Photography Reviews

Robert Mapplethorpe

Another legend, who’s work has brought up debates and discussions especially about what art is, whether his provocative type of work can be considered as art, and of course, his art work and the topics of LGBTQ and Aids. The documentary of him,

describes quite well about him as a person and his work throughout his career life. How and what has inspired him and his chronicle biography. Starting at 48:00mins, The documentary shows his work “X Portfolio” which includes all prints that he considered the most controversial ones.

If Sally Mann was challenging the fine line of art and child pornography, Robert Mapplethorpe was challenging art and sexuality. I don’t really have a depth of knowledge in this area, at least not about sexuality of men. If we are just talking about pictures, sexual content aside, his pictures are beautifully formed. They don’t evoke the sense of pornography that people have critiqued in Sally Mann’s work in “Immediate Family”. Even though the act itself is provocative, the images are in fact elegant and extremely well composed. Take Man in a Polyester Suit for example, he is showing his embracement for men’s sexuality and presented it gracefully with images. These photographs show how beautiful human forms are, including the penis, and I admire how these are often juxtaposed with his images of flowers. You can really feel how Robert idolises the human form, especially black penis.

But of course not everyone thinks like that. North Carolina senator Jesse Helms attacked this image in 1989 for its graphic depictions of same-sex relationships and bondage. The Southern politician was offended that the racy photograph had originally received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

It’s this complex message about race and black men and black power and black sexuality that really got to Helms. The American people…are disgusted with the idea of giving the taxpayers’ money to artists who promote homosexuality insidiously and deliberately.

I mean of course, these pictures ain’t exactly the pretty eye-candy type of work. When I look at Robert’s work, I still have this “ich” feeling and personally I’m not in love with the photographs. But what I am in love with, is his way of pushing forward what he believes is true to him. He was just, following his passion. Just that his passion is quite unique compared with the rest of the world. And that he was not afraid of his own devil, but bringing that forward with him as well.

Photography Reviews

Sally Mann

I’ve always loved her work – Immediate Family. Before knowing any news about the controversy of this work, I find this book very sensual, intimate and shows very primitive lives of children and family. I looked at the work and I felt like I was transported back to the primitive age, during the time when societal beliefs were different. I felt a great sense of innocence from looking at these photographs. Children that were photographed felt genuine and Mann was in my view point capturing the true essence of childhood. I actually admired that this is how they chose to live their lives. And through these photographs, I understood the essence of childhood if children were brought up that way. To me she was just documenting and displaying lives as how it was lived. Rather than just picking those that looked “great”, she also picked those that doesn’t seem so appealing e.g. bruises, wet beds, bloody noses to show that life isn’t just about the great stuff, there are also these imperfects and “wrongs”.

In my mind I never doubted anything about this piece of work other than whether the children consented to put their photographs on display, in the public. But Mann’s work was crucified by criticising her morals as a mother and as a photographer.

Then while I was studying this work in more depth, I found lots of discussion about whether this work is art or abuse. The main article came from NY Times “The Disturbing Photographs of Sally Mann” where it questioned whether some of the photographs, the way they were posed and made were art or children molestation. Some even said that if the subjects were adults, they could be pornography. Sally Mann replied and gave her side of the story, stating her position and how this work has started and ended. She actually went through tough times and was also worried about paedophiles too of the area.

For me this work can raise so many questions.

Standing on the viewpoint of an artist, I can’t agree more with what Mann said about her role as a mother should not be confused with her role as a photographer. And that her children’s roles were different too when they were in front of the camera. This doesn’t, in my point of view, change at all because they are children, and specifically her children.

Standing on the viewpoint of a critic, yes I do see some photographs that are borderline inappropriate, meaning, they can easily be misinterpreted based on most’s knowledge of culture and societal beliefs at modern days. And yes – that can lead to people questioning her motives, her morals and she as a person. And who knows? They may really do in fact attract paedophiles.

I guess my question is, whether Mann was putting her role as a mother above her role as a photographer. Everything is okay up until the point where these photographs are published. If she knew society was likely to think that way, would she have given up publishing the work to protect her children? Or would she think that there’s nothing wrong with this work (in her point of view) and that she did every possible moral and ethnical thing she could with her children for the work to be published?

I don’t know. It could be either way. She could have a strong belief that she needs to put this out just to make a statement that this is the way families should be documented and memorised. Or it could be that, even this statement isn’t as important as to protect her children. You know but then, she’s a photographer.

This work actually led me to learn, as viewers, how are we really judging and analysing photographs? And how should we? Do we take into account of the photographers’ personal life with the work they make? Or do we leave that out and just critique the photographs made by the artist objectively?

Photography Reviews

Garry Winogrand

A street photographer. Most renowned work ‘Women are beautiful”. At the beginning his work doesn’t appeal to me. Composition is off and they all feels very snapshots.

But after reading more about the work and how it ties in with the 60s history of feminism and sexual revolution, I’m starting to understand why this body of work marks such significance in history. The care-free, honest approach to the visual language chosen accurately dictates the free spirit, the casual and how females should be portrayed during the revolution. Winogrand made a statement of his own, expressing his viewpoint of women during this period.

From capturing women in their most candid moment, Winogrand shows their freedom spirit through public and private spaces. He explores the way in which women express their sexuality through their clothes, hairstyles, gestures, laughter or whispers. There are quite a few photographs with women captured amongst men and still shows how “women are beautiful and confident”, contributing to the feminism movement.

His series on women is not just a superficial essay on the new types of beauty; it is a social reflection on the counter-culture and the protests in support of women’s freedom. However, it is impossible to ignore the aesthetic element of beauty these women exhibit as they appear unrestrained, self-assured about of their body, and reverberate the new era of American splendor. Biased and cold, Winogrand’s style is also associated with Abstract Expressionism, recalling the paintbrush strokes of the genre’s masters with its sharp diagonals. –MoMa

Some further critics from here:

Lastly I must add is, the text in the beginning by Helen Bishop is a brilliant add to the whole story of the book. It added perspectives and painted a big picture of what this book is about and what scenario you are in.

This books reminds me about how a body of work takes such a long time to complete. Referencing the social implications, weaving fictitious way of presenting your idea and then making it all come together in such refinement. This also reminds me about slow-looking and how we are bullying the vast information given via the Internet. We need to slow down. Really see – the real idea of visual literacy – see, look, describe, analyse, interpret. .


Photography Reviews

Cindy Sherman

I figured. Well I figured a long time that – to really learn something, you have to use what you learned through looking, reading, writing, listening, talking or doing, and translate the method to another form. And the more the merrier so it really sticks to you through all your 5 senses. The one works most effectively for learning, is to teach what you learn. If you can explain it, you are half way there.

So, here – I am writing about the work I’m studying.

Cindy Sherman – I’ve know her work beforehand, but as I mentioned, I only knew about it, I didn’t get a chance to study it closely. And the reason I picked her work is because I was doing research on portraitures and self-portraits for inspirations and ideas for the work I’m doing myself.

Her work is mainly about her performance of being in different roles or characters, ranging from different classes of the Americans to re-interpreting historical classic paintings. She as a photographer stages herself into these different scenes and situations and she has drawers of different wigs, prosthetics and techniques to help her perform and act into characters. The most renowned work she has made is “Untitled: Film Stills” which are monographs of herself performing as film characters, and as a photographer, capturing that cinematic scene as a film still.

I personally love this work a lot. Being able to play the character and staging these photographs yet to not looked staged is quite a difficult task. I’m sure her work involves inspirations from classic American films.

Her work makes me question, in reality, how much of our lives are we performing? Are we also in reality being different characters in different sets? Is there one honest self? Or are we merely a collection of different selfs?