Category Archives: Books, films, texts, shows etc

Photography theory: A brief overview of the key stages of development

Hippolyte_Bayard_-_Drownedman_1840

Figure 1: Hippolyte Bayard Drowning Man (1840)

In order to contextualise the forthcoming part 4 Reading Photographs I have set out a basic understanding of the main stages development in photography theory. Bate (2009:26) identifies three significant periods in time where photography theory formed an overwhelming identifiable perspective in answering the traditional theoretical questions; what is it? What does it do? What is the impact?

Victorian Aesthetics from the 1840s onwards 

From the outset it was widely recognised that the process of photography contained an inherent quality to create a copy of the real or what the Victorians referred to as the natural world, (Fox-Talbot’s first book of photographs in 1844 was entitled The Pencil of Nature).

Wells (2009) describes how European pioneers; the explorers, anthropologists, merchants, military and the growing middle-classes used photography to record, categorize and, effectively, justify their expanding global horizons and with it their growing ambition, wealth and assets.

Challenging the naturalists’ debate was the belief that photography was an emerging artistic medium and the pictorialists composed artistic impressions using the technique to create art. The first Photographic processes were officially invented in 1839 by artist Louis Jaqcues Daguerre and inventor and scientist Henry Fox-Talbot but it is perhaps Hippolyte Bayard’s photography of the Drowning Man (1840) which perfectly highlights the original theoretical debate as to whether photography was an art form or an application of science and technology.

Hippolyte Bayard’s image Drowning Man (1840) is his depiction of himself as a broken man cheated out of his rightful place in history as the inventor of photography by friends of Daguerre and as such is perhaps the first example of the art of photography, although “at the time of it’s conception in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the identity of photography was defined by a shifting mix of ideas about a world where human culture, previously regarded as dominated by nature, was seen to be increasingly in control of natural phenomena.”(Bull, S. 2009:9)

1920s and 1930s and the period of Modernism

Still and moving images in the form of photographs and films were the primary language of media and communications driving the new forces of progress and universality which were spread through the rise of the film industry, advertising and marketing, consumerism, fashion and leisure; core features of the new mass culture society created by capitalism and fuelled by industrialisation.

This new world of mass reproduction enabled photographic imagery to be distributed on an unprecedented scale leading to the next significant period of theoretical thinking around photography.

One of the most important essays of the time was perhaps Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) previously reviewed (see here); a significant point raised by Benjamin escaped most observers for many years. Benjamin writes, “Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is art. The primary question – whether the very invention of photography has transformed the entire nature of art was not raised.” (Bate, D 2009.27)

During this period of modernism the camera was still regarded as a mechanical tool of precision but at the same time people were now becoming individuals and as such could be regarded as the creative artist who could master the camera for their own ends. The era of straight and defined photography where the camera was merely a recording device taking pictures at the click of a button had passed.

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Figure 2: Robert Frank, taken from The Americans

Photography as a medium was now developing through documentary and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s significant photographic concept The Decisive Moment; The so-called Masters of Photography were unchallenged and were experiencing a golden era as they were deemed to be blessed with a natural gift which what the influential John Szarkowski, curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art New York termed ‘The Photographer’s Eye’.

The rise in prosperity and living standards experienced in post-war American and Europe was well documented capturing real peoples’ lives through what was still regarded as an objective lens. Many of the concerns around photography during this period centred on aesthetics and there was a growing belief that “photographic modernism isolated photographs from their surrounding context entirely. (Philips 1989)” (Bull S 2010, 11)

1960s, 1970s and the period of Post-Modernism

Post-modernism rejected the progress and universality of modernism and interrogated the modern era against a backdrop of the political and social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s such as the student riots in Paris, the second wave of feminism, the struggle for American civil rights and the protests against the Vietnam War.

Photographers and theorists interrogated the role that the medium played in creating and perpetuating the social structures which now existed and questioned photography’s social purpose.     

Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism 1977 by Hannah Wilke 1940-1993

Figure 3: Hannah Wilke (1977) Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism

 

As a result photography and art became highly became political and if modernists focussed on what lay within the frame post-modernists were very much concerned with the social issues of the world which sat outside of the frame.

Photographic imagery was undoubtedly the central feature of a popular social culture fuelled by capitalism and mass production and characterised by consumerism and materialism.

Post-modernism no longer concerned itself with the aura of authenticity, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard used the term, ‘Simulacra’: copies for which there was no original.” (Wells, L 2009.22)

from-plastic-surgery-to-public-meltdowns-amalia-ulman-is-turning-instagram-into-performance-art-1414763082

Figure 4: Amalia Ulman taken from Excellences and Perfections

Summing up

“A number of contemporary critics now argue that photography has given up attempting to provide depictions of things which have an autonomous existence outside the image and we as spectators no longer possess the psychic energy needed to compare the photograph with objects, persons or events in the world external to the frame of the camera. If a simulacrum is a copy for which there is no original; it is, as it were, a copy in it’s own right.” (Wells, L 2009. 23)

Whether this is ‘post-modernism’ or ‘post post-modernism’ I’m not entirely sure right now but this certainly a precursor for further reading and reflection.

I am increasingly beginning to recognise that theory (of photography) is essential if we are to contextualise and make sense of specific thoughts and debates. Whilst 1000 words hardly does justice to 170 years of photography theory and history this research and reflection has provided an opportunity to consolidate my understanding of photography theory and position future learning and development.

Bibliography 

Bate, D (2010) Photography: The Key Concepts London: Bloomsbury

Bull, S (2010) Photography Abingdon: Routledge

Wells, L. (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge

List of Images 

Figure 1: Drowned Man by Bayard, H taken from

http://photographyhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/bayard-forgotten-pionner.html (accessed 18/03/2016)

Figure 2: Robert Franks taken from The Americans, accessed 21/02/2016) from

http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/acklands-collection-of-prints-from-robert-franks-the-americans/Content?oid=1212935

Figure 3: Hannah Wilke (1977) Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wilke-marxism-and-art-beware-of-fascist-feminism-p79357(accessed 26/05/2016)

Figure 4: Amalia Ulman taken from Excellences and Perfections

http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/amalia-ulman/#_ (accessed 25/05/2016)

 

The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. An essay by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (1944)

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How this research affects my creative work

Since I began studying with OCA understanding and examining our social reality has become an interesting and ultimately important subject area requiring a multi-disciplinary approach encompassing historical and contemporary studies, economic and political understanding as well as an interest in people and society. It is intrinsic to developing an understanding of our identities and our sense of being and as such I see it as an extremely important and unavoidable medium for informing my creative work.

Introduction and background

This is a highly significant essay in cultural sociology studies presenting a critical analysis of the capitalist organisation of cultural mass production in modern Western societies. The text examines the impact of this system and who’s purpose it serves. The topics of people and society have been the subject of several of my assignments previously and I am keen to deepen my critical awareness to ensure that my creative work is well read, informed and robust in theoretical information and content.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were important members of what became known as the Frankfurt School, a group of German scholars and artists formed as the Institute for Social Research from the 1920s. Their multi-disciplinary works included aesthetics, economics, sociology, psychology and were developments of Marxist ideologies on capitalism and mass industry and production discussing rationalisation and exploitation in twentieth century western countries.

My interest in the Frankfurt School initially came about after viewing John Heartfield’s photomontages on permanent display at the Tate Modern (see here) and after reading John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing (1972) which makes significant reference to another essay published by the Frankfurt School which I subsequently read in full “The Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Walter Benjamin. (see here)

What does the essay say?

“For Horkheimer and Adorno, when art and entertainment are commodified for the mass market in concentrated, rationalised businesses, culture becomes formulaic, commercialised, imaginatively limited, and critically stunted; and audiences became passive, conformist, and uncritical. True individuality is absorbed, true human needs are repressed, and even intimacy is reified.” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1997: P45)

The system has become so ubiquitous and embedded in society that independence from it’s purpose and structure is impossible. Any fringe activities are labelled as independent or up and coming and, similar to public tastes and attitudes, are as much a part of the system that they either gain organisation from or seek to join or participate in. Any genuinely individual outputs are co-opted by the system and all genuinely subversive activities are subject to censorship and termination.

Those interested parties controlling the economic power and capital in turn affect and own objective social tendencies and therefore the creative industries, “cannot afford to neglect their appeasement of the real holders of power if their sphere of activity in mass society is not to undergo a series of purges.” (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997:P40)

We as consumers are effectively organised, categorised, indexed – no one (need) escape as there is something for everybody. Cars, magazines, clothing brands, fast food outlets all offer specific mass product propositions to specific socio-economic groups which cater for every individual taste and fashion manufactured by the culture industry. This process is so cynical that the price of the specific product bears no relation to the product in it’s own right, it relates purely to consumer demand and the ability to pay.

The authors argue that the artlessness of mass culture is rationalised by claims that the culture industry is indeed a business but which has to all intense purposes replaced religion as the dominant ideology, guiding light and binding structure for the individual within society.

We accept the leisure options on offer and we don’t need to decide or think as it is already done for us and whilst the experience which is, “to all appearances planned by those who serve up the data of the experience, that is, by the culture industry, it is infact forced upon the latter (consumer) by the power of society, which remains irrational, however we might try to rationalise it” (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997:41)

The product or content in essence never changes the details are interchangeable. There may be an upgrade or development but apart from that basic change or replacement we are completely familiar with the start middle and end of all products and this is a warm and comforting sensation in itself more relevant than the actual product or work.

Think of the James Bond movie franchise disrupted only by a periodic change in lead actor or the advancement of film production technologies resulting in an end product itself a virtual duplicate of the previous movie produced.

The whole world is seen through the lens of the culture industry and life has become indistinguishable from the movies which are so action packed we have no time (or need) to think. As we have built up such a vast shared index of these cultural images we can react automatically and, “Just like the career of a successful man into which everything is made to fit as an illustration or proof, whereas it is nothing more than a sum of all idiotic events. The so-called dominant idea is like a file which ensures order but no coherence. “ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997:42) But we feel gratified and content, that we got the ending of the film right.

Mechanical reproduction has created a new religion as it is now mass culture taking us from work to home and back to work again. This total system is based upon repetition satisfying manufactured needs, tastes and fashions called culture.

Culture has become the entertainments industry and as the main and only leisure on offer it must be easy to consume in order to offer sufficient rest to allow the worker to undertake another hard day’s repetitive office or factory labour. So pleasure becomes easy becomes boring requiring no thought or effort from the audience who become subservient or worse still repressed.

“The culture industry perpetually cheats it’s customers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusionary: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. In front of the appetite stimulated by all those brilliant names and images there is finally set up no more than a commendation of the depressing everyday world it sought to escape.” (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997:44)

Even fun and laughter are artificially induced as entertainment is designed to be fun and social power dictates that you have to enjoy yourself. Think of the studio canned laughter or a day at an amusement park. But at least we still have the freedom to choose, “from what is always the same,” (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997: 44/45)

Bibliography

Horkheimer, M and Adorno, T (1944) ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ In: Spillman, L (ed.) Cultural Sociology (1997). London: Wiley-Blackwell. pp 39-46.

Absurdism in post-modern creative arts and thinking

Lobster image

Figure 1: Taken from The Lobster, (2016) a film directed by Yorgis Lanthimos

As part of my research for assignment 3 I have been keeping a personal diary but after flicking back through some of the entries I have started to recognise where much of my daily thoughts and frustrations arise from and are channelled and as such I have found myself resurrecting my interest into what Martin Esslin termed in his classic book, The Theatre of the Absurd, originally written in 1961.

Recent political and social issues and events have included the UK EU referendum and resultant chaotic development within main political parties, continual shootings in the USA, the refugee and migration crisis in Europe, continued unrest in the Middle-East, global terrorism, increased racial tensions in Europe and strained relationships between the West and Russia.

Out of a growing frustration into what seems to be happening in the world I started to read about absurdism which originally grew out of the widespread disillusionment in the decline in humanity shown by mankind most infamously in events leading to two World Wars and which included the World’s first nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Holocaust.

The absurdists sought to “express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought…..The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being-that is, in concrete stage images.” (Esslin, 1974:6)

Absurdism rejects formal structures from which the spectator could make a rational interpretation of their work so as Esslin (1974) points out that while “ ‘In common usage, Absurd may mean simply ridiculous. But in the Theatre of the Absurd…Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose….Cut off from his religions, metaphysical, and transcendent roots, man is lost; All his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.” (Esslin, 1974:5)

Samuel Beckett was the most influential of the Absurdist writers and Waiting for Godot (1952), the classic absurdist play, which contains no formal linear development, features Estragon and Vladimir who quite literally wait for Mr Godot who never makes an appearance.

“Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation. On a country road, by a tree, two old tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting. That is the opening situation at the beginning of Act I. At the end of Act I they are informed that Mr Godot, whom they believe they have an appointment with, cannot come, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Act II repeats precisely the same pattern. The same boy arrives and delivers the same message, Act I ends:

Estragon: Well shall we go?

Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.

[They do not move]

Act II ends with the same lines of dialogue, but spoken by the same characters in reverse order. “ (Esslin, 1974:26)

“The subject of the play is not Godot but waiting, the act of waiting as an essential and characteristic of the human condition. Throughout our lives we always wait for something, and Godot simply represents the objective of our waiting – an event, a thing, a person, death.” (Esslin, 1974:29)

But as Esslin points out that we must not overlook the “essential features of the play-it’s constant stress on the uncertainty of the appointment of Godot, Godot’s unreliability and irrationality, and the repeated demonstration of the futility of the hopes pinned on him. The act of waiting for Godot is shown as essentially absurd.” (Esslin, 1974:35).

Somehow this is reminiscent of the Brexit campaign promises and so many other things that happen in life.

Absurdism has inspired other artists across a range of mediums such as film director Yorgis Lanthimos who in his film Lobster (2016) created a dystopian absurdist society where single people are kept in a hotel and must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into an animal of their choice.

Photographers have also taken inspiration from the absurdists to communicate their own lack of rationality. In Susan Bright’s book Autofocus we can see Lisa Ohlweiler in a series of self-portraits placing herself in awkward body poses in a stark domestic setting to illustrate the sense of anxiety and displacement that she felt when she was temporarily homeless and sleeping on the sofas of friends for weeks on end. (Bright, 2010:84)

Absurdism is a coping mechanism and filter that I have begun to use in my day to day navigation of life in a society where I seek evidence of fair-mindedness, rationality and objectivity but rarely find anything remotely close to this description.

Bibliography

Bright, S (2010) Auto-Focus the self-portrait in contemporary photography London: Thames and Hudson Limited

http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/36/absurdism-in-post-modern-art-examining-the-interplay-between-waiting-for-godot-and-extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close

Collin, R (2015) ‘The Lobster review: Like nothing you’ve seen before’. The Telegraph (online)
AT: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/14/the-lobster-review-like-nothing-youve-seen-before/ (accessed 25 July 2016)

Esslin, M (1974) The Theatre of the Absurd London: Eyre Methuen Limited

Images 

Figure 1: still image taken from The Lobster, (2016) can be seen

AT: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/14/the-lobster-review-like-nothing-youve-seen-before/ (accessed 25 July 2016)

 

Theatre visit: Doctor Faustus performed at the Duke Of York’s Theatre (2016)

Crewdson

Image 1. Gregory Crewdson 

As part of a wider exposure to the arts I went to see the Jamie Lloyd production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus a play dating back to the end of the 16th century. I originally studied the play as part of A-level English Literature in 1985 and I thought that it might be interesting to re-visit the play for a second time.

This production features Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame and is a modern adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s classic and as such features lots of references to celebrity, mass media, money and riches, consumerism, societal status all of which Faustus is able to secure through his infamous pact with Lucifer in return for his soul. I felt that the play worked well and captured the essence of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in what was mean’t to be a 21st century setting.

This version is seen by theatre critics as a definite attempt to attract fresh faces to the West End theatre scene, “The anxiety that has surfaced in reviews – that this is more Jamie Lloyd’s Faustus than Marlowe’s – feeds into wider concerns about perceived dumbing down, how contemporary theatre can represent the classics for modern audiences…..it feeds into the feeling that theatres would like a younger and more diverse audience – but only on theatres’ own outdated terms, and only if they can continue to churn out the same old, respectful but dusty revivals of plays with classic status” (Gardner, 2016).

There were a group of four people sat in front of us on the night fitting the stereotypical night out at the theatre profile, certainly as well as anybody on the night, unfortunately none of that group of four returned after the interval. Adapted and modern yes, but it was n’t that bad!

What was also interesting was that the promoters used several Gregory Crewdson images (as seen above) to illustrate the mood of the play. I have n’t really studied this photographer previously but I certainly like his complex constructed style so will look more closely at his work going forward.

What I took most from this evening was the concept of a modern adaptation as an inspiration as I am fast learning that most if not all creative work is derived, referenced or inspired in some way by an earlier concept and this as such opens up a whole new index of potential ideas and inspirations. I have seen the works of Tom Hunter (perhaps I’ll take another look) but apart from the project of re-interpreting a poem during this part of our course I have n’t really considered such an idea for any assignment works.

Bibliography

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. (2016) Directed by Lloyd, J. (Duke of York Theatre, London. 1 June)

Gardner, L. (2016) ‘Kit Harrington in Doctor Faustus: Lewd, crude and essential for the West End.’ In: The Guardian (online) At: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2016/may/02/kit-harington-faustus-west-end-jamie-lloyd (accessed 06 June 2016)

Illustrations

Image 1. Crewdson, G. At:

http://doubleexposurejournal.com/gregory-crewdson-brief-encounters/

(Accessed 07 June 2016)

 

Peeping Tom a film by Michael Powell

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Peeping Tom by Michael Powell (1960) 

Having come across this film several times whilst reading about photography I felt inclined to experience the film first hand. Made in 1960 it was immediately criticised for it’s controversial content and storyline as Powell tackles issues ranging from delicate to the taboo.

The film is about the obsessional desires of the lead character cameraman Mark Lewis who stalks the women who die fearing for their lives. He kills them with a specially fitted camera so the net result is that Lewis films his victims being slain with his camera being the murder weapon. The reasons why seem to be down to his early childhood experiences at the hands of his father.

However there are there are clear implications of voyeurism and exploitation now whether that is limited to the film and photographic communities or are we as the audience also implicated I could n’t really establish. Susan Sontag said, “The movie assumes connections between impotence and aggression, professionalised looking and cruelty, which points to a central fantasy connected with the camera. (Sontag, S. 1977)

The film is an interesting watch and reminds us of some of the debates raised by Martha Rosler in her essay In, around, and afterthoughts (On documentary photography) (1981) in which she is critical of current documentary work. “documentary fuelled by the dedication to reform has shaded over into combinations of exoticism, tourism, voyeurism, psychologism and metaphysics, trophy hunting and careerism.”(Rosler, M. 1981).

I must admit at this point in time I have become a little disillusioned with the photography of vulnerable or exposed people and at this point I am tending to look for more subtle ways of communicating my ideas.

Whilst 1960s movies are not really to my liking I really did appreciate the sense of raising controversial ideas and debates in the pursuit to break new ground.

Reference list

Gritten, D (2010) Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’: the film that killed a career. Daily Telegraph accessed from the website at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/7967407/Michael-Powells-Peeping-Tom-the-film-that-killed-a-career.html (accessed 17/05/16)

Rosler, M In, around, and afterthoughts (On documentary photography) (1981) copy of the original essay can be seen following the link: http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf (accessed 30/03/16)

Sontag, S (1977) On Photography reissued London: Penguin classics

For more information on Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom (1960) see

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054167/

 

Comparing Sectarian murder by Paul Seawright with Elephant by Alan Clarke

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Scene from Elephant by Alan Clarke 1989

Photographer Paul Seawright and Director Alan Clarke have both made interpretations of the sectarian murders which took place during the 1970s in Northern Ireland. I was interested to see how the two individuals approached their own interpretation using the two mediums of photography and film.

Paul Seawright’s Sectarian murder is a series of colour photographic images of the re-visited murder sites accompanied by text captions taken from newspaper reports with references to any specific religious belief deleted. The images are deeply poignant and I felt compelled to reflect upon and reconsider the horrific act of murder in the name of religion and worse still to lose one’s life because of religious belief.

We have I believe gained what Susan Sontag terms disaster fatigue (?) when reading or listening to documentary news stories. By isolating the text and combining it with the photographs to make an art form Paul Seawright creates a deep and significant emotional impact which merely grew the longer the images were viewed.

Deleting any references of religion from the text adds to the sense of the futility of the original crimes. A needlessness which Seawright again achieves by revealing the murder sites in the aftermath as they return back to their usual function of playgrounds and beauty spots.

The only question mark that I would raise is his use of shallow depth of field and foreground objects, which are employed in certain images but not others. I felt that this is a distraction and inconsistency for the viewer and could be considered as un-necessary.

Earlier in the course I had probably considered that moving documentary work into the realms of the art gallery would in some way detract from the original purpose. I would now change this view and believe that documentary can certainly be developed as an art form in it’s own and to achieve it’s original objectives.

This is the second time that I have considered Paul Seawright’s Sectarian murders and all in all I find his work to be extremely moving and artistically executed.

Alan Clarke’s Elephant is a film of 39 minutes with virtually no speaking so the soundtrack consists of the everyday noises of the traffic, the door bell, the wind blowing with the ordinariness disrupted only by the sound of gunshot ringing out.

The film is constructed of a series of episodes which flow from one to another each showing a different re-enactment of a murder. The gunman enters the scene he approaches his victim and shoots his victim dead then leaves the scene of the crime. The camera lingers on the dead body for several seconds before moving straight into the next scene following the exact same routine. It is a brutal depiction leaving nothing to the viewer’s imagination.

The techniques used by the director includes the grainy colour film which recreates the feel of the 1970s, the camera view at eye level which follows the steps of the killer as they search for their victims the ordinariness of the soundtrack, the repetitive and routine nature of the killings. The result is the creation of a front row first hand experience for the viewer, who becomes a witness to the crime creating a truly shocking experience.
Neither Alan Clarke or Paul Seawright make any reference to the religious beliefs of either the murderers or those murdered but this is the only similarity. In Sectarian murder we can sense the futility of the violence in Elephant we sense only lawless brutality.

These are two completely different interpretations of the same events and information fundamentally different from artistic perspectives more than differences in the medium employed.

Slide

Paul Seawright taken from Sectarian murder 

Both very successful in their own right I probably prefer Paul Seawright’s work which by using art in a reflective poignant manner to communicate it’s message I believe that he offers the viewer an opportunity to reflect upon a wider range of thoughts. I believe Alan Clarke offers less of an opportunity as his is a shocking and brutal offering which is almost as inhumane as the killings they depict leaving the viewer with almost no emotion left to think.

I was also surprised to find that Paul Seawright made Sectarian murder in 1988 which I thought had been made at least 10 years later but also that Alan Clarke made Elephant in 1989 which I had expected to have been made much earlier.

Reference list 

http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097270/

Postmodernism and the death of the author

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Cindy Sherman

Postmodernism in the art world began in the 1960s and was initiated by the political, cultural and social changes taking place at the time and coincided with photography’s progressive acceptance as an art form and a highly relevant medium of the times.

Postmodernism questioned the authority of art collapsing the difference between high art/culture of modernism and mass/popular culture. As seen in the pop art movement artists began to experiment outside of medium specific conditions instead focussing upon their new ideas in transforming previously held modern view.

Artists began to use photography as a reference to a modern consumer society founded on the use of the photographic image as it’s ubiquitous code of language. Liz Wells (2009, p.286) comments that this was because, “photography then was still seen as inherently different (commercial, popular, documentary) from more established art forms such as painting and sculpture. This was no doubt in part because, to echo Roland Barthes, many elements within their pictures were deja-lu (already read). But this was the whole point.”

Roland Barthes’ highly influential poststructuralist essay Death of the author (1967) focussed on the written text but his viewpoint effectively questions the authority of the artist as well the author when he writes, “the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture”. Barthes argues for the liberation from the control and influence of the author’s (and critic’s) history, knowledge and interpretation on the basis that their work is the result of a cumulative and collective understanding and knowledge and not original in any case. And in order for us the reader to be born then the author must be sacrificed.

An excellent example of postmodern photography is Sherrie Levine’s 1981 landmark series After Walker Evans where Levine photographed and reproduced famous Walker Evans photographs from an exhibition catalogue. Levine’s work according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was

“both praised and attacked as a feminist hijacking of patriarchal authority, a critique of the commodification of art, and an elegy on the death of modernism. Far from a high-concept cheap shot, Levine’s works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions.”

(Quoted from the Metropolitan of Art website and accessed 01/05/2016)

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214

Reference list  

Barthes, R 1967 Death of the author

http://writing.upenn.edu/~taransky/Barthes.pdf (accessed 26/04/2016)

Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge

Wells,L. (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214

Cindy Sherman image can be seen at:

http://www.lightwork.org/news/cindy-sherman-retrospective-comes-to-moma/

(accessed 01/04/2016)