Photography Art 3 – Artist Research
Artist 1: “Robert Moran – Relics”
Relics is the body of work by Robert Moran, he photographed a collection of portraits of everyday objects that are obsolete and outdated.
Moran says his aim is to “honor our inventive past and save some of its icons from the trash.”
I believe that technology evolves so quickly that sometimes our materialistic need to invest in the newest gadget leaves older technologies behind and we need to look back at the defunct technologies in order to appreciate the progress we have made to get where we are now. The newer technologies we have are so revolutionary and efficient that we take for granted the functionality of old formats. Just because things are old, it does not mean they are useless; Record players produce warmer sounds than digital formats, old suitcases are built to last, and old cameras are becoming cheap alternatives for amateur photographers.
This image has been shot in a straight forward still life portrait style with the typewriter in the centre of the frame; this is a tried and tested method that does its job and adds a lot of emphasis on the object because the eye is drawn to it straight away. Moran must have used well thought out placement of his light sources to create a bright image with little shadow on the typewriter itself, although there is a large shadow on the wall to the right side of it. If you look at the keys, the white parts are very bright which would lead me to assume there is a light source very close to them. I am assuming that the light source has been placed at eye level to the typewriter, as there is no shadow underneath the keys and at the left hand side due to the shadow on the wall. The choice of backdrop really works well with the black and white colours of the typewriter and it is obvious that Robert has taken time to find ways to compliment the still life he has documented. I think that the placement of the shadows is deliberate, with studio lighitng Robert could have easily eradicated them, and there are many interpretations as to why the shadow is there:
One interpretation may be that the shadow is representative of typewriter being plunged into darkness after years of redundancy. In contrast to this, you could argue that the typewriter can only cast a shadow is it is bathed in light; these old technologies are still in the spotlight today.
I really like the colour palette used in this image, Moran really made sure that the colours were complimentary of each other. The typewriter and paper are made up of black and white tints while the background features a black and white gradient that originates in black around the edges of the frame and travels inwards towards the centre of the image. The white colour in the centre of the wall effectively draws the eye inwards and towards the object. The gradient suggests damage over time to the wall but there is little discolouration on the typewriter itself which enforces the argument that old technologies are robust – “They just don’t make them like they do any more.”
This image of a battered suitcase is another example of great photographic technique produced by Robert; the thing I love most about this particular image, is the contrast between light and dark. The back wall, sides of the case and underneath the shelf are all in harsh shadow, whilst the case itself is light brightly and evenly. There is a small outline of light around the case, which not only draws all attention to it, but it could also be seen as a visual representation of happiness and the emotional state that is conjured by the memories of holidays and trips stored in this little trunk. The brighter tones on the top-right of the case and the darker shadows on the bottom-left of it suggest that the light source has been positioned somewhere to the right to the case and above eye level. The diagram below shows how I think the image has been set-up:
The light source is placed to the right of the case which casts more light on that side.
Like the typewriter, the case has been set up in the center of the frame in order to pull attention to itself and unify the other 32 still life objects in this body of work that have been shot in the same manner. The image is very warm, I think the image levels have been adjusted and I believe that the soft-box used had a high power level to accentuate the colour of the leather.
In the artist statement, Robert expresses his love for old objects. He expresses that he likes the “essence” of the items, the “cracks and scuffs from hard use” and the “mended hinges.” This suitcase shows the cracks that Robert is so fond of because each hairline crack tells the story of a long forgotten journey that the owner embarked on.
The idea of the work is to highlight how technology is always going through a process of replacement with newer, more efficient and sleeker designs.
There is a gorgeous portrait of an Underwood typewriter that is double the width and triple the height of the A4 paper that’s stuffed in the top of it. Nowadays, the typewriter would be replaced by a sleek and thin laptop that would allow quicker typing and would be capable of making multiple copies of written pages. The colour and texture of the paper almost makes it blend in with the wall which shows the gradual decrease in use of paper over digital formats. The paper is dirty and I think that shows that the use of paper is harmful to the environment and that paper-free documentation is ‘greener’.
The dis-coloured and badly damaged state of the leather shows that it has been well used and is quote old but it adds to the charm of the item. I think that Moran is trying to show the decadent state of culture today in that it is fashionable to keep buying the new product (that will most likely break or become obsolete in a year) rather than buy one good quality item (like the sturdy case) and use it for years.
My art 3 project is based around the rise in popularity of vintage clothing, vinyl and film photography; Robert Moran documents the beauty of old format technology, and I plan to document the gradual trend of post-modernism in old format technology.
The way he photographs his images is something that I want to take away and use in my project. He looks at old technologies as antiques and as things that need to be preserved and remembered; from the way Robert speaks, I believe that he holds old format technology formats on a metaphorical pedestal by the way he talked about an old typewriter or a battered old suitcase and I realise that I feel the same way about my 35mm cameras and my vinyl collection; I often remark that film prints display much more vibrant colours and how vinyl produces a warmer sound than MP3.
On the other hand, Robert mentions that photographing old technologies with a 21st century camera has made him “consider the qualities and limitations” of said old technologies. Film cameras take time and money to develop whereas Digital SLR cameras produce amazing images that are displayed on LCD screens almost instantaneously. Vinyl and shellac records are brittle, easily scratched and expensive, you cannot carry them in your pocket and you certainly cannot put them on your iPod. These amazing images by Robert Moran show that nostalgia and a deep-seated desire to hang on to the things from our past seem to overlook the shiny plastic allure of newer technologies.
Artist 2: “John Myers – Middle England”
Photography Art 3 – Artist Research (Second Artist Draft)
Middle England is a body of work that John Myers shot from 1972 to 1979 that was shot with black and white film. This project was made on a personal level to document the streets that John grew up in and around. “This is the kind of England that most of us live in,” he also said that this is “the world of Suburbia, the world of substations.” I think that John is trying to explain that our lives are dominated by where we live and not by how we view ourselves. By shooting where he grew up, this could also be a body of work focused around intimate and mundane objects that to us are boring but to him, are steeped in nostalgia.
On a purely aesthetic level, this body of work is based around images of a town in the West Midlands, but if you scratch beneath the surface you will find a very distinct message; “People that are not famous that are not picturesque.
The world that they live in is the world that we all recognize and most of the time we just blank it out. We want things that are spectacular; we want photographs that are exiting.”
What Myers is saying here, is that everything is beautiful and worthy of at least a second glance and the time it takes to take a picture.
Middle England was published as a book and installed in the Ikon gallery in 2011, a whopping 39 years after the photographs were initially taken.
This image is simply a photograph of an old Television set with a plant pot on top; this is a very generic photograph that shouldn’t really be visually interesting, but there’s something about it that makes it look extra-ordinary:
The image has been set up in a very specific way, the subject has been placed centrally and the point at which the wall and door meets is the center of the photograph. This (purposely placed) set-up makes the image look like a shoebox diorama of Middle England life, a snapshot in time of “the world that we live in”
I think that the picture has an eerie side to it, the black and white style print and the closed in walls gives you the impression that the Television is the only thing in the world preserved like this in a post-apocalyptic world. The fact that these images are from 41 years ago reinforce the notion that the house was left like this, untouched for years without human interaction. The wilted flowers really show the passage of time.
I think more realistically and more to the point that John Myers is hinting to, is that this image, this shoebox snapshot IS Middle England. So what is Middle England? To a child, Middle England is a time spent growing up in the typical suburban house parked in front of the television. A child has no responsibility or stress about deadlines, and this television is representative of his childhood innocence.
I enjoy how the intersecting line between the wall and door also intersects the Television and I think that it really ties the image together as a whole rather than having a separate foreground and background.
The lighting is very even except for the light reflection on the television screen, which draws the eye in to the subject, and the set of double shadow on the wall that almost reinforces the impression of a radiation shadow found in a post-apocalyptic world. Radiation is usually a large factor in post-apocalyptic scenarios and in Hiroshima, the radiation left shadows and silhouettes of people and objects on the walls that tied them eternally to the location. Myers focused his light source so that the shadow looked staggered and similar to the aforementioned radiation marks. This could be interpreted psychoanalytically – John left his childhood home many years ago (represented by statis in the image) but the radiation shadows show how a part of him is still there (his childhood innocence) today.
Taken in 1973, this is an image taken from the ‘Substation’ part of Myers’ work on Middle Earth. The concept behind this focuses on items and objects deemed ugly in suburban life. In the interview on Vimeo, (I have left a link at the bottom of the page) he gives his reasons for documenting these structures:
“They – more so than any other aspect of the urban environment in terms of importance – are the most invisible parts of the urban environment.”
Without them, there would be no domestic electrical supply.
The image has been shot with a lot of care and consideration, he talks about planning each shot before he takes it due to the limited exposures on film cameras.
The trees are included in the frame, I think that they show how the substation is overshadowed. To reinforce this, the photograph hasn’t been taken from head on but instead from an angle to represent the way that we ignore the structures.
Looking technically, I can only assume that a medium ISO film has been loaded into the camera (around 400) due to the image being sharp overall but slightly fuzzy when looking at smaller and higher detail parts of the image. Due to the nature of shooting trees outdoors I would say that the shutter speed is high as there is little motion blur on the foliage. I know that when I am shooting with film outdoors, I address the shutter speed as the most important factor and adjust the aperture around it. There is very little range of depth in this image (which means I can’t really estimate an accurate aperture level) , as most things are happening in the background; this could be symbolic of the ideals instilled into this body of work. By placing the power station at the background, John is stating that it is often overlooked. In other images the house are in the foreground which could suggest they pull focus.
I think that John Myers’ work is very relevant to the body of work that I want to create; he photographs things that people think are unimportant but still have a lot of relevance today. The substation segment of his work is especially inspirational as he takes something visually uninteresting and “invisible’ and makes it look important and visually stimulating. I have been trying to take images of old record players in such ways that make them look visually stimulating in similar ways to John.
I like the fact that after nearly 40 years, the images John took were still considered relevant by the Ikon gallery as my project is based around old formats, old technologies and whether or not they are still useful or now considered obsolete.
I mentioned that these objects seem mundane to us but show on some level a quality of nostalgia and that is something that I want to show in the form of a photo-shoot based around people’s vinyl collections; the records may not have much monetary worth but they are significant and important to the owners.