Gagnam Style and Roger Ballen

Early last year, I went to a show of Roger Ballen’s which featured a video called “I Fink your are freaky”…

http://www.youtube3.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw

Watching the video viewed by billions “Gagnam Style” I can not help but notice obvious similarities …

Apart from similarities in beat and jerky dance movements, ducking in water also features in both videos.

Light from the Middle East – new photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum

LIGHT FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

“You are always on these OCA days!” another student tells me as we wait at the V+A for the OCA visit to start. I certainly find it helpful to meet with other students and in particular tutors – it helps to give perspective on what one is doing and distance learning can leave one feeling isolated. For some people, attending an OCA day has kept them on track; they have been about to drop a course and attended an OCA day as a last ditch attempt and it has worked.

I share a coffee downstairs in the V+A cafe with a few other students. One complains about his tutor and enthuses about his camera; I wonder if the two are not connected – the OCA photography course is not about the best equipment or about how to use it as this knowledge can be freely obtained elsewhere rather it is concerned with understanding the medium and learning how to use it as an expressive tool.

Gareth Dent addresses the multitude

Gareth Dent addresses the multitude; to his right, tutors Robert Enoch and Simon Barber

As with most OCA days, it starts with a tutor, in this case Gareth Dent the CEO of the OCA, telling us what the day is about. One is to gain a personal perspective of the work on show (I try to pepper my personal perspective with as many other views as I can) and seeing photography in the gallery, a completely different experience to seeing it on screen or in a book. Gareth also asks us to question what is going on in the exhibition such as the way it has been hung and where images have been placed in relation to each other; he considers the three fold segmentation of the work into sections called “Recording, Reframing, Resisting” as somewhat arbitrary pointing out for instance, that Abbas does not merely record he also reframes. Certainly the work of Abbas, a Magnum photographer, is very skilled producing technically proficient images that print well but also creating compositions that both interest and inform the viewer. The images on show are about the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Mullahs and come from the end of the 1970’s when the Shah was overthrown and sent into exile. I am familiar with Abbas from his images of Islam and one can see he is getting closer enough to his subjects to make the pictures worthwhile; the grim spectacle of four generals in the morgue not only allowed Abbas to make a great document, it also probably helped the ruling party to show the populace that the generals were really dead.

What I like about this exhibition is that it is concerned with photography rather than attempting to make an artistic statement through the use of photography although the latter is present. The catalogue published by Steidl, currently one of the very best publishers of photographic books, also contains a helpful introductory essay by Marta Weiss, curator of photographs at The Victoria and Albert Museum, in which she mentions all the images on show and gives a brief description of what they are about that does enable one to understand photographs that might easily be discussed. She also makes pertinent remarks about photography in general. For instance, she starts by saying … “The immediacy, universality and accessibility of photography makes it an ideal choice for artists confronting the social challenges and political upheavals of the contemporary Middle East” which nicely contextualises the subject of the exhibition; she continues … “For many of them, photography is not just a documentary tool. Rather, it is a ubiquitous yet powerful creative medium to be exploited and interrogated.

She also has more general statements to make about the medium of photography saying “A photograph may be regarded as simply a window onto the world, as a picture of something. A photograph however, is not just an image, but an object, and the choice of how photographs use the medium and its techniques can be as important as what they choose to picture.” Weiss even suggests ways to look at the photographs with the following questions … “How has the maker exploited or challenged the medium? What is expressed by using photography in a particular way? Why was photography the medium of choice? To what extent does the work acknowledge pre-existing photographs that relate to the Middle-East?

Of course, Gareth is right to challenge Weiss’ decision to compartmentalise the work. Of the first section, Weiss writes that “the photographers … exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record” a statement which can surely be applied to photographs from other parts of the exhibition. Yet one can hardly deny her statement that “photography is a powerful tool for documenting people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or bear witness to historic moments” while she goes on to qualify this by stating “Despite their apparent authority, photographs can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher; they can trick or disorient. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning.

If one wants a detailed account of this exhibition, one might read Weiss’s introduction. Here, I am just going to note down images that evoked a response from me at the time of viewing. For instance, Abbas Kowsari has made an interesting close up of a soldier”s tea shirt showing a Western male below which are the weapons he carries. Black and white photographs made over the course of 10 years showing a Sufi festival are striking since they show the practice of people gorging knives into themselves although this does seem rather sensationalist coverage. Another photograph of a bridge cracked and covered in graffiti does need an explanation since as an image it tends to say little – the bridge had collapsed sometime earlier to the photograph being made killing many people and so the photographer had made it into a monument.

The image of a square magnet surrounded by upraised iron filings might be read as a satirical comment on worshippers at the Qaaba in Mecca of which it is an obvious reference; however, one might also see it as an insight into the cosmic dimensions of this particular Isalmic practice suggesting that there is something deeply natural to the practice. The image used by the OCA to announce this study day visit is of a woman, one sees only her eyes and forehead since she holds a small blackboard over the lower part of her face as if it were a Burkha covering her; the woman is in fact a lecturer in English Literature at a university.

How honest a picture of the Middle East does this exhibition present? There is a political edge to it that might be expected in documentary photography yet is this representative of photography as a whole in the Middle East? Might not the exhibition be a response to our preconceptions of the Middle East? I do not know enough to answer these questions and yet there is another photographic book, Arab Photography Now that might – it seems highly unlikely that all the photographers reprinted here would be found in the other book and vice the versa? In fact, a review of this other book states … “All the leading arab photographers are ignored. Where is Walid Raad, Fouad El Khoury, Hrair Sirkassian, Adel Abidin, Ziad Antar, Akram Zaatari, Zineb Sedira, Meriem Bouberdala, … ?

Another image that I found meaningful was a large panorama by Mitra Tabrizian in which a couple of Mullah’s gaze down from a billboard onto a group of people; these people are staged models and their poises look strained. I can not help but see here the powerful control that religion has over people in Middle Eastern countries.

A pile of bricks in a characterless modern housing estate by Yto Barrada is the kind of photograph that makes one scratch one’s head a little. How to see beyond the banality of an apparently meaningless image? There is much to discuss though in terms of the shapes within the image, the slightly squewered verticals, the lack of people and of any character to the place etc

A video installation in a separate room had an eerie feel to it. The sound of American voices at one point could not stop the feeling that one was perhaps seeing some kind of military construction while the whistling wind further enhanced feelings of bleakness and alienation. The image was from the desert where the low sun of dusk and dawn may reveal what is not normally visible.

In the reframing section the artists “look to the photographs of the past for inspiration and as a point of reference … they research, copy and interrogate past pictorial traditions and photographic imagery.

One image that sparks quite a bit of discussion is Raeda Saadeh’s “Who will make me real?” She can hardly be called a Page 3 girl yet perhaps she is satirising this. For Gareth, there is an obvious reference to Manet’s Olympia although Marta Weiss makes the reference to a photograph of a Mohammed woman by Comtesse de Croix-Mesnil; Gareth also writes that “The title: ‘Who will make me real?’ could be a reference to the John Berger’s assertion in Ways of Seeing, that “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves…she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight”. Is it the looking at Saadeh that makes her real? Or is it a reference to her status as an Arab with Israeli citizenship – a status frequently ignored in the football team approach to considering and reporting the Palestinian situation ...”

It is really the gaze here that is important and this is similar to the Olympia of Manet.

Tutor Robert Enoch writes … “The reference to Manet’s Olympia is resonant because that is a painting of a prostitute. Saadeh is at the same time appropriating/using as she experiences being used/appropriated. It is a strange act of defiance. It also brings up the question of ‘who creates identity/history/reality?’ The newspapers over her body suggests more than oppression, but a sort of pressure from outside that both conceals and shapes the perception of self.

There seem to be different layers of meaning to this image; I question the assertion that “Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.” I can’t read the newspaper because I don’t know Arabic so this statement sounds a bit over the top. The newspaper prevents us from see her nudity just as often newspapers stop us from seeing the facts and the truth they suggest because of a particular slant that the newspaper adopts. Furthermore, the newspaper prevents us from seeing her sensuality by it’s physical nature not it’s content!

Another photograph from this section, a group of photographs in fact that were modelled on the style of the Becher’s project of photographing disappearing industrial buildings, was Taysir Batnaji’s Watchtowers, West Bank / Palestine (2008). I found this one of the more powerful pieces. The fact that the artist had to get someone else to make the photographs is a reminder of the ominousness of these buildings which loom out at one with much more drama than those of the Bechers. Batniji to whom these photos are attributed, is a Gaza-born Palestinian and therefore not able to travel to the West Bank. Should a Palestinian who wants to make an artistic statement about Israel be denied doing so? Tutor Peter Haveland commented … “I really don’t see why contracting out the taking of the images makes any difference to the work. This is an art work not a photography course exercise after all and the reference to the Bechers work brings a sense of irony and a historic reference to the piece. Much work is being made with found images, Mishka Henner for example, under the broad umbrella of ‘photography’ and no one is concerned if an image is printed by someone else and so often the shutter is pressed by an assistant anyway, so where is the difference?

Batniji comments on the photographs that …  “They are out of focus, clumsily framed, and imperfectly lit. In this territory one can not install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait for the ideal conditions.”

There are a group of sepia coloured photographs by Shadi Ghadirian which look very much like antique prints until one sees reminders of modernity such as a bicycle, a pair of sunglasses and other contemporary objects in them. We jokingly wonder if she would pass the first assignment of the OCA module, The Art of Photography; the contrasts in this work do not relate to form however but to concept.

The final section is called Resisting where the photographers “resist the authority of the photograph: scratching out or digitally removing faces, inserting figures into new back-grounds, even burning the print itself.

Abiq Rahim for instance, has resorted to old technology in his making of small soft focus black and white prints of his native Kabul which he returned to after 18 years away. Joana Hadjithomas and Khali Joreige have used old postcards of Beirut which have been damaged to illustrate the way the city itself has suffered since the original photographs were made. There is also an interesting work by Sukran Moral in which a group of men sit in a boat (a black and white photograph) while on their shoulders sit brightly coloured birds (colour photographs) – the image is called “Despair”(2003) and refers to the fate of those who have to migrate.

Other images worth mentioning (actually they all are!) are those by Nermine Hammam whose dreamlike images of soldiers from a series called Upekkha references the Buddhist attitude of seeing the world with equanimity.

There was so much to see in this exhibition and consider and this blog only touches on it.

Exhibition Road entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum

Exhibition Road entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum

jogging across Hyde Park

jogging across Hyde Park

 

A SECOND VISIT

I like to visit an exhibition more than once since if it is a good exhibition, one is bound to deepen one’s perspective of it. Immediately, I think of the photographs that I liked first time that I did not spend time discussing because it seemed almost politically incorrect to do so since beauty was the mainstay of their appeal although there is much more to them than this – these are sepia toned images of a Arabian woman in traditional clothing yet what appear to be classical images are punctured by objects from the contemporary world … such as a soft drink can or a bicycle. The artist-photographer’s name is Shadi Ghadirian.

Much has been written on beauty over the centuries so it is not easy to define – my own perception of it here is certainly in part that of the male gaze! Recently, the OCA discussed the matter of beauty quoting from Elaine Scarry’s “On Beauty and Being Just” … this deserves a blog of it’s own!

 

 

Daniel Meadows

The Ffotogallery Gallery, Turner House, Penarth, near Cardiff, Wales

I arrive before the talk at Ffotogallery near Cardiff to have a brief look at the “Daniel Meadows: Early Years” exhibition.

Downstairs, there is an audio-visual room, which is showing short movies about Daniel Meadows and his work. As a student, he hired a studio for several weeks and photographed local people at his own expense while later on, he bought a bus and went around the country photographing people while using the bus as a darkroom, allowing him to photograph people one day and present them with a print soon after. The Arts Council supported him in this.

upstairs at the Ffotogallery

While there are some photographs from Mosside in the 1970’s, upstairs there is a much larger group of photographs largely of people from ordinary walks of life.

coloured photos of Butlins

One section is about Butlins and in colour prints of the time when colour photography was beginning to gain respectability as a form of photographic expression although it’s initial tackiness is perhaps being used by Meadows (also Parr) to comment on a perceived tacky nature of Butlins. Most of the photographs however, are in black and white and made in a straightforward documentary style.

An interesting aspect to this work is the way Daniel Meadows has gone back and found the people he photographed almost a quarter of a century ago; rephotographing them and then putting the old and new photographs side by side does create a fascinating insight into the way people age and the way British society has changed over that period.

I have a booked seat but arrive early since there are people who have come without bookings! Before the talk begins, I go to the toilet but someone pushes past and enters before me; as I wait the photographer Paul Reas (have a copy of his book Can I help?) comes up also wanting the loo and I wonder if I should let him go before me. We say “hello!” and both wait; I decide not to let him go in front as that might be psychophantic!

Val Williams, the curator of the exhibition, is not here tonight; she has however, been very influential in putting it together, choosing the photographs herself. She has a special interest in 1970’s British photography (apart from her book on Meadows, she has also done one on his friend, Martin Parr). Birmingham City?? Gallery are also an interested party. Meadows himself does not understand the “art” gallery world. There was an extensive search to find photographs for this exhibition such as inquiries being made to now defunct regional arts bodies.

Raul Reas and Daniel Meadows (right) seated

Paul Reas interviews and introduces Daniel Meadows; he is himself a documentary photographer but of the next generation to Meadows. Reas has a retrospective in Bradford next year, the town in which he grew up. He cites Meadows as an early influence and studied under him at Newport; he has known him for about 30 years. Along with contemporaries such as Anna Fox, Paul Graham and Paul Seawright, he not only learnt from Meadows but also challenged his approach.

The late photographer and teacher Bill Jay cited Daniel Meadows in his book Photographers Photographed, describing him as a peripatetic photographer; Meadows had bought his own bus, converted it into a studio and gone around England photographing ordinary people. He is regarded as being part of the development of 1970’s photography in Britain.

Daniel Meadows was sent away to boarding school at the age of 8, a place he hated. The school did once allow the boys to see TV, the programme being the funeral of WInston Churchill. He was aware that the 1960’s was happening outside the confines of his school where cruel treatment was commonplace particularly from other boys. Art was only a possible option when you had failed at everything else. It was on an art trip from school to the Hayward Gallery in London where there was a Bill Brandt exhibition on that Meadows, aged 18, experienced the possibilities of photography as a viable medium. Bill Brandt impressed him by his ability to move through the class system, from workng miners to old boys at their club in London. Women took their clothes off for him, another source of inspiration for an 18 year old!

memorablia from Meadows career posted on a wall of the gallery

A lot of the portraits and following prints Daniel Meadows made in his early days, were given as gifts to the sitters; in turn, they would invite him into their homes and to events that he was happy to photograph. His book “Living Like This” from this era sold as many as 17,000 copies. He deliberately tried to copy the approach of not only Brandt but also Tony Ray Jones and Benjamin Stone. These days photographers are not encouraged to copy but to be more original and different.

He saw much of his personal work, work that came from him rather than work he was paid to do, as not being serious; now it is the more important. There was a time when he had to photograph Margaret Thatcher who was busy with the Lockerbie disaster and so turned up late. While waiting, he asked permission to do a few test exposures and security eventually said that he could; it was not until sometime later that he received a call congratulating him on photographing Mrs.Thatcher’s handbag, something no one else had managed. Photography is full of coincidences.

He started out working with Martin Parr, his contemporary, who has gone on to radically alter the general perspective of photography; Meadows however, has taken a different route and one quality of his documentary style photographs is that they show what people featured are like. He is a story-teller and also used a tape recorder to record audio-diaries.

When he bought his bus and set out to photograph what people were really like, he expected them to be “rotten” but was surprised to find them “fantastic”. His documents are of time and place, slightly melancholic. Meadows himself often felt nervous, seldom had much cash (it took him a year and a half to raise the money for the trip). People sometimes tried to break into his bus and were surprised to find there was someone inside.

Politics does not feature much in Meadow’s work. He has always hated mainstream politics and has a similar disdain for popular TV although he did work for Granada TV for two years – he saw the culture as rubbishy.

It took him a long time to realise he was making his own photographs. Early work in Moss Side, a part of Manchester, was a conscious attempt to record a place that was being destroyed. Some of the photographs made in people’s front rooms could take him and Martin Parr up to 3 months to arrange.

Meadows had to take maths “O” level 6 times before he passed; hence he did not fit in the hold of the photographer who trained to be a professional.

Most photographs that are taken will never be seen yet those that are can have a big effect.

Meadow’s approach is humanitarian; there is greater engagement by the photographer with the subject. Meadows was inspired by Ivan Illich‘s 1973 book, “Tools for conviviality”. We are surrounded by tools and we need to choose and use them carefully.

One of his subjects was Stanley who he met as the man operating Britain’s last steam driven cotton mill. Meadows developed a close relationship that continues to this day. There are 2 videos about Stanley in the audio-visual room accompanying the exhibition.

Meadows spent the second part of his photographic like trying to understand the first part!

His photographs carry stories although these are not made clear in the exhibition. He went back after about a quarter of a century to rephotograph them and this makes a fascinating document part of which is visible on a digital screen at one end of the gallery. Talking to the people he had photographed before bought up interesting memories of the time that are not evident or only hinted at from the images.

Although Meadows has experienced disillusionment, his photographic explorations has helped him discover humanity.

The quality of his work was not always of a professional standard but that did not detract from what he was photographing. He would have liked to have the kind of equipment that exists these days that can make almost anyone into a maker of photographs. His equipment was quite basic in his early years and yet it did the job.

Meadows has had good feedback about his work from people who have gone to see it being able to access views from the internet notably Twitter. There are this who wonder what the wall paper must have looked like in his earlier black and white photos to those who found the images brought back memories of former times for those who had lived through them. Some details found in the images are interesting because of the way things have changed – hence, particular types of jeans or shoes common or fashionable then now are no longer made.

Apart from teaching, Daniel Meadows has worked with the BBC, helping to create digital stories, enableng people to make their own stories. The role of the photographer seems to have changed over the years.

Daniel Meadows signs books after his talk

WHen the talk is over, Daniel Meadows signs books downstairs and I buy one and queue to have him sign it. We do not exchange many words. I might have said how I also suffered years of incarceration in boarding schools while the sixties was raging and furthermore also experienced some kind of release on being taken to The Hayward Gallery though I can not remember what I saw there (it certainly was not photography!). He did sign my book and I left feeling that here was a man who had a sense of humanity and joy which shines through his photographs that appear remarkably ordinary and yet have been staged quite brilliantly.

A few weeks later I am back with a group from the OCA and we are met by Helen Warburton of Ffotogallery who gives us a talk about the exhibition and Daniel Meadows as a whole. Much of this can be found in my record of the evening with Daniel Meadows above.

Helen Warburton from The Ffotogallery

One of the striking things about Daniel Meadows is his ability to engage with his subjects; there is a genuine relationship between photographer and sitter. This was not the case when I photographed him signing books at the end of his talk and yet, as Jesse points out, there is a case for keeping a certain distance. There is discussion about Meadows and his old friend Martin Parr, about their differences rather than their similarities; Meadows laughs with while a more satirical Parr laughs at !? I wonder if Meadows really is a more humanistic photographer though since Parr is often misjudged and misunderstood, apparently possessed of a different kind of humanistic outlook.

visitors to the gallery looking at The Free Photographic Omnibus Revisited

One interesting project of Meadows is his re-engagement with earlier work in “The Free Photographic Omnibus Revisited” in which he sought out and found people he had photographed about a quarter of a century before. A video presentation shows what these people were like in the past and what they look like now; there is also text about them while before they were nameless. The bus that Meadows used in his travels was later bought as an antique and restored at expense to it’s former condition so what might have proved to have been an even more priceless antique has been lost!

Meadow’s colour negative photographs of Butlins from the early 1970’s

Meadows and Parr spent time together at a Butlins holiday camp. Apart from doing their required photographic work, they also found time to make their own photographs of the place with Parr later going on to make a book called The Last Resort of this kind of touristic culture. Meadows photographs show much of the kind of life that went on at a Butlins. Colour photography at this time was new and only just starting to take off.

layout of Butlins colour negative prints

One of the remarkable things about this exhibition and Meadows too, is the way his archive has been preserved along with a wealth of information relating to it. This is largely thanks to Val Williams who has curated the exhibition which was first shown at Bradford; it was Val Williams who  decided exactly what went into the exhibition which is unusual since it is the photographer who usually does this. However, it is thanks to Val Williams that this valuable archive exists.

 

Roger Ballen exhibition

Am due to see this exhibition and although it is only mid-April, have already started considering it.

There is the notification of the OCA study day with discussion …

http://www.weareoca.com/photography/puppy-between-feet/

There has also been an OCA report from “Marmalade” who attended a masterclass with Ballen … http://www.weareoca.com/photography/putting-yourself-on-the-line/

I read the article about him in the BJP. It is quite revealing about Ballen as a photographer and what he is doing but surely no substitute for the exhibition in spite of some well reproduced photographs. He describes himself as someone who plummets the depths of the unconscious and brings out stuff to share with others.

I listen to a radio programme about Ballen who is an American photographer based in South Africa. It mentions the “shocking” images that came out of South Africa which were not necessarily documentary rather portraits from an area known as Platteland, an area of dirt poor white people; they included a strange photograph of two white twins, deformed and drooling. Ballen found them quite unique, transforming the situation of meeting them into a great photograph which many people look at and question. Why do they focus on that particular image? Ballen continues to work in black and white and has turned the camera inward in his latest series of photographs that focus on both animals and humans; it is called Animal Abstraction. Ballen does not see himself as socio-political rather psychological in his approach, obsessed with the human condition and the image. The photographs come from his mind and his stomach, his identity. Worked in isolation for a number of years before showing his work. Admits to being an obsessive photographer, obsessed with his own condition; photographs are a way he can find out about himself. All his photographs are portraits of himself.

A photograph is made up of thousands of pieces that need putting together; it is like a painting. Transforming the world around one internally to present an external vision of the world.

What is Animal Abstraction about. One has seen such images before since they are in one’s mind. Ballen does not try to figure out the meaning of his work; the images are about the realm of the senses, of the mind. He says he is trying to take a photograph of the inside of his mind; turn your eyeballs backward and what do you see?

Seeing a video he has made attracts me to the group performing it as well as the photographer; some of the dance moves are pretty incredible and one wonders how much was Ballen and how much the group …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw

The lyrics are violent but the imagery is quite striking; I find it a bit macabre and wonder whether I want to go and see this photographer’s work. Since Peter Haveland will be present, I think there will be a worthwhile discussion afterwards so I shall go.

Another comment which emphasises the need to focus on the work rather than the artist, a view that I like to endorse yet which is stated somewhat forcefully in this context, can be found here …

http://manchesterphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/why-sean-ohagan-is-big-smelly-fart.html?tm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+blogspot/ECjp+

from here one can access Sean O”Hagan’s review in The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/apr/06/roger-ballen-photographer

A fellow OCA student has been and his blog makes a good read; Stan is from the OCASA …

http://stansocapwdp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/roger-ballen.html

Some valid points are made in the OCA Flickr forum …

http://www.flickr.com/groups/ocarts/discuss/72157629714344151/

Anned writes, possibly a quote from elsewhere … “They’re all self portraits of the inside of his mind.”

John Umsworth qualifies this by saying …

“Mind you he says that we, as viewers, recognise his images because they are also portraits of our minds.”

Anned says … “I think that’s how all art works, I don’t think its mental though, more feelings, thoughts, ideas mixed all up together in a muddle, or maybe that’s just me.”

John replies … ” I saw his work in Manchester; at once compelling and yet repellant. His photographs aren’t muddled, they are very, very carefully constructed as inward views.”

Tutor Clive White quips in … “Well it doesn’t have to be about hidden demons it can be about hidden fairies too! Hahahaha!!”

The conversation then turns to considering the link between the camera shutter and the subconscious.

I decide to listen to another interview (http://www.lensculture.com/ballen_interview.html

Here Ballen talks about finding his voice while photographing in South Africa and started going into people’s houses to photograph,discovering as he did, certain motifs such as cracks on walls, marks on walls, wires, stuffed animals, sheets and pillow cases as well as a certain kind of person that reflected the human condition (this work continued between 1985 to 2001). From this came the book Dorps then Platteland where Ballen focused on a group of whites who were suffering mentally. This was followed by Outland in which Ballen started to interact with his subjects, a significant development for he felt himself becoming an artist rather than just a photographer; pictures became a matter of essence rather than documentary content. In the morning Ballen works at administration and also his other job as geologist until midday when he turns to his photographic work. He does not pre-plan his images such as by making a drawing of what he is going to photograph or thinking about the image beforehand, does not see that photography works this way, it is more instantaneous. One can set things up but photography is about freezing time and time is always changing. Works with a troupe of people hence some faces reappear; more interested in the interior than the exterior. The general misunderstanding people have about photography is that it is merely an objective tool when it is also very subjective, the photographer responding in his/her own way. Ballen never studied photography studying instead psychology and geology as well as economics but he did come from a photographic background, knowing “great photographers”such as Cartier Bresson and Kertesz; looked and listened a lot. Once he started taking photos he was hooked. Did not sell photographs until he was about 50 after 30 and more years of plodding along. Self motivated and had another career for commerce. Never thought about an audience, more of a hobbyist. Only in the last 15 to 20years has photography become so popular as an art form. His success was surprising; his work proved controversial and he got death threats and this proved a shock to his system. Working as a geologist is about going beneath the surface and his photographic work aims to do the same, to penetrate beneath the veneer of everyday life. What about a sense of place in his work? For Ballen,this is incidental, it is about one’s interiority although as a photographer one still has to deal with the external world. He could do these photographs elsewhere yet his photographs do reflect the place he is in and are influenced by it. Ballen still uses flash; this is often used as a hard light to create a better depth of field and a more focused image. This kind of light reflects the violence of South Africa. We are violent and have suppressed that; wars still going on around the world. His work is a  metaphor of the human condition! Contemporary art reflects the alienation and loss of contact with the natural world; his work is about reconnecting us. I find myself accepting much of what Ballen is saying ;he makes some good points.

In an attempt to better understand the work of Roger Ballen, I acquire a book called “Roger Ballen: Photographs from 1969 to 2009” It has a couple of learned essays at the beginning.

Ballen has a background in photography since his mother was an early member of theMagnum Photo Agency while he knew Kertesz as a child. He did not however “make it” as a photographer in his native New York or America although he did become a photographer there, but moved to South Africa where he became a geologist enabling him to make enough money to support himself. It was also here that his photographic work flourished with images of the poor whites of South Africa, a class of people seldom considered by media as a whole since the exploitation of blacks by whites takes up much of the South African narrative.

There are two essays and both seem to be explaining Ballen to the reader. Do we really need an explanation of Ballen’s work!? I find it fairly straightforward since the images are quite powerful yet this does not mean I like it. If I understand it more then perhaps I will like it more.

Ulrich Pohlmann starts by putting Ballen into a nutshell. His work has gone through many transformations and he is now considered one of “the most unusual and exciting developments in contemporary photography.”

Black and White in camera

It is possible to take black and white photographs with one’s camera. However, if one is shooting RAW, as is the case here, the black and white will only be visible as a preview. This of course, will vary from camera to camera and here I am discussing a CAnon model, the EOS 5D Mark 11.

For one’s camera to “see” black and white, one’s needs to enter the Menu on the back of the camera; the menu is revealed in the LED screen where the second red menu has a listing called Picture Style. By scrolling down to the menu item using the dial on the back and then using the centre button of the dial to enter the menu, one comes across a Monochrome setting that can be selected via the dial before being selected with the info button.

This monochrome setting can be further customised by changing the settings on one of four different controls (sharpness, contrast,that are visible as scales.

Once the monochrome settings have been selected and implemented, then the Live View will appear in black and white; once the shutter has been pressed then a preview of the image made will appear on the back screen in black and white. When the images are downloaded into a programme such as Lightroom they will appear initially as black and white images though once in the system, they are shown as colour.

If made with a RAW file, the file will always revert to colour; black and white previews will be there for reference, to enable one to see the scene in the more formalist light of black and white.

Assignment 2

It is suggested that we explore Black and White photography initially by googling “Black and White photography” on the internet then by making photographs. Good if one can set one’s view on the camera to black and white so one is pre-visualising the images as black and white rather than colour. However, it would also be good to explore the way in which the black and white images correspond with the same photos in colour.

Google turns up various sites but the most interesting find is of images.
One shows an image in different kinds of black and white relating to modes of conversion and different channels!

his approach is expanded at …
http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/article_pages/digital_black_and_white.html

The photographer is Keith Cooper who comments …
“Colour sometimes obscures the texture and form of subjects, it draws our attention the way flowers attract insects and birds, and ripe fruit catches your eye on a tree … Sometimes that’s what I want, but to me black and white can emphasise the structure of a scene.”