PHOTOGRAPHY IS AS MUCH ABOUT IDEAS
AS IT IS ABOUT CREATING VISUAL IMAGES
To photograph is to paint with light so, by its very essence the pursuit of photography is the chase of the image. An image should be visually capable of communicating a narrative, the message conveyed depends more on the viewer than the photographer, factors that come into play are based on the viewers own experiences, be they political or personal. Take for instance Karen Knorr’s work “Gentleman” Made between 1981 and 1983 in English gentlemen’s clubs in Saint James’ in central London. Models were used to represent the men who normally frequent these establishments and she included text from newspapers to drive home the sense of the world owing them. Of the work Knorr said “I wanted to make work that used humour to explore attitudes prevalent amongst the English establishment in the 1980’s. Despite being Prime Minister and head of the Conservative party, Margaret Thatcher as a woman was not allowed full membership at the Conservative Gentlemen’s club ‘The Carlton'.” While her idea was appealing to someone with a political leaning toward the left, the initial viewing of the images could provoke a feeling of anger toward the people in the images, the stuffy interiors, the spit shined shoes the paintings hanging a further indication of upper-class. Ones prejudices are invoked “do they fully appreciate these works of art or, are they just another accumulation to be sold on later, a further sign of their separation from my social standing” By having these feelings is one not like the men depicted in these very visual and carefully constructed images, is one not exhibiting a certain type of conservatism that nobody ever speaks about “the liberal conservative” as long as it suits my sensibilities then it’s fine. Knorr developed an idea and produced a body of work that is thought provoking, humorous and ironic. It forces us to question our own issues around class separation while offering us a view into a class that in turn looks down on us.
One of the initial pursuits of photographers was the portrait. Prior to this most people had no idea of what they truly looked like. Mirrors had been around since the 16th century but even by the 19th century most people could still not afford them. Ordinary people had no means to track the changes on their faces over time the historian Veronique Nahoum asked “How could one see ones double chin in the bottom of a copper pot?” The portrait spurned many great ideas but there are two that are worth looking at. Both ideas were based on different notions one economic one personal and both from different centuries. Andre Adolphe Eugene patented the idea of making tiny cheap portraits in 1854. This led to millions of cheap universal being produced for people of limited means and this practise can still be seen in photo booths the world over. People had and have a need to see themselves there was a lack of self awareness in the visual sense and this may help explain the hysteria around these portraits a painted portrait and a mirror were the exclusivity of the rich. While Eugene’s idea was based solely in the economic it served a greater purpose in that it allowed people see themselves as others saw them it allowed them come face to face with their own image to develop another layer of self awareness. This must have been a profound moment in society maybe even leading to a new sense of vanity. The great Parisian portraitist wrote “I found among even dignified men even the most eminent of them an anxiety, an extreme nervousness, almost anguish, concerning the most insignificant of their dress or nuance of their expression” surely the reactions of people coming face to face with their own crisp clear image for the first time. 2:
In 1976 Diego Goldberg a photojournalist from Argentina began to make images of himself and his family on the same day every year....
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