ‘self’ coming through into her images, even though a lot of her images are either blurred or framed so you do not see her face. She appeared to be obsessed by herself and her body and has been documented to have become depressed because her work was not receiving the attention she thought it deserved. On the face of it this seemed to be obsessive behaviour and it is sadly ironic that her work has now received so much posthumous recognition. Her work is now well documented and is referred to regularly in photography circles and exhibitions.
YouTube. 2016. Inside Photographer Robert Frank’s The Americans – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHtRZBDOgag. [Accessed 30 August 2016].
YouTube. 2016. Robert Frank :: the Americans – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAVs_fJjAQ. [Accessed 30 August 2016].
YouTube. 2016. Contacts: Hiroshi Sugimoto 2 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY3nGoZqw9U. [Accessed 30 August 2016].
Wikipedia. 2016. Francesca Woodman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesca_Woodman. [Accessed 30 August 2016].