Photography

Casting out the self – Dominic Hawgood

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© Dominic Hawgood, CGI still from the series ‘Casting out the Self, 2017 ; Source @ Photoworks

With the increased digitalisation use of photography, a whole system of photography techniques, methods and production equipment was replaced by another superstructure of methods and devices (electronic, or digital), which dramatically changed and expanded the possibilities of capturing, editing and circulating images.

Instead of conventional image capturing, Hawgood focuses on practices associated with image manipulation and the production of computer generated images – which raises the questions of the ontological and epistemological nature of photography, while simultaneously forcing us to question the limits, tensions, and articulations between real and virtual, between fact and fiction, between representation and imagination.

While photography is being questioned in this direction, “Casting out the Self” took this direction and turned it around to explore the spiritual side of digitals. The work explores the aesthetic properties of DMT – a psychedelic drug that is seen as a means to access the spiritual world. The aesthetic side of the effect as Hawgood described, “offered this digital experience — I felt like I was inside a computer simulation of some kind… you experience strange perspectives, distortions that might feel symmetrical or something like that. There’s unusual depth, noiselessness, clarity—all kinds of things that you associate with building imagery in CG (computer graphics) and digitally.”

He collaborated with another artist and created video animation which displays various images, visuals, and objects. This work focuses on digital technology and the visual world this technology makes possible, but also serves as a means to raise questions regarding the transition from the real world to the digital world.

The work tests a lot of boundaries that touch upon topics of my interest: spirituality and the line between real and fake. No doubt his work stretches and bends over my mind on how nowadays what photography is. Is CGI rendered images also a type of photography? With the increased digital technology usage in photography nowadays, what is photography?

References: https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/dominic-hawgood/

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Photography

The Discrete Channel with Noise – Claire Strand

 

This series by Clare Strand is a simple and a brilliant analogy about communications in this era. How information nowadays can be miscommunicated and misinterpreted – be it positive or negative, whether deliberate or accidental – has an ever-increasing and overwhelming effect on our everyday life. These failures of communication can lead to minor confusion, fantastic revelation or global outrage, depending when and where they occur. Her inspiration came from the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1971 film adaptation, Mike Teavee says: “You photograph something then the photograph is split up into millions of tiny pieces and they go whizzing through the air, then down to your TV set when they are all put together in the right order.” However, what Mike fails to foresee are the complications and disruptions that can occur in the act of transmission. When Mike transports himself via Wonka Vision he is indeed broken into a million pieces, but when put back together again he is a 10th of his original size.

Strand asked her husband, Gordon MacDonald, to select images from her archive and create a grid. They became this human machine for transmitting information of an image from one person to another. From there, he would communicate the sequence of numbers depicting the tonal code (ranging from 1-10) of each photographic element on the grid and Strand would then paint the code on the corresponding large-scale grid she had drawn up in her studio. This method was actually forseed by George H. Eckhardt during the pre-internet age where he discussed the potential for transmitting a coded photograph via telegraph to produce an accurate representation of the original image.

This work reminds us the very physics of photography and what it used to be – chemicals, papers, chemistry and shapes. And how using such primitive methods can translate to visual representations about issues happening nowadays.

References:

https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/04/clare-strand-looks-at-misinterpretation-of-information-in-the-digital-age/

http://www.cpif.net/en/Programme/the-discrete-channel-with-noise

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Photography

Girl plays with snake – Clare Strand

 

After watching the video of MACK and Clare Strand making this photobook, it got me interested to look into what the book is about and who Clare Strand is.

Clare is a conceptual artist based in Brighton. This photobook is based on a very simple idea of her conflicting love and hate of snakes. She as a person is terrified of snake yet she collects images of people, especially women, holding snakes since 30 years ago. Clare found this notion very interesting, she said, “It strikes me as rather perverse to collect what I despise.”

The book plays around with the magnified fragment of the original images, showing the intensity of the relationship between the hand and snake, followed by the original images (sometimes snakes held by women, sometimes just the snake on its own), and then a poetry which is automatically generated from the written stories on the back of the collected press images and tweeted by Strand. “Bound in a faux-snake leather cover, the book fits comfortable in the hands—its size suitably intimate. Combining dramatic full-bleed images with full-size reproductions, the book moves in and out of the images—drawing us close and then pulling away. Love. Hate. ”

On the surface, we see the book is about the relationship between girls and snake, yet deep down, the book also reflects the momentary power that women have over the snake, that split second when there’s a balance of control. As Strand mentioned in her website, “the relationship between snakes and women has a long history, which Strand acknowledges through her discussion on the work. “The snake has been the subject of allegory and metaphor since biblical times, signifying eternity when holding its own tail; suggesting cunning and temptation to Eve; the agent of suicide for Cleopatra, and even the symbol of health and healing in the rod of Asclepius, the god of medicine. The snake can represent both good and evil, wisdom and cunning, rejuvenation and death, and, of course, sexuality and the phallus.” This book is more than just about girls and snake. It can also represents our inner conflict tug of war between good and evil.

What interest me as well about this work is that we can see this work flourish from start to end. From the concept and idea to how the book is made, how the ideas and concepts are translated into book form. And then, how that same idea and concept is translated into forms of exhibitions, showing how the same concept can be played and manipulated with different forms of publications. In the “Girl plays with snake” exhibition, the poetry are instead boldly imprinted on top of the enlarged fragment of original images. “The result is an overt and graphic interplay between text and image. Alongside the framed works, another automatic poetry generator, constructed for this exhibition, is projected onto the walls of the gallery, creating new random arrangements of Strand’s poems. The automatic text is printed out as a snaking ticker tape for the audience to tear off and take away.” This is something which increases the interactions between the artwork and the audience that can be only done in the form of exhibition, but not in a book form.

Her more renowned work about digital misinterpretation “The Discrete Channel with Noise”  will be discussed next.

 

References:

http://blog.photoeye.com/2017/01/book-review-girl-plays-with-snake.html

https://www.clarestrand.co.uk/exhibitions/?id=352

https://mackbooks.co.uk/products/girl-plays-with-snake-br-clare-strand

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Photography

Time to tame the tigers – Saskia Wesseling

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Photo courtesy to the artist: Saskia Wesseling

Saskia Wesseling is a Dutch photographer based in Hong Kong, who is a finalist of 2019 WMA awards. This year’s theme is “opportunity”. Saskia used this opportunity to talk about the education system here in Asia, especially in Hong Kong.

Visually the work is simple and straightforward. Images are portraits of children in their uniform, with exercise book or text books covering their faces, symbolising a lot of different meanings. It can be interpreted as the system only cares about children’s achievements, they don’t even want to know their “faces” ie. the child as a whole. The age of the children ranged from kindergarten to teens – showing that, this corrupted system starts from such young age. Postures of the children are very stiff and meticulous, indicating the indirectness of what the education system is doing to children, whom are meant to be free and creative, boxing them into exactly the same “robots”. Amongst the series, one of the photos indicating a boy with lots of medals around his neck, plus other other in the background, showing that education system emphasises on successes by achievements and awards, and regardless of children’s emotions or individuality.

There were two more photographs with a group of children standing on each step of the stairs with same posture and uniform. Saskia wanted to portray that if following what the system is providing and do so accordingly (visually indicated by the stamps), the children can take one step at a time to higher status. In one of the two photographs, a westerner child rebelled and left the “line”, so then in the other photograph, she was placed in much lower status of the stairs, which indicates that the system is rigid and there is no flexibility for creativity and the potentials for individuality.

All in all, the work is easy to understand and visually straightforward, so that even for those who doesn’t have art background can easily grasp what the topic is about, and what it is questioning. I’m not entirely sure why some photos are in black and white and some are in colour, maybe to indicate that the problem isn’t just a contemporary problem, but it grew from a long history and it is still happening now, with no changes.

The work is inspiring in that we both care about the same topic, but personally I am not too fond of the visual language used. Maybe it’s the mix of colours or images with selective colours. For me I think the visual form can be stronger. Maybe the use of light can be better but maybe she wanted to present the work in the most ordinary way. But definitely, work from film could be totally different and to a higher standard. It is what digitals can’t do.

 

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Photography

Chosen [not] to be – Marinka Masséus

 

Chosen [not] to be is a series about Down’s syndrome. A social activism project to bring awareness and act as a catalyst for government to make changes. These 5 girls, representing the Down’s syndrome’s community question and challenge a few questions that we are now facing.

  • What is beauty? As part of the Radical Beauty Project, which is about “challenging opinions and understandings of beauty in contemporary culture… working to provide an alternative vision for beauty today”, are we embracing diversity in the art fields? Why are we still considering Down’s as “faulty”?
  • With the rapid technological developments concerning prenatal screening (NIPT), we have the ability to know and decide whether we want to keep the child. So then are Down’s getting extinct? Are we embracing diversity of human forms?

What strikes me the most is that throughout this project, the artist found out that when the results of prenatal screening confirms Down’s, the first question the physician asks is “when are we scheduling the abortion”. Instead of asking “what do you need from me to make the best decision for you and your family”, the woman is immediately steered towards ‘getting rid of it’. Which means that the woman in question will never receive the proper information to make an informed decision about her new baby and prospective addition to her family. So the question is, what is the society and culture shaping us morally and ethnically?

In terms of the visual elements and conceptual symbolism, I must say I don’t really understand. What does the rope all over her face leaving an open eye means? It feels to me that the rope represent struggles from the outer-world, and that even that is so, she is piercing through. What about the dead plant on top of her head? It feels to me that the higher ups (those with authorities) are treating Down’s as dead weight, but still her face not entirely covered may mean that they are fighting against this issue. What about the pixels covering her face? Usually in television, we cover those who are of crime, or of shame with pixels to blur out their faces, so as they say to protect them from being recognised but also shaped us to label these are people as shameful and of vulnerable and dangerous groups. Marinka has cleverly used this symbolism to represent that conflict. Are they or should they be the protected type? Are we or should we be ashamed of them? But why she used yellow pixels I’m not entirely sure. Finally, the velvet circle and lines in on of the photographs. What does that represent? The lines reminded me about geometry and that maybe it means society or the outerworld is boxing this group of community. There are still other symbolic images that I have no clue why the artist uses it that way – e.g. the green smarties around Down’s faces. Or those red dots on a black and white landscapes etc.

All in all, I believe this is an important piece of work that brought us to question some very important topics about humanity. And what I admire the most and hopefully works out is, that it really does act as a catalyst for governmental changes. That we will have to wait and see.

References:

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/marinka-masseus-chosen-not-to-be

http://www.marinkamasseus.com/chosen-not-to-be/

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Photography

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Japanese artists are very fond of putting their “zen” philosophy into their art. Same with Sugimoto. The concepts behind his work are about environment and time. For example his work “Theatre” questions about time. The photos he took are evidence of the timespan across a movie. And what comes out in the end is a bring white screen – meaning – too much information ends up with nothingness.

With his famous work of “Seascapes”, he questions time again on a different level. He asked himself, “Can somebody today view a scene just as primitive man might have?” And his answer is the ocean, over and over again. He travelled all over the world for this work for a repetitive image of air and water in different continent. For him, he thinks no matter how time has passed, and what humans have done to Earth, this view may still exist. The ultimate timeless work you can produce. His work also aims to remind us, as human beings, to return to our innocent minds before we destroy ourselves in this capitalism world.

This concept is also found in his work “Dioramas”, which is about photographing his idealistic vision of nature. The work was shot in museums. Through the window of nature, he captures what diorama artists constructed for us humans to view in a museum. What’s mind blowing is that his work from this series doesn’t look like anything shot from a museum but the real primitive scene. This led us as viewers to think and question whether what he shot was real, and wonder what it was like during the primitive stage, again reminding us about the the nature and “nothingness” before us human destroy it all.

 

To be honest, his work is too conceptual for me. If I am to look at the photographs alone, I wouldn’t understand what he was trying to say. Maybe I’m not at that level yet. But it’s interesting to see what other artists do with the photography medium. How they talk about what they want to say through this medium.

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