This isn't a post about how to lead your life, neither one that will inspire you. If you're looking for this wrong blog mate. I just finished seeing Lords of Dogtown. Again. Somehow i figured out something. But i'm not gonna tell you. because it amuses me to bits to imagine your confused faces as to what this post is about. It's about nothing. It's about being average. It's about all the bits and pieces that make you, my dear minions, mediocre.
We're an art uni. You see fucked up people 24/7. Gay, punk, emo's, suicidals (they're the fun kind to pick on), housers, finnish people (they are a breed apart - like the martians, but less flying). You get used to it all, all the shit, and the fake nails on guys and the goofy outfits and the superiority and start to see behind it all. Behind the cool glasses and the short skirts - which do provide a good deal of fuel for imagination, i shit you not - you can see mediocrity. Lurking around corners. Hiding in your purse and pissing on your chips when you ain't looking.
There are people, in our uni and out of it, that don't have ONE - SINGLE - CLUE about what they are doing. And why. They're given chances that other people don't even dream of, and they fail miserably retaining their own shallow happiness, bathing in mediocrity. Half of the people i see every day have been given chances that are not even close to their merit. Somehow settling for less, living as a piece of meat with eyes seems to be a satisfying status. How distasteful.
And here to prove that there's two sides to the coin, there are the finnish people in our course. I don't particularly like anyone just because i can't be asked to care about what you think. But finnish people i appreciate. They know why they came here and they always, without exception, live up to the standards. There is a number of small non - finnish people who i consider not brainless, but naming one or two would be more than i can for one day. Settle for the fact that out of all the students at photo there's a ... 6% chance it might be you. But there's a 94% that it might not, which, if i know my maths right - is bigger.
Me? I'm a prick. But i'm one of those who probably shoots better than you. One of them who, after finishing uni, won't be shooting weddings because they pay good money.
And you know what separates the mediocre from the elite? Desire. Excess. Balance. The Rush. Proper parties. Remember the Capa soldier? The elite wants the minutes of fame. The ones that getting a shot like that gives you. Leibowitz's Lennon. Erwitt's Guevara. The Holy Grail of photography. Walking around with a Leica and not having a care in the world, knowing that you're among the best. Walking into your exhibition and people congratulating you. Driving by billboards that you shot. This is what the elite wants.
The mediocre? Somebody's got to shoot weddings as well, don't they?
PS: i am the Chairman and these are my rules. Arrogant, isn't it?
To begin with, i went to Sipson again and again, in the hope of understanding the situation trying to best picture it in my series for my Paris exhibition. After mailing Mrs Shilling, the NOTRAG press officer the previous day, rather late at night, i got a phone call from her early in the morning. And i mean Early. With capital "e". She presented the situation, just like in a mail, but was also disappointed about me not taking into a account the villages of Harlington and Harmondsworth, which were part of the Heathrow expansion plan - due to be either demolished or very affected by the noise, light and air pollution. I did manage to gather my strength to explain to her that i only heard of Sipson because everywhere it's the only one mentioned and finally we agreed on my need to research more and involve the other two villages in my project.
On this particular visit, i was supposed to meet with Mr. Jack Clark, oldest man in Sipson and probably in the region. Mr. Clark is 97 years old and has been living in Sipson longer than any of my parents have been on this planet, as have most of the inhabitants of the Sipson - Harmondsworth - Harlington area. Due to ridiculous tube delays (by ridiculous i mean one hour - give or take) and an accident between two women (kinda saw that coming there) in an intersection, my being in Sipson at 12 turned to arriving there pissed off and dreadfully late around 13:47 - in front of Mr. Clark's door. Missed the appointment. I did go to visit Joe, which is a friend of Steve's, who owns the car repair shop. We met last times and were talking about his Land Cruiser and he agreed to the picture.
Steve and his wife live just in front of Mrs. Davies' house and the Post Office.
I got to the butcher's as well, who was quite delighted about me taking his picture for the series and was quite cooperative. Like everyone in the villages, he's a friendly person, always happy and optimistic. "D'you want me to get one of my big cutting knives to take the picture with?". Not sure if he meant it or not, but by the time i was getting my head around it, he showed up with a huge cutting knife, point at which i got the hint that i shouldn't be hanging around there too long. I liked the place, and the bloke, but i'd rather not get on the wrong side of anyone holding one of these objects in either hands.
On with the show, i ended up photographing Linda McCutcheon, who is the secretary of the NOTRAG association. She was very helpful, showing me the house and everything and letting me choose my images carefully. it seemed quite nice of her to be so patient, and her image is perhaps a bit different than the rest of the series, simply because she was as well. She will be coming up later on in the story.
I obviously took Mrs. Shiling's advice and walked all the way to Harmondsworth. It was a fair 20 minute walk to the place and i didn't know anyone there. Felt like a deja-vu for when i first went to Sipson. These experiences keep me alive, and confused. I couldn't manage to find windows with protest banners and what not, because most of the village will still be standing but will be affected by the pollution issues. I managed to get to the pub, looking for a beer, where there was a lad in his twenties playing Fifa 2008 on the PS3. His name was Sam Dyllon and, together with his family, he owned The Five Bells pub, which was some hundred years old - but very very nice. One of the best ones i've seen yet. We started to chat and i son found out that i had gone into the safe side of Harmondsworth, which presented little interest for me, as far as the series goes.
In the evening i was invited to participate to a meeting of the associations against the runway (which i can tell you first hand have quite a lot of members) and John McDonnel, Member of the British Parliament. Somehow i understood there were to be more than one member, or there actually were and didn't speak, i can't figure it out. Perhaps it was just in my head.
Moving on now, the MP took the microphone and started to present the situation, in light of the recent announcement that the runway has been given kind of a green light but not quite. People took the stand and said what's on their minds, some of them presenting the situation while others just condemned the Government. I was surprised to see so many people at the Botwell Social Hall, in Hayes fighting for this cause, and i actually felt like there was something i can show through my series.
At some point into the discussion, a lady takes the microphone and starts talking: "I was contacted by someone who was a photographer today and is working in Paris, who only knew about Sipson...". The person that took the stand was Mrs Shilling, and the person being put in front of the firing squad, would be yours truly. I experienced a funny concoction of feelings, from being annoyed because my whole idea of trying to help has been neglected in the favor of this useless detail, which one trip to the village could obviously not have solved, to the most creative one - take the microphone yourself and explain. Somehow i couldn't process the fact that it might backfire.
So as Mr McDonnel was handing out the mic from one person to another, i suddely notice my left hand raising up, despite my better judgement which urged me to stay put and keep my trap shut. So when the MP sees me, he asks me to come in front of the room, present myself (which i obviously forgot to do) and state my claim.
"Very few of you know me. I am the person Mrs. Shilling was talking about so i consider it best to start with an apology for not knowing exactly how and what was going on..." I presented the idea and the series, and well i can tell you that being stared at by a few hundred people who don't really understand why you're talking at all, and the MP who seemed quite interested of what i have to say, was not a pleasing feeling. I felt like my 15 seconds of fame were going away, and people starting to check for their tomatoes, pitch forks and other useful items - the idea dawned on me. What idea? The idea, the grand finale, how i was going to get out of this mess: "V for Vendetta"
I remembered a quote that V said to Evey, which concluded my speech:
"I want in my series to make a social comment, portaying people and what they stand to loose of the runway is built, as well as try to send the message that PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF THEIR GOVERNMENTS BUT THAT GOVERNMENTS SHOULD ALWAYS BE AFRAID OF THEIR PEOPLE". This was the point where McDonnel smiled, the crowd applauded until i took my seat (which only happened once or twice more during the 30-40 people that spoke) and i was glad to have gotten out of the bloody mess that i got myself into by not staying put. Still, a lovely evening, epecially in light of the discussions we had after the meeting was over, as well as the promises for future help of NOTRAG on my side. It's a good will thing.
It is axiomatic that the space and the objects around him define a man. The room where one spends most of his or her time becomes, to a good extent, a part of them. How does turning a room into a camera obscura modify the owner’s traces, with regard to the additional information provided by the optical effect? The final goal of the research, accompanied by the photographic evidence gathered throughout the project, is to observe the interlinked triangle between photographer, camera and subject. Referencing the works of Alec Soth, Jason Oddy as well as Merry Alpern, the project also aims at analyzing and observing spaces and the effect generated by extracting the subject* from the frame. The essay sets out to answer the following questions:
Given enough time, can somebody's personality be transposed in their private space?
Without doubt, the capturing of one's personal or private space on film or digital sensor falls into the voyeuristic mode. As stated in Elisabeth Bronfen’s essay “Killing Gazes, Killing in the Gaze: On Michael Powell's Peeping Tom”, (Salecl, R, Zizek S, 1996) voyeurism can be divided in two major categories that feature gender related differences. The first category is that of the male voyeur, as an active, sadistic gaze and that of the female voyeur, which is classified mainly as passive and masochistic, concerned with the pleasure of being gazed at. Further research on the exploration of voyeurism showed that the so called “sadistic” male urge serves as an underlying catalyst that sparks the feeling of curiosity and thus has a direct link to the exploratory need that one experiences before and during the process of photographing. This puts the activity of taking still shots at the very edge of the sexually related urges or desires; even if the subconscious feeling that generates the impulse to photograph is sexual, it is not mandatory that the activity should involve or present a sexual theme. One of the most eloquent examples of the scopophilic features embedded within the image is presented within the photographic work of Merry Alpern. In her book “ Dirty Windows “, she states: ” I loved to watch even the most mundane of anthropological details like how each man, after urinating, shook his penis a little differently” (Alpern, M, 1995) Her series of images depict the events taking place in the women's toilet of what appears to be an illegal nightclub, observed through a small glass pane. The window acts as a frame, limiting the gaze of the photographer and subsequently of the viewer, providing a summary amount of information that can be easily interpreted. From the photographer's view point, the people are presented without heads or with their backs turned, conferring a sensation of anonymity to the actors on the improvised stage, which are recorded while performing both legal and illegal actions, ranging from urinating to paying and receiving payment for sex as well as consumption of a series of drugs, of which most noticeable is cocaine.
The consent of a person whose private space or activity is being photographed throws the idea of being a voyeur away from the general perception, which links to sexual desire, into a derivation that has curiosity and the necessity to document as catalysts. Nevertheless, the basic action and it’s motives are still well preserved through the camera's and respectively the photographer's admission into a previously forbidden enclosure. By creating a parallel between Freud's ' Little Hans '(Freud, 1909, p 122-123) case and that of the photographer entering the 'closed-off' space, the similarities lead to the conclusion that, although not of a sexual nature, the desire to take possession of the space or items manifests itself by means of photographing them. Following this explanation, the next step is to analyze the artists whose work addresses the curiosity - documentary style that fits in the said standards. One of the first artists that I chose to research, whose work revolves around spaces and human traces, is Jason Oddy.
Some of his most important series, although different in themselves, pose a series of questions regarding inhabited spaces and the lack of humans. The first two series, which are linked by the lack of people, are “The Pentagon” and “The UN Buildings”.
All the images in the series present spaces where access to photographers and even to the public is rarely granted, which increases the feeling of the voyeuristic in the work and creates, to some extent, an utopic picture of some of the most important buildings in the world where chairs, frames and pencils are the only traces of human passage. The loneliness of the empty corridors lead the viewer to experience a feeling of the deserted, while being constantly aware of the building's role in modern society. To support this argument, Oddy states:
' I have treated architectural space as a cultural artifact, one which not only reflects but also seeks to create historical reality' The other two series of interest were “Waiting Rooms“ and “Sanatorium“ which, like the first two, revolved around the idea of the lack of humans, but the main difference is that in there two groups of images, the aim is to portray complete lack of human presence and time's irreversible effects: corrosion, decay and finally nature taking over what rightfully belonged to her. Addressing the images from the “Waiting Rooms” series, which present houses of recently deceased people that he managed to get access to and photograph, Oddy states:
”The things that usually sustain us and help us explain who we are, begin to proliferate and take over [...] it looks almost as though the belongings of these elderly people have decided to turn against their owners so as to hasten their departure from this life “
In addition to the concept of the possessions becoming the possessors, he also states that:
”[...] as constructed spaces help share the narratives that we live by, then so do the narratives that we live by find themselves realized in the constructed space”
When asked how he arguments the decision not to have any sort of human presence in his work, his main reason was that spaces do not require, as a dominating necessity, the presence of humans in order to efficiently and correctly represent the action and jobs that take or have taken place there. As a second point to the answer, he admitted that any space inhabited by humans at some point will always be dominated by their ever present traces which should be enough to transmit the message. On the other hand, having a person or a group of people in the image would clearly disrupt the flow of the photograph, encouraging the viewer to gaze at the person rather than the space. The second photographer in my research, who also deals with private spaces, the people that live in them and their relationship to the camera, is Magnum photographer Alec Soth. His images from the “Bogota” and “Sleeping by the Mississippi” series contain a large number of portraits and rooms. From the “Bogota” series three of the images have important similarities that can help observe and draw a conclusion on the matter of the transposed personality
In "Untitled 18", "Untitled 36" as well as "Untitled 16", there is an important item on the walls: a framed portrait. The portrait, which is almost the same size in all photographs can help substitute the lack of gaze of the owner of the room, who is either not present or is behind the camera. Oddy is interested in the traces of people in large numbers or on a large scale, but also the decay occurring as a result of their absence.
Soth in contrast seeks to create invisible portraits of room owners, observing their environment. His photographic aesthetic is to use a slightly elevated perspective aiming the camera down towards the subjects. By doing so, the overall relationship between the photographer, the camera and the model changes, putting the first two in a slightly higher position than the latter.
An interesting comparison would constitute that of the "Untitled 18" and "Untitled 16" images, from the "Bogota" series. The purpose of this comparison is to observe in what manner does the presence of a human being affect the image. In "Untitled 16" the main subject of the frame tends to be the girl gazing directly at the camera with one eye, while her hair covers the other one. The small pillow, the portrait of the soldier on the wall as well as the other details pass unobserved at a first view due mainly to the woman and the viewer's urge to return her gaze. In the second image, "Untitled 18", the fact that there is no person might as well be a statement in itself. If an imaginary vertical line were to be drawn, separating the frame in two equal halves, the three items that define the image, the clock, the frame and the gun, seen to be aligned so as to create a statement. This possibility of interpretation of the objects in the room based on their position further expands the probability of somebody's personality through images but also poses important questions to do with the authenticity of the positioned items. Just as a clock on the wall can be put there by a person in order to observe the passage of time, it could have just as well be strategically positioned there by the photographer in an attempt to convey a deeper meaning to the photograph.
Analyzed from a semiotic point of view, the "clock" can be interpreted as time, age, passage and irreversibility depending on the other items in the frame. This raises doubts regarding the existence and authenticity of an underlying message in the image.
In "Thinking photography" edited by Victor Burgin, the introduction addresses the subject in the following lines:
" to a very great extent, our ways of conceiving photography have not succeeded in breaking clear of the gravitational field of the nineteenth century thinking: thinking dominated by a metaphor of depth, in which the surface of a photograph is viewed As a projection of something which lies "beyond" or "behind" [...] "reality" itself, the "expression" of the artist or both ( a reality refracted through sensibility )" (Burgin, 1982, p. 11)
His logical argument however cannot stop a possible viewer from misinterpreting, even without a malicious intent, the semiotics of the images. An excellent base for a practical application of this point is Alex Soth's image entitled "Sugar's, Davenport, Iowa, 2000" from the series "Sleeping by the Mississippi".
In this particular frame, the "Hustler" magazine thrown on the floor as well As the window covered with foil direct the viewer's imagination towards creating a mental image of the owner of the room based on the general features of the individuals who buy the said magazine and cover their windows in that fashion, thus generalizing and drawing conclusions based on non-substantial evidence. Again, Burgin finds a plausible explanation for this and subsequently states the following, about photography: "Whatever meanings and attributions we may construct at it's investigation can know no final closure, they cannot be held for long upon those imaginary points of convergence at which ( it may comfort some to imagine ) are situated the experience of the author or the truth of reality"
The third and last artist to be discussed it Cuban photographer Abelardo Morell. While Burgin strongly supports the idea that our views and understanding of photography as a discipline and form of art as well as actual object has not changed for over a century and a half, Morell's images create the perfect grounds for such evolution. His practice revolves around the hiring of hotel rooms with beautiful views, creating a camera obscura by shutting all the light off and photographing the result with the aid of a large format camera; same type of camera used also by Soth and Oddy.
The tidy feeling of the clean hotel creates an excellent scenery for the development of the project which relies more on the visual peculiarity of the camera obscura effect rather than on transmitting a message. Still, the photographs of the room have now, thanks to the camera obscura effect more information regarding the height of the room, the outside view but also the weather conditions at the time when the photograph was taken. As a main reference in terms of technical aspects, I chose to focus on Morell’s early images, done in black and white on the large format camera, images which presented only traces of the effect. The imperfection of the images, as well as those of the optical effect reference the earliest attempts to record light in the mid 1850’s. The lack of color also aids in developing a certain link between his and Talbot or Daguerre’s images, therefore it seemed quite obvious that the series I intend to work on are to be black and white. Another argument towards creating a black and white series would be color in itself. Various patches of color, such as dresses, white shirts, pillows, can draw the viewer from the image towards the colors. Thus by having a monochrome image the effect of the camera obscura is easily observed, together with the obects in the room which are lit only by the rays coming from the outside.
As a conclusion, the series that I made during this period, manage to depict, without necessarily being very accurate, the personality of the room’s owner. As a test, the images have been linked together by the owner’s hobby/job, which is linked to photography. From this came the object that is present in all images, hidden or visible, which serves as a replacement of the gaze: the photographic camera. This requirement of all rooms to have a photographic camera was the only interference in the natural or owner – modified state of the room. As a test, I compiled a series of brief descriptions of each room’s inhabitant, so that the text and the images could be confronted. In this way, a practical answer to the questions answered here can be analyzed by each particular viewer.
www.magnumphotos.com www.alexsoth.com Burgin, V, 1982, Thinking Photography, London: Macmillan, p. 12-19 Steffens, B., 2006, Ibn al-Hatytham: First Scientist, Morgan Reynolds Publishing Needham, J., 1986, Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Taipei: Caves Books Ltd. Freud, S., 1909 (2001), Two cases, 2001 Alpern, M., 1995, Dirty Windows, Scalo, Zurich Alpern, M., 1999, Shopping, Scalo, Zurich Salecl, R., Zizek S, 1996, Gaze and voice as love objects, Duke University Press Johnson, W.S., Rice, M., Williams, C., 1999, A History of Photography, Taschen BBC Movie Series – The Genius of Photography www.abelardomorell.net Gernsheim,H., Ernsheim, A., The History of Photography: From the Camera Obscura to the Beginning of the Modern Era, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969. Nesbit, M., Reynaud, F., 1992, Interieurs Parisiens Eugene Atget, Carre, Paris
 “ Hans produced two minor phantasies: one of forcing his way into a forbidden enclosure at Schonbrunn, and te other of his smashing a railway carriage window on the Stadtbahn [p 40-41]. In each case the punishable nature of the action was emphasized[…]. They ( the phantasies ) belonged to Hans’ complex taking possession of his mother. […] for this elusive thought he found pictorial representations, which had in common the quality of being violent and forbidden ” – As the analysis was done on a young boy, it cannot be transported to an adult without any modifications. Regardless of this argument, it is clear that the impulse to photograph is concerned with the intention to take possession of things forbidden or out of reach.
This is the village of Sipson. Some of you may have heard of the place. It's the little village to be torn down for the build of the third Heathrow runway. the plan includes the demolishing of more than 1000 homes, majority of which are inhabited by members of the comunity age 60+.
For Cherie's art festival in Paris, where i was invited to exhibit a series of my choice regarding crisis as life experience, i chose to follow up this subject. Perhaps in a little different way from the journalistic algorithm, i chose to portray people in their particular environments. Spaces and objects that they will lose when and if the runway is to be built. I'm not judging or taking sides, i'm just making a comment on how people are linked to their homes, of how an outside danger gathers the comunity together, of the lenghts that someone will go to protect his sanctuary and, at the end of the day, of what happens when people with will power stand up to their government.
Here's a less interesting image on the camera obscura subject. Now that the project is almost over, i can start actually doing my camera obscuras and doing them properly. Need to order some lenses and build a base for them and away we go. Will try to shoot the images on the Ds 2 as well, although previous shots at ISO 400 proved disastrous.
PS: and we're back to posting often, as the holidays have indeed passed.