An audition with Anna Fox @ UCA, Farnham

A group of OCA students with Anna Fox, (second row centre) with OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd to her left and OCA CEO Gareth Dent at the University of Creative Arts in Farnham. I made three tripod mounted exposures of which only one was used for this image.
The audition with Anna Fox which went on for a couple of hours owing to the frequent questions that fellow students as well as myself came up with. One of my questions concerned Anna Fox’s use of cotrolled lighting resulting in her using assistants and quite a complicated set up. Was she doing this just to make technically proficent pictures or was she also making a statement by doing so? Her answer was that it was partly out of necessity and to avoid lower light levels yet it was also part of the statement she was making; it seems that Anna, perhaps because she is a woman, is working intuitively rather than in the more calculated way of more technically orientated male photographers. Her intuitive approach was something I became increasingly aware of.
What interested me and also surprised me was her use of multiple images. Although her work is documentary, she is not a journalist for a newspaper providing hard fact and likes to create composition post-camera; images may be joined together while objects within the frame might be removed or just moved. Not surprisingly, her ethics were called into question by at least one student to which she replied that although she does not advertise this practice neither does she hide it. In fact, it is widely recognised and often discussed among photographers. For some of us, Gareth Dent the OCA CEO also admitted to surprise, this aspect of her work was part of the hidden nature of her work that she had said she would discuss.
She digitally joins images when necessary and although this is not mentioned in books, she happily talks openly about it. This approach allows for a range of composition; she keeps a camera on a tripod. Creates compositions that are not direct representations of reality as objects can be moved within the image!
She uses a lighting crew on location with director which means several people helping; digital post-production follows. Document and documentary are different terms. The critic Grierson coined the tem documentary which means telling stories about what is real!
Another interesting aspect of Anna Fox’s work is her use of image and text which she combines to create new meanings. This is very evident in one of her first books, Workstations, where quotes from various sources such as publications about business, are used to add depth to the stark images of people in offices during the 1980s. I asked Anna about the people in her photographs; did she obtain formal permission from these people to use their images. She replied that today she would probably have to but this was the 80’s and she knew the people involved. In fact, she never photographs people without making some kind of contact with them even when working in public spaces.
AF runs a two year course at The University of the Creative Arts in Farnham including both a BA and a PhD. Her father was a keen photographer and so she was exposed to “great photographers” early with a lot of books around the house by photographers like Tony Ray Jones, Brassai and others. She did an undergraduate course then started working and exhibiting; she failed her entry to the RCA but 15 years later was teaching there! She studied at Farnham where she now teaches, learning directly from Martin Parr, Karen Knorr and Paul Graham. There is a broader vision of photography nowadays.
She has done a number of books, a number of which she shows us. They are passed around the seminar room. One ??? is mentioned in the 3’rd volume of the Parr/Badger series on the Photobook which gives it a certain authority.
When doing a book, one needs to ask if the work fits into a book? Publishers of photobooks are getting harder to find. Design is important as is working with someone who understands you. It is hard to promote a book you are not happy with. Apart from her own artist’s books, she has also done an academic book “Behind the Image” which is about researching photographyand aimed at undergraduate students; she is doing another one about careers in photography. She has jointly edited Langford’s Basic Photography, a publication she tries to update regularily. There is a book about her called “Anna Fox Photographs 1983-2007” by Val Williams, a writer about photography, and is published by Photoworks; Val wanted her name on the cover of the book and Anna was happy to oblige. This book contains an essay on Anna Fox and a selection of her work; it is surely worth reading if one wants a deeper insight into her work.
I have a copy of her first major book, “Workstations” her first book. She received help from the Museum of London. She photographed in offices, collecting quotes from newspapers, magazines and books including novels then combining the two. She sees text and image together with an imbalance resulting if there is too much emphasis on one or the other. The lay out of text and image in this book was a conscious mirroring of magazines and other productions. The text works as a kind of critical commentary and it’s combination with image
At the time she was working, a remark that occupied her mind was “No such thing as society!” by Margaret Thatcher; society was growing to be much more selfish. Her main equipment was a Makina Plaubel, a camera like a Mamiya 7; it was used by both Parr and Graham, it being a lightweight camera with toylike appeal which helps in social situations.
When doing Workstations, photographing people was not such an issue as nowadays when permission to use another’s photograph more important. One comment made about one image poses the question of whether an individual pictured is really looking at the legs of a woman!! In one photograph, there was trouble with one woman who wanted her skirt aibrushed to cover more of her legs!
She once refused to allow a photo to be used for advertising because it had people in who had not given this kind of permission; it was also would be against her documentary ethic in which she is not looking to the short term but creating something of historical reference.
She became interested in the subject of leisure; Tony Ray-Jones was a major influence as well as Parr. People expect to be photographed when having fun. In looking at leisure, she is examining a structured part of our society.
She needed to get permission to photograph in Butlins. Her medium format camera did not feel appropriate while she was wandering around Butlins so she decided to use a 5by4 camera instead. She asked for permission from people to photograph them; they warmed more to the idea of a set up camera and the ritual of photography.
There are no captions to the Butlins photographs unlike Workstations; an overtly political text might give wrong idea about Butlins. She feels an affinity with and is not attempting to create satire although she considers the place a bit over-priced.
Butlins is very multi-cultural, disabled friendly; however, Butlins do not want to promote their business as such. The Red Coats very friendly! Butlins are concerned over the way their business is portrayed hence photos of adult parties not good for encouraging families with children to come.
Has her photographs manipulated by people “elsewhere“; she would like to do more of this but does not have the advanced skills necessary. OK to have others Photoshop one’s work! It is another skill but not every photographer has to have them. Lot of people behind scenes of master photographer. Lot of stylists, assistants etc One can always override work of Photoshopper if one does not lie what they have done.
Not every image in a project is made up of different images an there is always room for strong images that work. People look for joins in images … !!! Sometimes a lot of images used e.g. 24 yet often just a few such as 3.
Documentary is a story about truth; selective, printed on flat paper … it can never be true! Photojournalism suggests otherwise yet often not as true as assumed.


Philip-Lucia diCorsa @ The Hepworth Wakefield


outside the Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield

outside the Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield

After a day in Leeds listening to Gerald Deslandes talking about modern art, I accompanied him and some other art students to see the Hepworth at Wakefield; there was of course a good selection of artworks on show yet also an exhibition of photographs by Philip-Lorcia diCorsa which I had heard about but not got to see. The fine art students did not seem to think very much of this exhibition neither did Gerald but as a student of photography, I gave it more than a cursory glance. I have always found myself questioning diCorcia’s use of flash in the street on purely practical grounds since flash can cause epileptic fits and other reactions yet here was a full body of work revealing much more about this important photographer of contemporary life.

Gerald Deslandes talks to students

Gerald Deslandes talks to students

I try to explain to one of the art students that photographs are different that one looks at a photograph in a different way to a painting or piece of sculpture. “One looks at a painting, one reads a photograph!” She replies that one also reads a painting. I am not going to get into an argument and am long used to people with an understanding of painting (my father was a watercolorist and hence many family friends were likewise inclined if not themselves active) who consider photography a lesser art if indeed an art at all. When I began studying photography, the question of photography as art did interest me but nowadays I am more concerned with what photography is about and where it is going. People who regard it as a “handmaiden of the arts” seem to be missing something. It was good however to be accompanied by Gerald Deslandes who was able to give a considered view; photographers tend to boost one’s impressions perhaps because photography still struggles to be accepted for what it is

entrance to the diLorcia exhibition

entrance to the diLorcia exhibition


The first gallery of the exhibition is called Hustlers and comprises of photographs of male prostitutes. It is good to see this subject focusing on males for a change and is no less disturbing. The photographer has paid the individuals photographed for posing for the images, the rate they would normally charge for a sex session; the amount appears in the caption. These are all carefully constructed photos that are rehearsed beforehand as is the case with much of diCorsa’s work. Gerald pointed out that there is a sense that all the people being portrayed here are being made to look like losers which is not necessarily true and suggests a preconceived notion of what these people are like rather than an attempt to discover what they are about. Are they really victims? Nowadays more positive images tend to be required rather than the tragic figures seen here.
There is a large gallery space for another section called A Storybook Life that is available as a photo book; it comprises of 76 photographs that may look like scenes from everyday life but have been constructed. There is no obvious continuity to these images rather a denial of narrative but there is an inter-connectedness in their portrayal of a life lived at a certain time in which the photographer is looking at marginal content rather than big events. The size of the photographs affects their reading; their much smaller size than others from the exhibition reminds one of the relevant insignificance of such situations as well as helping to reinforce the idea of the photobook. Examples of images are “Bethel, 1992” which is about detritus but shows a strange living creature in slime; the fridge interior of Hartford, 1980 appear to be about death as dead fish are being stored in the freezer alongside beer bottles; Wellfleet, 1993 seems concerned about primitivism! In the photograph captioned Naples, 1995 there is a partially obscured face, a trope diCorcia uses in his work, while in the photograph New York City, 1984, one sees a man who has tripped in the street or at least, an actor who who is portraying a fall in the street, which seems remarkably well portrayed being both convincing and yet sensitive in the way the individual is responding.
Heads - photographic portraits made on the street

Heads – photographic portraits made on the street

The next series I see is called Heads and is the one body of work I am familiar with. The people pictured are photographed on the street using a flash arrangement that allows for special lighting and the making of finer quality photographs; the use of flash though does make me question this because flash can give someone an epileptic fit. As Gerald points out, diCorcia is still involved in the selection process and is selecting people with a similar sense of anxiety and so is labelling? The people are all engrossed in themselves and seem archetypal even cliched. Head 7, 2001 shows a woman hidden by large yellow hat while Head 13, 2000 is an impressive portrait of bearded man.
photographs made of the street

photographs made of the street

In the adjoining gallery, there is an innovative approach to street photography with large format images of views across streets in cities around the world. There is a lot to absorb in these images and I don’t really have the time to spend with them in what amounts to an hour spent in this exhibition.
entrance to Lucky 13 carries further warnings about images of an adult

entrance to Lucky 13 carries further warnings about images of an adult

In a smaller gallery space, a series of images called Luck 13 shows photographs made of pole dancers. In these, women are shown wrapping themselves around the poles that help them make a living. There is a strange kind of eroticism here since the bodies of the women look tense and contorted; one might be reminded of Mapplethorpe and other images in which a sadism is implied. These women are not being portrayed as victims though and have a certain dignity. The names of the women are given with the date of photograph. Is this work demeaning to women? it does not seem directly to be so.
The East of Eden gallery

The East of Eden gallery

The final set of photographs I encounter are called East of Eden which are much larger and reward the viewer; One starts to see images that although constructed are worth looking at.
One image that Gerald likes is a Malborough style image showing someone on a horse riding into a canyon behind and above which is a typical image of the wilder American West. There is a portrait of Lynn and Shirley, 2008 that shows a seated black man by whom a white woman stands suggesting a reversal of sexual roles; a middle aged couple by whom a dog, a dumb animal, lies while behind one sees an open kitchen. In Lacy, 2008 a woman is seen highlighted by a low sun yet obscured partially by a dark tree. In Abraham, 2010 it looks as though a red dart is heading for someone’s head but on consideration one can see it is going towards a dart board. In Iolanda, 2007 a woman is sitting in bedroom looking out over a harbour; the TV is on, her image is reflected in the window.
space for video about the work and photographer

space for video about the work and photographer

There is a corner near the entrance to this series of galleries where one can watch a video about the exhibition which contain some interesting points of view that throw light on the work. “People represent things, they are not personal more archetypal – subtle clues to what person is like!” DiCorcia gives the viewer authority over meaning of work, distance between image and viewer; he was never comfortable photographing people and so adopted a distanced approach. There is a cinematic quality but lack of narrative; the photographer wants to focus on interiority. Di Corcia contribution to photography is significant, making us rethink our view of photography.