BA Phot

C&N Part 5: Constructed realities and the fabricated image

Page 1


Project 1 Setting the scene - Exc. 5.1 - Is it art? - Research - Project 2 The archive - Exc. 5.2 - Exc. 5.3 - Upsum - Final Upsumming

Bird - Broomberg & Chanarin - Crewdson - DiCorcia - Hunter - Leonard & Dunye - Sherman - Simon - Starkey - text - Conclusion


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All the previous parts of the course have been headed by quotes, in particular, one from EyV and another from Sue Sontag. Let's do without them for the last part, but they can be checked here.

[17Apr20, [C&N p.107]] The introductory page includes, 'the images you’ll see in this final part of the course are completely man-made' (Boothroyd, 2017, p.108). It notes that photography was once regarded as a medium of record and that photographers sometimes rely on this vestigial aura of reality while creating their visual fantasies.

Salkeld (2018) is very good on the nuances of indexality and I will take advantage of this shortly.

Project 5.1 Setting the scene

and Exercise 5.1

[17Apr20, [C&N p.109]] The role of the more elaborate stills photographers is compared to that of movie directors and we start wit a look at Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas with the instruction,
"Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions - What does this scene tell you about the main character? / How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.".

Here's the link

The fact that the clip is titled 'LONG TAKE' gave the game away and I looked at the details at the bottom of the screen to see that the duration is 3:12. Thereafter, my attention was less on doing what I was told than checking that it was a single take and trying to think of a film I had watched recently which had a similar scene of traipsing through various areas of activity on the way to a club.
I cannot recall seeing the film before - I assume I must have but, if so, not for a long time.
I thought at first that the soundtrack was then Beachboys And Then I Kissed Her: close, it was a Motown-sounding variant with the chorus 'and then he kissed me' . This dated it to the 1960s.

I was distracted by the fact that the female lead in the scene looked rather like Jackie Kennedy, which led to thoughts of Bobby Kennedy being shot in a hotel backroom, witnessed and reported on by Alistair Cooke.

Well, the point I'm making here is that the mind flies off at tangents, triggered by memories and associations. I had genuinely forgotten what I was supposed to be doing. In retrospect, the scene sets up the male lead as prosperous and influential, one of life's networkers and rather a superficial, insincere character, out to impress his new acquaintance (we learned from the dialogue at the end of the scene that she did not know much about her escort). There is no apparent explanation in the clip for why the character has to (or has chosen to) take such a circuitous route to what seems to be a public space. And while the single take was remarkable, it was Scorsese showing off for effect and rather unnecessary.

A little research (!!)#Track_listing) has revealed that this is the one track on the 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) not written by the Beachboys, it was by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry and originally written from a female perspective and recorded by The Crystals in 1963.

My reading was reasonably close to the cmat.

And so to Jeff Wall, who we met in EyV (Bloomfield, p.59) and in Part 4 on Reading Photographs. The Wall picture chosen is decidedly cinematic and Wall's role necessarily directorial , fig. A1, After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, 1999-2001, with a link to a Tate web page,
The Tate page (one of twelve) shows four Wall pictures, ...Invisible Man..., Insomnia (examined in Part 4 ), A ventriloquist at a birthday party in October 1947, 1990 and Odradek, Tàboritskà 8, Prague, 18 July 1994, 1994.
All four are large works (around 2 or 3 metres dimensionally) and displayed as backlit transparencies. These tableaux are detailed scenes and the format would encourage the viewer to approach and examine examine the images closely. There were 12 rooms of images in this 2005-6 exhibition and most of them were displayed in this way. The Tate says of these,

Wall extends the cinematic tendency in his work, creating claustrophobic and hermetic worlds of fantasy and strangeness. Literature and philosophy have been an important influence for Wall and two of these images refer directly to particular texts. He calls such pictures ‘accidents of reading’. Tate exhibition, JEFF WALL PHOTOGRAPHS 1978–2004, 2005-6

Perhaps an even stronger example of Wall's directorial work is that cited by Salkeld (p.83) ead Troops Talk ... (figs. A2 and A3, detail) where Salkeld describes the sources of inspiration for the piece as a 'combination of documentary with horror movies'. The work brought to mind the recent (Apr 2019) exhibition of Stanley Kubrick artefacts at the Design Museum, including a wall-sized still from the set of Spartacus where all the actors were numbered so that Kubrick could shout directions to them (figs. A3 and A4).

Jeff Wall Jeff Wall Jeff Wall Stanley Kubrick Stanley Kubrick
Box A
Jeff Wall, After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, 1999-2001
2. Jeff Wall, Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986)
3. Jeff Wall, Dead Troops Talk..., detail
4. Production still from Kubrick's Spartacus, 1960
5. Exhibition label for #4, Design Museum.
© the artists, their estates or their agents

Is it art?

[18Apr20] This feeds into the 'is photography art' debate / argument which will be explored more fully elsewhere, but can start here. Salkeld (p.148) starts to confront the question but ultimately ducks the issue. He begins by quoting Roger Scruton who argues that a photograph cannot be art because, unlike a painting, the subject 'causes' the photograph and there is no intermediary imagination involved.
Photographs such as Walls, figs. A1 and A2, scenes created by the photographer, undermine Scruton's assertion.

Or perhaps with enough elaboration it becomes simply a photograph of a performance, which takes us back to square one and Scruton's imperative kicks back in.

Continued here.

Drawing on documentary and art

Box B
Hannah Starkey,
Self-Portrait 2, May 2010
Hannah Starkey
b: 1971 Belfast
Tate - Wikipedia

[26Apr, [C&N p.111]] Another photographer who based a project on literature is Hannah Starkey, using Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott — the significant aspect of the plot concerns reflections and the cmat notes the common use of mirrors in photography,

Although photographers are no longer reliant on mirrors to create self-portraits as painters were, many still choose to include reflections and mirrors in their work to make reference to the fact that we’re seeing reality via a reflection of what was real rather than the real thing itself. C&N p. 111

This touches on my about-to-be-submitted Asg.3, of course, which is all about s-ps with mirrors. On Starkey's s-p, the cmat goes on to say, 'So as much as Starkey’s image is literally a self-portrait, it is also a comment on photography itself and its ability to create a different reality.'

[4Jun20] there has been a long lacuna while working on assignments, to quote the blog, 'fiddling with the zine for Asg.3, waiting for feedback on Asg.4 and still working up the energy for Asg.5: most of the props are to hand' and writing about a Batchen book. But now it is time to get back to work.

Tom Hunter

Next to Tom Hunter (who was mentioned in EyV, p.15) whose project Living in Hell and Other Stories, 'revolves around real people and their stories – but he portrays them through fiction' (C&N p.112). He picked up stories from the Hackney Gazette and re-enacted them. His use of natural light is compared to Vermeer (1632-1675). Hmm. Why the bulb, then? calls to mind the Friedlander s-p and Eggleston's Greenwood, Mississippi,

Taryn Simon
b: 1975 NY
Site - Wikipedia

Taryn Simon [p.114] works on the basis that, 'complete understanding is impossible. She uses text and photography to bring ambiguity and deliberate disorientation to the viewer' (C&N p.114).

In The Innocents, she photographed people who had been wrongly convicted in relevant locations, such as Larry Mayes, arrested while hiding under a motel room matters (fig. C2). This, we are told, 'question[s] the reliability of photography in determining truth' (C&N p.114): quite right too.

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia
b: 1951 Hartford, Conn.
MoMA - Wikipedia

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia [p.98] For the project Hustlers, DiCorcia paid male prostitutes their going rate and then photographed them in prepared locations. The image titles include details of the subjects, including the price (fig. C3). His work in general mixes fact and fiction (MoMA).

DiCorcia is compared to Jeff Wall for creating seemingly simple representational shots which are actually fictional and painstakingly set up. It concludes,

Drawing upon real life is an excellent way to approach constructing your own images because it allows you to retain a sense of authenticity whilst provide an illuminating and thoughtful critique of everyday experiences. C&N, p.116

and contrasts this with 'advertising and fashion photography which frequently involves a more cinematic or dramatic use of lighting.'

Hunter Simon DiCorcia
Box C
1. Tom Hunter, Living in Hell, from Living in Hell and other stories
2. Taryn Simon, from The Innocents, 2002. LARRY MAYES Scene of arrest, The Royal Inn, Gary, Indiana, Police found Mayes hiding beneath a mattress in this room, Served 18.5 years of an 80-year sentence for Rape, Robbery and Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 2002
3. Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Todd M. Brooks, 22 years old, Denver, Colorado, $40 , 1990-92
© the artists, their estates or their agents

Research point

Gregory Crewdson
b: 1962 Brooklyn NJ.
Gagosian - Wikipedia

Gregory Crewdson

[4Jun, [p.116]] students are directed to this video on Crewdson

but it is no longer available. So let's try here: or here

The first is entirely visual showing a large number of images as a slide show. I do not know America, but the settings seem to be "smalltown", down at heel communities. The images look like stills from films and many appear to have an HDR effect, resulting in what look more like drawn illustrations than photographs. I am taking it of trust (for now) that they are all Crewdson images.

The second is billed as an interview. I'll pick out words and phrases: storytelling; colour and light; crew of a hundred involved; still a singular, isolating act; voyeuristic impulse; does not routinely carry a camera - only uses one at the end of the 'production'; narrative condensed into a single moment; not interested in 'what happens' before or after; uses towns 'in the Berkshires' but could be anywhere; aligned to the American vernacular; clothing and props not specific to any particular time (decade); everything is ordinary but the aim is a 'beautiful' picture through lighting and colour; spectacular drabness; beauty and sadness - finding the light; tension between exterior and interior space; (cathedral of the pines) more like paintings, less like films.

Cathedral of the Pines is featured here:

The cmat asks,

Bearing in mind I did not watch the 'right' video,
1. I do not think that it particularly about beauty. It is very much about attention to aesthetic detail and creating visual tensions.
2. I believe that he seeks to make images that will draw the viewer in, intrigue them and cause them to construct their own narrative surrounding each picture. That assumes that they understand the US cultural references, but anyone with a TV stands a fair chance of being somewhere on that spectrum.
3. My stated goal is to 'produce a visual representation of something that merits this attention in such a way as to do the subject justice' (Blog, 16th May). I have already stated that I do not believe that beauty is Crewdson's main goal. If one is photographing a subject that has a form of beauty or the merits an approach to depict its nature in that way then that is entirely justified. It is not an appropriate approach for all subjects. Sue Sontag, as usual, has pronounced on this,

Nobody ever discovered ugliness through photographs. But many … have discover beauty. Sontag The Heroism of Vision p.85, quoted in la Grange's Basic Critical theory for Photographers, p.43

Q: 'Some commentators regard [Crewdson's as] an effective method of image-making, but for others it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work. What do you think?'

Readers will recall that we encountered Wall in EyV Part 3 and in C&N Part 4. I find Wall no more subtle than Crewdson, to take Wall's piece examined in Part 4 (fig. D1) and a representative Crewdson image (fig. D2). Both images (it seems to me) come from the same intentional origins, a wish to intrigue and a tendency to elaboration in detail to create gently dramatic scenarios. See also fig. A2 above. I would describe much of DiCorcia's work a brutal rather than nuanced, nevertheless some of his pieces, especially the later work (fig. D3) approaches the subtlety of Crewdson.

Jeff Wall, Insomnia, 1994 DiCorcia
Box D
1. Jeff Wall, Insomnia, 1994
2. Gregory Crewdson, The Haircut, 2014
3. Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, W, September 1999, #13, 1999
© the artists, their estates or their agents
Cindy Sherman
b: 1954 New Jersey

[5Jun, p.117] And so we return (again) to Cindy Sherman, last mentioned in Part 3. The cmat runs through some of her key projects and concludes that it 'cleverly challenges identities constructed by society and the very nature of representation itself' (C&N p.117).

That is an entirely plausible reading of the matter, but as Sherman herself said, quoted in a Sean O’Hagan Observer review of the exhibition (2019)

I’m not personally articulate … I don’t even like giving lectures, and I certainly couldn’t debate with anyone, but I have strong personal stances. I couldn’t be an advocate but, through my work, I can be outspoken. What’s also important, though, is that the work is always ambiguous, that it lends itself to interpretation. I’m not a message artist.Cindy Sherman, quoted by Sean O’Hagan, Observer review, 8th Jun2, 2019


There is no aesthetic conclusion here, just an organisational one - there is an identifiable group of photographers that specialize in elaborate, often stylized fictional or fictionalised subjects.

Part 5 References
Bloomfield, R (2017) Expressing your vision. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

O'Hagan, S. (2019) Cindy Sherman: ‘I enjoy doing the really difficult things that people can’t buy’. The Observer [online]. 8 Jun [Accessed 7 July 2019]

Salkeld, R. (2018) Reading Photographs. London: Bloomsbury.

Tate Modern (2005-6) Jeff Wall: room guide, room 6 [online] Available from [Accessed 18 April 2020].

The full OCA C&N references are specified at the end of the course material and are repeated here for ease of access.

Page created 17-Apr-2020 | Page updated 10-Nov-2020