Richard Billingham: Going through Richard Billingham’s work it does appear like still shots from reality TV. Having grown up in such extreme conditions it’s amazing to see how far his work has taken him. Also, a story like this pulls the strings of one’s heart. Even though it is comparatively rarer to witness this in the West still, it’s extremely common in a developing country like ours. In my first assignment, I had captured some images of the widespread slums that are scattered all around where I live and practice all across big towns in India. The juxtaposition of these alongside the high rise urban towers, that house so many middle-high class society people have become an almost accepted part of the urban landscape in our country. I had taken some long shots and I was encouraged to go inside of these slums and try and capture the activities up close.
A reality so extreme that most of us cannot even imagine a life like that. The constant influx of immigrants from neighboring states as well as neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, give rise to these slums. Working as daily wage labourers in a city that never ceases to grow, maids and drivers to the nouveau riche or the corporate power families that these growing towns attract, these slum dwellers live below the poverty line and the things that we take for granted as necessities of basic living are luxuries or just fantasies for these people. For my final assignment, taking the learnings from the coursework so far, I plan to visit one such slum for capturing some real-life scenes as well as get an opportunity to capture my “narrative photograph.
Jeff Walls– Despite being labeled as a non-photographer, I quite enjoyed his creative and controversial staged photographs. His unusual thinking is indeed an interesting take on photography and the creative freedom that it allows every individual. Every image of his tells a story or creates a scene which is straight out of a film and forces the viewer to think or wonder what’s going on in the scene. Each image is a carefully constructed scene that he has recreated either from memory or his imagination, inspired by paintings, advertisements, current affairs or something that caught his attention at that moment. His work is best described in his own words are cinematographic recreations of everyday moments that he has witnessed but did not photograph at the time. According to him, it allows him a certain freedom then to re-create and reshape what he saw. Recreating images from memory is crucial to his art.
Cindy Sherman– Cindy Sherman has used the various tools of the everyday cinema in a totally different way than Walls. She has produced numerous works of self-portraiture using tools like, make-up, costumes, locations, and styles to create iconic shots signifying varying societal and existential conditions. At the first glance, I did not think much of the work but reading about it and subsequently understanding the relevance of her work and what it intended to do, I understand the effort behind each one of those shots and what they achieved. Photography, that has been always or most commonly referred to an art form that involves capturing of a decisive moment or documenting or capturing what you see in that instant, has changed its meaning in Sherman’s hands. She has used photography as a medium to create and construct photographs that force the viewer to question what they are seeing as a reflection of themselves or the thoughts and ideas that dominate the society at large. It questions the very foundation of visual perception and how it is something that can be changed, recreated and reshaped as per one’s wish, thereby highlighting the not so stable nature of its being.
Her uncanny self-portraits range from numerous female stereotypes and clichés, examining women’s roles in history and contemporary society, old paintings, gender, identity, depicting experiences from her personal life and her interpretation or a satire on the various issues highlighting or plaguing the society at the moment. Her works create shock, inspiration, awe, uneasiness and most of all raises questions in the viewers’ mind about the usual everyday familiar stuff that we take for granted without a second glance or thought towards it.
Studying about her life and how she came about to do what she did is really intriguing. The journey that these photographers made in their lifetimes that helped them to create what they did and reach where they have is truly inspirational and how each one’s methodology in some way is related to their personal journey and how adversity actually inspired them to create history’s most iconic art is incredible. It does make one feel very motivated.
“I’ve always been interested in wanting to construct the world in photographs.” – his work has a strong documentary style to it, combining elements of filmmaking in terms of elaborate and time-consuming sets and staged lighting. Some of his work is said to have taken a month of preparation. His works have an eerie quality to them and he is compelled by how a photograph freezes time, sets limitations, like a still or a scene from a movie, with questions that are unresolved. His photographs create haunting and cinematic images resulting in photos of alienation and eerie quietude.
Going through his works, it definitely leaves the viewer seeking for answers to many a question that rise in one’s mind. His works actually make one believe that it’s a still from a movie production set. There is something haunting and something very eerie about his pictures. The human subject to me appears to be in some kind of a possessed state of mind at the best or extremely sad. Melancholy seems to be the theme of most of his works and seems to be an integral part of his images as is the fog machine and twilight!
Watching his works on youtube and especially watching “Cathedral of Pines” gives us an insight into what inspires him and what went behind the scenes to create such an incredible body of work. In his own words – the work has enough mystery to allow the viewer into the image but not giving any answers. They just raise a lot of questions. Cathedral of Pines is one of his most haunting bodies of work. His elaborate and painstaking efforts to create larger than life sets or locations with multiple lights and cast, makes it a huge production but results in some fantastically detailed images with amazing details. His narrative about his works on YouTube gives a great insight into exactly goes behind each of his bodies of work. His works blur the boundary between fiction and reality and leave the viewer edgy and intrigued.
On the same lines as the other photographers under study here, Hannah Starkey’s work is representative of women in their everyday lives and surroundings depicting the physical and the psychological connections between the two. Capturing private moments of women in a public space her work has won several accolades. Capturing the unspoken or the struggles that one faces every day, observations of quiet drama that seethes inside of us is her forte. Her locations are precisely chosen and her models are not actors but interestingly the acquaintances she makes at the locations. The interaction between these subjects and their physical spaces around them is what she so brilliantly captures through her lens, emphasizing everyday exploration and observations of the urban life from a female perspective.
Learning from Photographers and coursework– Looking at Ray’s, Sherman’s and Wall’s work has helped me realize how a photograph need not necessarily be the capture of a decisive moment like in Trent Parke’s work for instance. For me, it’s a wonderful insight to understand how each photographer’s thought process led them to achieve unique results and most importantly bring forth their message in the most impactful way possible. I am quite enjoying the way that the coursework is leading us to understand the minds of these great masters and without undermining or highlighting any particular method or approach, its gradually introducing us to various different mindsets and how different styles of photography can result in different results.
These photographers are all masters at recreating scenes or frames that evoked the minds of the audience and narrated a powerful story within a single frame. Also, the importance of photography as a medium that is so diverse is now becoming clearer to me. Looking at the works by Gregory Crewdson has blown my mind away and it’s difficult to tear myself away from reading and learning more about these influential artists of our era and focus on submitting the assignment. Hannah Starkey’s work is an important documentation of the era that women are going through at the moment. Crewdson’s scale and the mammoth production that leads to his frames is absolutely stupendous and am very affected and impressed by his style of working.
The coursework is beautifully designed to give us the exact information that we need at that given point. Eight months back I could not have ever dreamt of learning so much about it and moreover being open to ever experimenting with all this. Now, of course, I am more than eager to explore something that I was totally closed to some time back. So much so that my vision of doing a narrative sequence for my assignment changed to a staged photograph by the end of my research and not only did it change but it actually made me feel super executed about something that I didn’t even want to go near. It introduced us to light in the previous part and now to create stunning staged scenes or narratives using that learning of light into this part. I love how each part motivates me to explore more in that field and just when you think you have learned and practiced it, you are introduced to yet another aspect of photography which is as new and as unique to learn and explore. Am just loving the way the coursework is shaping my journey of learning photography.
References: Photography as visual research