Part Five – Constructed Realities and the Fabricated Image

Part Five – Constructed Realities and the Fabricated Image 

Project 1: Setting the Scene 

Exercise 

Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [Accessed: 24/02/14]. 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’.

Make some notes in your learning log. 

Before discussing the scene form Goodfellas, I will look at why cinema and narrative. Film is perfect for showing narrative, as it can merge many different things to provide the final result, such as lighting, props, acting, music and dialogue. All of which contributes to the narrative. In films, the narrative is built upon during the film; it can show the development of a character or a story. This differs from still photography as to fit a whole narrative into one frame is very difficult. David Campany stated that ‘still photography struggles with narrative as storytelling’. The narrative may be easier to see in a series of images, as the narrative can be developed and explained more.

This short video is an extract form the Goodfellas movie.

It starts with the main character, Harry Hill getting out of his car with his ‘date’. He has someone look after his car for him, like a valet, he also hands him some money. This shows the man has money, power and influence. He is wearing a black suit with a red tie, a woman accompanies him, and it appears to be their first date. This can be seen from their mannerism and the dialogue. Instead of waiting in line for the restaurant, they go in a different way. A man opens the door for them and Hill hands him some money. The colour scheme for this area is a dark red, which could be a symbolism of romance for the restaurant and their date, but also the violence and danger of Hill. The corridor is dark and shady, which could be a metaphor for his character. They go through the kitchen area, as they walk several people talk to Hill, so he is well known. The actual restaurant has a romantic intimate feel to it, the lights are dull and the tables are small. Hill talks to the owner of the restaurant and they seem to be fairly familiar with each other. A table is specially brought to the front of the restaurant in front of the band for them; another guest has a bottle of wine sent for them. His date then asks him what he does for a living; he states that he is in construction.

This clip tells the viewer several things about the Hill. He is a powerful and respected man here. He has money and ‘tips’ well, for their service and loyalty. He is trying to impress his date. He has an authoritative air about him. Everyone seems to know him, and their greetings seem to hold respect for Hill. The colour scheme includes reds and generally dark colours. Whilst in the restaurant this could be interpreted as romantic, it could also reflect Hill’s character, and his work. He lies to his date about what he does for a living, as everyone who knows about the films knows it is about the mob.


David Campany. Photography and Narrative: What is involved in story telling?. [Online]. <https://www.david-campbell.org/2010/11/18/photography-and-narrative/> [Accessed: 2nd August 2016].


Research Point 

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online. Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be [Accessed: 24/02/14]. 

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? So you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or Why Not? 

Gregory Crewdson is an American photographer born in 1962. He is well known for his images of suburban life. He went to the State University of New York, and earned a BFA, he then went onto the University of Yale where he earned a MFA. He plans his images down to the last detail, each one is staged and Crewdson uses actors in his images. Crewdson uses a large format camera and could have as many as fifty people working on one image, it takes time to plan and execute just one image. His work has featured in many galleries across the world but has also featured in the television series Six Feet Under.

The appearance of Psychology in photography is becoming more and more apparent. Photography is about communication, communication between the photographer and the viewers. The majority of images have a narrative, an ability to tell a story, which is visible depending on its context. Everything that makes an image up contributes to its psychology. For example, the depth, the colours or the complexity. A viewers response to the image depends on their own personal preferences, their life, their experiences, it all comes together to form an emotional response. Sometimes we don’t realise that we are effected by an image, but our consciousness registers it, and we start to look deeper at the images. You are more likely to have a response to an image if there is something familiar about it, something the registers in your brain and associations are formed. Some believe that this way of responding could originate from our ancestors. As we are ‘hard-wired’ to perceive danger and react, the same could be said for any feeling.

Crewdson’s work is done in a cinematic style, which adds to the psychology of the images. The response relies on the visual impact of his images. Everything is there for a reason in the images; it is controlled and is able to draw the viewers’ attention to certain aspects subtly.

When I first looked at Crewdson’s work I did not concentrate on the ‘beauty’ of the image. I immediately found my self wondering, trying to find the context and what the image was about and how it made me feel. I do not think that the aesthetic qualities of his images are the point; it goes a lot deeper than that. I’ll admit when I first looked at his image I felt uneasy. His work goes deeper than aesthetic beauty, according to the video, he plans everything. Everything is present for a reason, he ‘directs’ the image. The images are created, not just taken. It takes a lot of time, money, and personnel to make these images possible. He could have at least 60 people working with him. I believe there is a underlying psychological feel to his images.

I believe that Crewdson does succeed in making his images psychological. The make-up of the images alludes to this. His ‘models’ don’t move, they are posed often in slightly odd ways. The backdrops are suburban neighbourhoods, which the whole scene could be described as banal. Crewdson stated that he is trying to produce the sense that there are dark undercurrents just beneath the surface of his images, and that the picture we see is almost a façade, being overlaid on top of the seething emotions below. It is obviously that he is creating a psychological imaging. His background has psychological elements to it as his father was a psychoanalyst. His images are ‘the abundance of detail balanced with a striking lack of information’. Crewdson wants to create the perfect image, but even for him he fails, and this is what drives him on, he is ‘fuelled by his disappointment’.

My goal when creating images vary as to what type of photography I am doing. If it is landscapes, I tend to look for different angels to show that beauty, whereas with portraits I like to show emotion. I don’t think any image is purely concentrated on beauty, there is almost always an underlying context that may not even be apparent to the photographer.


ArtNet. Gregory Crewdson (American, Born 1962). [Online]. <http://www.artnet.com/artists/gregory-crewdson/biography&gt; [Accessed: 10th of September 2016].

The American Reader. In Conversation Interview with Photographer Gregory Crewdson. [Online]. <theamericanreader.com/interview-with-photographer-gregory-crewdson/> [Accessed: 25th of August 2016].

Thein, M. Photography and Psychological: It’s All a Mind Game. The Huffington Post. [Online]. <www.huffingtonpost.com/ming-thein/photography-and-psycholoy-part-1_b_4380400.html> [Accessed: 23th August 2016].

Thein, M. Photography and Psychology, Part Ti: How we View Images. The Huffington Post. [Online]. <https://blog.mingthein.com/2013/10/31/photography-and-psychology-2/&gt; [Accessed: 25th of August 2016].


Project 2: The Archive 

Exercise 

 Question for sellers re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log?

Does the presence on a galley wall give the image an elevated status?

– Where does their meaning derive from?

– When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increase by the fact that they’re new ‘art’?

Before looking at the value of photography in art galleries, I will first look at whether photography can be seen as art. The debate surrounding photography and art has been going on for over 180 years. In 1853, members of the Photographic Society of London stated that photography was “too literal to compete with works of art”. During the 1960s there was a shift in the way of looking at photography. The idea came around that photography could capture depth and not just what appears. Many people have compared photography to paintings, as both have to be ‘artificially constructed’, for example, they have to be lit, composed and created. Some saw that photography had an advantage over paintings and pother art as it could capture “the affidavits of nature to the facts on which art is based”. Recently there has been a debate among the art correspondence at The Guardian newspaper as to whether photography is art. Jonathan Jones believes that there is no way that photography could be considered to be art. He believes that it looks ‘stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition, in the way paintings have traditionally been shown’. He described photography in a gallery as ‘flat, soulless, superficial substitute for paintings’. He believes that whereas paintings have a multi-layer to them, photographs have one layer of context. Sean O’Hagen, who is another Guardian art correspondent, disagrees with Jones. He states “Photography is art, and always will be”. He goes on to name several artists who use photography, such as Gillian Wearing, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. O’Hagen believes the problem stems from people believing that photography is competing against tradition paintings. But this is not the case. He ends his debate by using an image by Awoiska Van der Moten. The image is a long exposure of Le Gomera and La Graciosa, which are volcanic islands. He states that these images show what photography, as art is all about as they are so vibrant that other works of art ‘seemed muted’. I personally believe that photography can be art, it is just different from ‘traditional’ art, but that doesn’t make it any less viable to be hung on a wall in a gallery.

I believe that the presence of a gallery wall does give an image an elevated status. Being in a gallery gives the impression that there is something special about the image; some has made it worthy to be hung as art in a gallery. It makes it look as if it is something different. Depending on how it is mounted it also catches the viewer’s attention, such as Jeff Wall’s image, which as mounted with, backlights.

Their meaning can derive from what the photographer is trying to achieve, but the actual meaning and the perceived meaning are two different things. It is all down to context and how the viewers read the image. Maybe the photographer was trying to achieve one thing but the viewers see it as another, it changes depending on circumstances and who is viewing it.

I believe labeling a photograph as art does increase its value, all you have to do is look at images that have been sold and the figure they have sold for. For example Andreas Gursky’s image of the Rhein sold for $4.4 million in November 2011. Photographs regularly sell for over a million. Photography as art can be an expensive business.


Jones, J. Flat, Soulless and Stupid: Why Photographs don’t work in art galleries. The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/nov/13/why-photographs-don’t-work-in-art-galleries&gt; [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].

O’Hagen, S. Photography is art and always will be. The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/11/photography-is-art-sean-ohagen-jonathan-jones&gt; [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].

Prodger, M, Photography is it art? The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/oct/19/photography-is-it-art&gt; [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].


Exercise 

 Record a real conversation with a friend (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!). Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation. Then listen to the recording and make notes of the discrepancies, perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunicates etc. Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how you can you transfer what you learned into making pictures? 

Record a real conversation with a friend (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!). Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation. Then listen to the recording and make notes of the discrepancies, perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunicates etc. Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

I record a conversation with a friend. I wrote down what I believe the narrative was, to me it seemed pretty easy to recall. When I listened back to the recording, I found several things that I didn’t register before listening.

I found that my friends seemed to say ‘you know’ a lot, whereas I said ‘like’ a lot, I didn’t even realize I did that. Several times I would start a sentence and my friend would cut me off, one instance was I was beginning to say “But”, then she cut me off. During the conversation we talked over each other a few times. My friend seemed to talk the longest, whereas my sentences were fairly short in comparison, something I didn’t recognized from the earlier recall. I felt fairly confident in the recall I wrote of our conversation but on reflection I got the general jist of the conversation but missed all the discrepancies. Most of these I didn’t even realize where happening.

Going from this experience I believe it would be very difficult to accurately re-enact a narrative for the purpose of a constructed photograph. The main reason being even if you think that you’ve remembered everything, the chances are you have forgotten something. I was surprised what I missed from the conversation, it makes you think what else have I missed?

Roland Barthes believes that ‘there is no human experience that cannot be expressed in the form of a narrative’, “Narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting (think of Carpaccio’s Saint Ursula), stained-glass windows, cinema, comics, news items, conversation. Moreover, under this almost infinite diversity of forms, narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society; it begins with the very history of mankind and there nowhere is nor has been a people without narrative. . . Caring nothing for the division between good and bad literature, narrative is international, trans historical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself.”

Narrative is everywhere, so narrative can be present in photography but care must be taken when ‘reenacting’ it, similar to the conversation exercise. It can be seen as a game of Chinese whispers, it starts as one thing but as it get transfer and passed along it can change to another thing, the meaning is totally different from the start to the finish.


Jovchelovitch, S & Martin W. Bauer. Narrative Interviewing. [Online]. <http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/2633/1/Narrativeinterviewing.pdf> [Accessed: 25th September 2016].


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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