Jeff Wall, Hannah Starkey, Tom Hunter and Taryn Simon

The work of Jeff Wall, Hannah Starkey, Tom Hunter and Taryn Simon is used in my OCA manual to help illustate the use of art, literature and real-life in tableau or constructed settings. I am going to research each further as I think they will help me to pick an idea for my assignment.

Jeff Wall:

Jeff Wall, born 1946. Canadian photographer well known for his recreation of history and his staged reality photography. His imagery often combines different concepts within the same frame, encouraging viewers to form their own ideas of what is fabricated and what is real.

It was suggested that we look at this image:

Image result for jeff wall invisible man
Jeff Wall, After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, 1999-2001

Every single aspect of this image his been placed there purposefully and the picture is Wall’s response and interpretation (and presumably the image conjured by his imagination) in response to the words he was reading/hearing in Ralph Ellison’s novel. As suggested in the OCA course notes, the clutter and chaos in the image are representative of the subject’s state of mind. The image itself is kind of bland, the colours’ dull and the individual props and location very mundane – yet the combining of all elements in the frame, the lighting and depth of field used transform the picture in to something that tells a story, one that for me instills a deep sense of unease.

Another image by Jeff Wall that I am inspired by in relation to this part of the course and heading towards Assignment 5 is the following:

Jeff Wall ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind’, After Hokusai, 1993

The image above is displayed in a light box in the Tate Modern and is based on a woodcut by painter Hokusai. According the description on Tate’s website the image was shot on multiple occasions using the same actors and the same location on days which had similar weather conditions and then certain elements from these individual images were combined digitally to create the desired effect. So unlike the image above (‘The Invisible Man’) in which every lightbulb was hung physically in the room, ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind’ was put together digitally using many photos. Obviously each individual image was not ‘real’ in the first place as it was a picked location and the actors were of course acting rather than spontaneous passers-by but this image has more of digital influence to bring it in to the land of fantasy than the other.

Hannah Starkey

Hannah Starkey, born 1971 in Belfast. Now lives and works in London, UK. Starkey uses composed scenes within chosen areas to snap what would appear to be candid images of everyday women but is in fact actors in staged positions. The following passage of Hannah Starkey’s Biography page on Sataachi Gallery’s website sums her work up perfectly:

 ‘Her still images operate as discomforting ‘pauses’; where the banality of existence is freeze-framed in crisis point, creating reflective instances of inner contemplation, isolation, and conflicting emotion.’

http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/hannah_starkey.htm

Starkey’s images look like scenes from dramatic films, featuring a strong female role. The scenes and backdrops surrounding the subjects look real, yet slightly detached from reality, bordering on the surreal with subtly dreamlike qualities – very similar to what can become the norm in the movies.

Untitled-September 2008
Untitled – Hannah Starkey, September 2008 

The above image is one of my favourite’s because there is so much in the frame for the eye to work out and to admire. It is not easy to view the main subject, a lady with an arm full of coloured bangles and a very intense expression, as the screen busies the mindwith its full spectrum of colour and its shiny and edgy qualities. I still can’t make out exactly what the ‘bars’ are created by – a hanging beaded partition? -a glass window with little cut patterns that refract the light, – silver foil strips? Whatever it is the screen is incredibly pleasing to view, it is complicated and beautiful and intriguing and wholst flitting around the frame to view it in its entirety the viewer’s eye inevitably catches the gaze of the woman within. Also, to the right of the frame is the reflection of the city behind the viewer which makes the scene even more interesting and 3D and brings the whole image to life. The whole composition looks like a candid street photo taken by a passing photographer in the moment but in reality it was, at least in some parts, composed. The image definitely looks like it could have leaped straight from a movie screen and I am very awed by it’s level of engagement with the viewer.

In the OCA course notes it was suggested that I look at Hannah Starkey’s work becuase of the influence of literature in her imagery. One such image is featured in the course notes called Self-Portrait 2 by Hannah Starkey but I cannot find any reference to it on the internet except for a press release by the gallery Maureen Paley which talks of Starkey’s influences. The image in question (as seen in the OCA course notes) was based on Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem The Lady of Shalott:

The Lady of Shalott (1842)

Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
       To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
       The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
       Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
       The Lady of Shalott?
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
       Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ” ‘Tis the fairy
       Lady of Shalott.”
Part II
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
       Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
       Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
       Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
       The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
       The Lady of Shalott.
Part III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
       Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
       Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
       As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
       Beside remote Shalott.
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
       As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
       Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
       As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
       Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
       She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
       The Lady of Shalott.
Part IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
       Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
       Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
       She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
       The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
       Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
       The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
       Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
       All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
       The Lady of Shalott.”
The poem is about the Lady of Shallott, locked in a tower with only reflections of the world outside reflected in a mirror. The lady of Shallott is cursed and so if she is to turn to look out of the window she will die as she is only allowed to view the world through the mirror. The Lady of Shallott is able to resist all temptations and the poem describes some very beautiful scenery reflected on the mirror and it is only when the shining knight of her dreams passes by that she is unable to resist looking at him directly from the window. It is then the curse takes effect and the lady of Shallott dies. The poem makes the reader think about whether it is worth looking upon the world through a mirror’s reflection without never really seeing or living it. The Lady of Shallott decided that being alive in this unreal state wasn’t worth sacrificing her desires for.
The point is that in taking a self portrait of herself reflected in a window, Starkey is not only taking a self portrait in the literal sense but this image is also a comment on photography itself and its ability to create a different, if not similar, reality. All too often we look at photography in the literal sense, as though it is real life as it happened – a true account and yet that is simply not the case. Although we no longer need mirrors in order to be able to see ourselves, as we can turn the camera on ourselves and each other, mirrors and reflections are still very present in self portrait photography and this adds a self-reflective quality and also adds a voyeuristic element – the viewer can now look upon the maker of the image as well as the image itself. This image is also an example of a photographer drawing upon influences from the wider world, in this case literature. This makes me think about what wider influences I could use to influence my own work -be it a poem, another photograph, a novel, a painting, a real life experience of my own or another…
Tom Hunter
Tom Hunter, born 1965 in Dorset England. Describing himself as an artist Hunter uses painting and documentary influences to directly inspire and lead his work. Hunter is known for his imagery which draws from the experiences of those in his immediate community such as squatters and travellers. The images are often taken directly from a true story about an individual and their circumstance and made in to a fictional work of art using staged people and props and as well as being based on true events the images are often loosely based on iconic paintings. Hunter never uses actors but instead waits for the right person to present themselves – usually a friend, family member or acquaintance.
‘Hunter’s work straddles the factual and the fictional and this gives the stories an emotional depth as well as an aesthetic strength.’
pg 113 of OCA course notes
In the OCA course notes Hunter’s series Hell and Other Stories is featured and I find this work utterly fascinating and inspiring. In this series Hunter took real news from the Hackney Gazette and created imagery directly from these stories that reflected the individuals within them. The visual styles he used are similar to the style of James Vermeer’s paintings in their use of natural light, windows, colours and tones. In an interview for the Guardian with Decca Aitkenhead Hunter explained that for Hell and other Stories he would read a news story that would interest him and then mentally visualise it and in doing so its relationship to a classical painting would emerge for him.
Living in Hell – Hell and other Stories, Tom Hunter
Personally I am really intrigued by this series because the images speak for themselves without need for captions or descriptions. They do not look as though they have been taken from a newspaper yet they still have a documentary feel. Its as if he has taken the ordinary and made it extraordinary with an effortless ease. The most interesting thing for me is that these images were based on news stories that were headliners but which had no image assigned to them so Hunter is working solely from imagination and the image’s coming to his mind’s eye whilst reading the headline. So, although these stories are real Hunter’s images are entirely fictional with hints to the truth which he has taken from whatever clues about the person in question and their situation were to be glimpsed in the text. Also, news is not always even remotely subjective so we have to assume that the stories Hunter read had already been elaborated or amended to fit the goals of the Hackney Gazette.
So, where Starkey used literature for her inspiration, Hunter drew from documentary and paintings to form a base for his imagery. This real life influence enabled Hunter to tell the stories of those subcultures who are often overlooked in society.
Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon, born 1975. American born Taryn Simon is a multidisciplinary artist who uses photography, text, sculpture and performance and is interested in categorisation and classification. Her work features a lot of research in to a particular subject and the photographic portion of each series is therefore minimal in relation to how much research there is, which sometimes comes in the form of large accompanying texts or audio.
In the OCA course notes it was suggested that we look at the work of Taryn Simon, in particular her series entitled The Innocents which is in investigation in to the wrongful convictions, for violent crimes, of men and women across America. The project works on several levels as it highlights the concerns of using photography as an accurate form of  identification used by eye witnesses and also it speaks of the innocent subject’s own memories and the implications that photography and the law have had on him. I watched an online video of Taryn Simon giving a Ted Talk (see here) in which she talks about The Innocents and she gives an example of how photography can aid in wrongful convictions. She describes a women who was raped and later when police are trying to find the perpetrator she is shown a series of sketches, photographs, descriptions, composite images etc and one of the men featured in those composites she is familiar with some features perhaps but cannot make a positive ID. At a later date she is given a handful of images, all new except for the original photo of the man she had some recollections of and now she makes a positive ID on that man. The photograph replaced a memory, if indeed there as ever one there before. So photographs, although seen as a useful tool in deciphering the truth of a crime, in reality it can be misleading and it can actually alter the memories of an individual  especially when it is paired with leading questions by officials etc, and can lead to the wrong men being put behind bars.
Frederick Daye – Taryn Simon from The Innocents
The series contains a photo of a man of colour at his alibi location, which looks to be a public bar, where over 100 people witnessed him at the time the crime was supposed to have taken place and  yet he was still convicted by an all white jury and served several years in jail until new DNA evidence exonerated him and implicated another man. The victim claims that law enforcement permanently altered her memory.
Another image in the series pictures a man at the crime scene of the crime that he was wrongfully committed of and Taryn Simon placed him here because he had never been there before so it was powerful to picture him at a place which has changed his life and therefore to highlight the fine line between fact and fiction both in his life and in photography.
The image featured in the OCA course notes from The Innocents pictures a man of colour sandwiched between two mattresses at the same site that he was arrested at for a crime that he did not commit. The man, Larry, served 18.5 years of an 80 year sentence for rape and robbery and the victim failed to identify Larry in two live line-ups and then made a positive identification days later from a photo array.
The project also shows a 30 minute video with clips from some of the men who were wrongfully convicted.
I find this whole project so interesting and shocking and I think it is a really important piece of work as it highlights the problems involved with people believing that photography is entirely factual and subjective and also that memories are always correct when they involve photographic proof.
References:

Jeff Wall

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/jeff-wall/jeff-wall-room-guide/jeff-wall-room-guide-room-6 (accessed on 12/12/2017)

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wall-a-sudden-gust-of-wind-after-hokusai-t06951 (accessed on 12/12/2017)

http://rogallery.com/Wall_Jeff/wall-bio.html (accessed on 12/12/2017)

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-wall-jeff.htm (accessed on 12/12/2017)

Hannah Starkey

http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/hannah_starkey_september_2008.htm (accessed on 14/12/2017)

http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/hannah_starkey.htm (accessed on 14/12/2017)

http://www.artnet.com/artists/hannah-starkey/ (accessed on 14/12/2017)

https://www.maureenpaley.com/exhibitions/hannah-starkey-1/press-release (accessed on 14/12/2017)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45360/the-lady-of-shalott-1842 (accessed on 14/12/2017)

Tom Hunter

http://www.tomhunter.org/info/ (accessed on 16/12/2017)

http://www.tomhunter.org/living-in-hell-and-other-stories/ (accessed on 16/12/2017)

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/dec/03/photography (accessed on 16/12/2017)

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/tom_hunter_life_and_death_in_hackney_duke_street_2000/ (accessed on 16/12/2017)

Taryn Simon

https://www.ted.com/talks/taryn_simon_photographs_secret_sites#t-1029529 (accessed on 17/12/2017)

http://tarynsimon.com/works/innocents/#1 (accessed on 17/12/2017)

http://tarynsimon.com/biography/ (accessed on 17/12/2017)

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Part 5, Project 1: Research Point

Gregory Crewdson – Untitled (North by Northwest)

Brief: Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this Youtube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7CvoTtus34&feature=youtu.be

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson suceeds in making his work more ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

Gregory Crewdson:

Background.

Born in New York in 1962, based in New York. Earned his MFA at Yale School of Art where he is now director of graduate studies in photography. His work has been widely exhibited internationally and he is well known for his unique style of tableaux photography.

I think that there is much more to Gregory Crewdson’s work than aesthetic beauty and although there is always beauty at the very forefront there is much more just below the surface. On viewing a vast selection of his imagery in online galleries and during the video I find the imagery incredibly evocative, it is definitely more moving than the majority of beauty and or fashion photography that I have seen. There is something about the blankness of the subjects, their stillness and their deep deep emotional presence set on a backdrop of surreal and fantastical scenery. The images transport me to another world, a dreamland, where anything can and frequently does happen.

I think Crewdson’s work is definitely psycholgical in more than the one sense. I think that his work reflects his own state of mind and his own deep fears and dreams in one form or another, as self professed by Crewdson himself within the video (Cathedral of the Pines represented a dark time in his life and the images were meant to be hopeful). I also think that the work is psychological in that it challenges people’s own ideas of reality and fiction and the line between them and also the range of very eery but intensely moving emotion captured on the faces of the subjects’ are those that every human can relate to having experienced them at least once in their lives. I can’t speak for all but for me this ‘tugging’ at my emotional heartstrings twists my mind and makes me want to analyse how I am feeling. These pictures definitely make me think – and feel. This is the best way I can think to describe the psychological element of Crewdson’s work.

When making my own imagery I am not too concerned about beauty but more about meaning. Having said that, it depends on the subject as where some things are meant to shock others depend on a beautiful aesthetic to pull viewers in before making their point. I do feel, as a photographer, that I am drawn to beautiful things, from scenery to light and shadow, to an interesting looking person or animal but I think that the meaning of the image will usually give it an interesting quality with or without beautiful aesthetics.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with making beauty your main goal. However, I think if beauty is your main goal and you achieve that but yet the image is flat and meaningless that it will not matter how beautiful it is as no one will be the slightest bit interested in it. I have come across images such as this in fashion magazines before. It’s the images which just show a statue-like celebrity with a necklace or item of clothing/accessory draped on him/her with no added interest in the frame – no emotion, no character, no background, no props etc that really bore me and I wonder how much product can possibly sell from those types of advert. I much prefer the images of Guy Boourdin, for example, where the images are provocative, frightening, shocking, sexy AND beautiful – that’s the whole package.

 

 

References:

http://www.artnet.com/artists/gregory-crewdson/biography (accessed 30/11/2017)

 

 

Part 5, Project 1: Setting the Scene

Brief: Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8

Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.

  • What does this scene tell you about the main character?
  • How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.

Make some notes in your learning log.

I’ve never watched this film although I have heard of it so the following notes are based on the clip alone and my observations.

Summary:

The main character is young, handsome, suave, social, important, well-liked, well-dressed and confident.

I have written a list of the visual clues, as they happen, in order to work out how I came to the conclusions of the man’s character listed above.

  • Main character hands cash to assumed porter to look after car, cash exchange – hand to hand. (Well to do, upper class)
  • Guides his date across the road towards a long queue, hand on her waist, looking at her frequently as he talks. (Charming, ladies man)
  • Guides her straight through the queue to some steps, switching sides with her smoothly – turns to her as they descend and laughs. (Charming, ladies man)
  • Opens door for her as a suited man holds open the other, another exchange of dollar bills. (Showing off in front of her, wealthy – able to pay to use back entrance)
  • Main character glances at his date again and chuckles. (Charming, ladies man, confident)
  • Another suited man, gangster looking with slicked back hair and a moustache eating a burrito, stops and shakes his hand in a familiar and warm gesture. (Hint of gangster/drug/gang themes)
  • Another man on the right shortly after, a brief acknowledgement, again familiar. (Well-liked, celebrated)
  • Main character turns to left and makes hand gesture at two workers hanging around in the corridor, makes a joke, familiarity – he is well known and liked. (Sense of humour, use of banter)
  • He takes his date by her hand and continues to guide her through narrow corridors between busy workers. (confident, knows the back route by heart, a regular here)
  • Main character pushes two arguing kitchen porters in suits away as he walks smoothly past then squeezes past another as the room gets narrower and workers become more plentiful. (Important, able to push workers)
  • A chef to the left with tall white hat looks and grins. (Chef most important man in kitchen and he is smiling at the intruder)
  • A grinning older man in suit gets a warm shoulder squeeze as the main character passes him. (Older man looks important, boosting main characters VIP status)
  • As main character turns back to walk on he falls over a protruding work top – clumsy, human, quirky. (Proves he’s human, something women might find cute)
  • Main character steers his date in to a posh looking red hall in which he immediately shakes hands with a suited man on the left. (VIP status boost once more)
  • Another suited man immediately waves him over with one hand and then opens out his palms in a a gesture of welcome and then shakes his hand and his dates hand.
  • The suited man then waves to a waiter to make up a table – two men rush to set one up, it is ready as they approach it.
  • The suited man holds a chair out for him and they shake hands again.
  • As the main character begins to sit three men rush to shake his hand and another waves from further away and he waves back. (very well-liked and well known and respected)
  • Main character adjusts his suit with two firm shakes of the wrists in a formal manner. (Important, formal)
  • The suited man then points across the room to a group of who raise their glasses and hands to the main character.
  • When he answers his dates question – What do you do? He doesn’t hold her eye contact this time but his eyes move around the stage instead – a lie perhaps? Then he turns to her and smiles. (Shady, mysterious)
  • When the entertainment comes on he nods his head and points at him in yet another familiar gesture – they know each other.

I then read on in the course notes and the colour red was mentioned, implying danger and romance – something that I had felt but wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly where the feeling came from.