Project 2 – The Archive

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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