Artist Study – Alec Soth

Alec Soth (b. 1969) is a photographer born and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published over twenty-five books including Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), NIAGARA (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015). Soth has had over fifty solo exhibitions including survey shows organized by Jeu de Paume in Paris (2008), the Walker Art Center in Minnesota (2010) and Media Space in London (2015). Soth has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2013). In 2008, Soth created Little Brown Mushroom, a multi-media enterprise focused on visual storytelling. Soth is represented by Sean Kelly in New York, Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis, Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, and is a member of Magnum Photos.

Hi most recent solo exhibitions were in Douglas Hyde Gallery (Dublin, Ireland) 2016 and
Scotiabank CONTACT (Toronto, Canada) 2016 with an upcoming one in FotoMuseum (Antwerp, Belgium) 2017. His most recent press review was in April 2012 by Decter, Joshua for the Sean Kelly Gallery. Soth is also a visiting artist lecture in 46 venues across America and Europe.

Customers waiting for Walmart to open on a Sunday afternoon. Williston, ND
Walmart. Williston, North Dakota, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Alec Soth who was notorious for his more isolated portraits has recently turned his lens toward community life in the country. To aid his research, Soth assumed the increasingly obsolescent role of community newspaper reporter. From 2012-2014, Soth travelled state by state while working on his self-published newspaper, The LBM Dispatch. Whilst doing this, he was on assignment for the New York Times. From upstate New York to Silicon Valley, Soth attended hundreds of meetings, dances, festivals and communal gatherings in search of human interaction in an era of virtual social networks.

With Songbook, Soth has stripped these pictures of their ‘news context’ in order to highlight the longing for connection. Fragmentary, funny and sad, Songbook is a lyrical depiction of the tension between American individualism and the desire to be united. I find this a very inspirational project. I was unsure what I was looking at when I saw the exhibition last year and after an internship at Magnum, I feel my understanding of this project has deeply improved. My project is long term and of a personal nature which is why I will be looking at Songbook, in my last artist study.

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Facebook. Menlo Park, California, Songbook, Alec Soth, 

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Execution. Huntsville Prison. Huntsville. Texas. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 1

  • This is a brilliant image.
  • The lighting in this image is even – it was taken at night time, though the light reaches the subjects closer to the photographer (left hand side of the image).
  • The main focal point is the line of men in uniforms. The whole picture in focus allows the reader to picture the next parts of the story or even what happened before. Moreso, than a picture of an electric chair or a noose would.
  • The light in this image appears to be artificial  – flashgun or continuous lighting. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the viewer allowed to engage in the photograph to piece together a story from what is happening.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach combined with leading lines (the men and the cables above their heads) has been taken. Without the light illuminating the left hand side, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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The Key Hotel. Kissimmee, Florida, Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 2

  • This is one of my favourite images.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful – possibly taken at sunset. The lighting draws attention to the top of this building and slowly the eyes fall to absorb what is happening in the picture.
  • The main focal point is the clouded skyline. The whole picture (the details of the building and parking lot) plus the woman going into the hotel, form part of this urban environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background or getting closer.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter insinuated cleverly – the theme of loneliness and vast surroundings – in nature and in the town/places in it.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre and slightly cropped. Without the skyline, or lady in the photograph, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
Off Highway 23, ND (Williston Basin)
Near Williston. North Dakota. Songbook, Alec Soth

Image 3

  • This is my favourite image.
  • The lighting in this image is quite beautiful and idyllic. It frames the house more interestingly than an evenly lit photography would. The subject matter is clear by the emotion it connotes – loneliness.
  • The main focal point is the house. The whole picture (the details of the grass, skyline and the land around) form part of this country environment and this is justification for not blurring out the background.
  • The light in this image appears to be natural – coming straight from the sky. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to his fine art approach to narrative photography.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated not by what is in the image but by the feeling it evokes. Getting closer, further away or changing perspectives would have utterly altered the image and its meaning.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting – an off centre rule of thirds approach has been taken. Without the light illuminating the building, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the whole image in focus with the foreground and background being filled adds to the narrative. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is strong as a series and on its own.
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Brian. Williston. North Dakota, Songbird, Alec Soth

Artist materials and processes

Soth is quite a ‘slow’ car photographer. He uses large format cameras like Wista and sets up in spaces he feels curious about. He fits his personal work around his commissioned work and this gives him the freedom and flexibility to explore. In a Vimeo interview, he says “the great thing about photography is what it can communicate when you let it”. All he does is set up the parameters in which he will operate. He will go to a place he is curious about, go an knock on a door he wants to know what is going on behind and that, he says is when the rewards start to come.

He left the photography style quite open, there are close portraits where he considers spatial awareness between the subjects and then there are photographic ‘miracles’ like the picture with Jesus in the skyline or establishing photographs where the distance matters a bit more. When the images are placed together in a gallery, there is something for everyone to take away from it – the more alone pictures related to human instinct or the contextualised portraits (oil worker).

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Songbird, I will:

  • Become a bit more creative in my photography practise. I will not worry about the type of materials I am using or how I photograph things to the point of obsession. I will allow my curiosity and instinct to guide my documentary photography.
  • Consider how else I can communicate in photography – leaving the story wide open and at other times quite closed, say things by how the photographs make people feel as opposed to focusing more on visual arrangements?
  • Consider which other publications – besides a book, can used to present the story of the people and communities represented and initiate a positive change

info (no date) Songbook (First edition. First printing) by Alec Soth. Available at: http://mackbooks.co.uk/books/1057-songbook.html (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Gallery, F. (2016) Alec Soth: Songbook. Available at: https://vimeo.com/120211809 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Soth, A. and LensCulture (no date) Songbook – photographs by Alec Soth. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/alec-soth-songbook (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Written and Davies, L. (2015) Alec Soth – songbook. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/03/alec-soth-songbook/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

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Practitioner Case Study – Mike Abrahams

Mike Abrahams has worked as a freelance photographer for over 30 years having become renowned for his sensitive eye in documenting the lives of ordinary people. In 1981, he was a cofounder of Network Photographers which is an internationally and his work has taken him around various parts of the globe. His photographs have been published in all the major international news media and his ability to work in difficult situations made him a highly sought after photographer. His work on Faith – A Journey with Those Who Believe, published in 2000, was a 5 year project, documenting the extremes/passion of Christian devotion in 14 countries. Awards for this work included the World Press Photo Award in 2000, and the book Faith designed by Browns, was a finalist in the Design Week – Editorial Design: Books.

Colin Jacobson, picture editor of The Independent Magazine, described his body of work from the conflict in Northern Ireland and published in the book Still War, in 1989 as “Documentary photography at its best – …comprehensive,… and concerned”. His coverage of the troubles in Northern Ireland was the subjects of a Television documentary “Moving Stills”. Other important assignments have included coverage the Berlin Wall, the Cult of Assad in Syria, The Jews of Damascus and Bradford’s Muslims.

He has completed both photojournalistic and corporate assignments. Some of his Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects have taken him to parts of Africa and Asia. Whilst these works have been commissioned, he retains a sensitivity whilst documenting various experiences. One of the most poignant for me was a portrait of someone living with HIV in India and fighting the stigma.

Fighting the stigma of HIV in India
Rajakumar, 2013, India, Mike Abrahams

Abrahams is quite an important practitioner for me because of his extremely unique and far-reaching approach. He moves fluidly between corporate and personal assignments whilst retaining the ability to tell ‘the story’ effectively.


Mike Abrahams (no date) Available at: http://www.mikeabrahams.com/about (Accessed: 9 December 2016).nursery-school-in-burma

Artist Study – Giles Duley

Giles Duley was born in 1971 in London. After 10 years as an editorial photographer across fashion and music genres in both the US and Europe, Duley shifted his focus to humanitarian projects. Duley He has worked with well respected charities such as Sans Frontiers, IOM and UNHCR to highlight less widely known stories equally deserving of action and public attention. He has documented some horrific and challenging situations being sure to capture the strength of those who fight instead of succumbing to their problems. His photographs create empathy for lives varying in circumstances and allow the viewer to be drawn to the subject.

In 2011, whilst on patrol with 75th Cavalry Regiment, United States Army in Afghanistan, Duley stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). He was severely injured, and became a triple amputee. He has since returned to work. His work has been exhibited and published worldwide in many respected publications including Vogue, GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sunday Times and others. In 2010 he was nominated for an Amnesty International Media Award and was a winner at the Prix de Paris in 2010 & 2012. His self-portrait was selected for the 2012 Taylor Wessing Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

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Self portrait – Taylor Wessing Photographic prize, 2012, Giles Duley

Duley’s work appeals to me because it is humanitarian and used to facilitate positive change for various members of society. His work deals with issues affecting a large proportion of society across continents . Duley has had to gain access to a range of communities and this takes both time and personal funding. He has successfully built up a network and is able to reconnect with people he meets in places as far as the Middle East! Whilst I am at a stage where I can still personally fund my long term documentary project, I do not have as much time. Duley’s longest and first project took 8 years.

The ability to use the camera as a tool for telling stories of marginalised communities is one that takes time and a lot of dedication and personal interest. For this assignment, I will be focusing on the series, A Family’s Story, Za’atari Refugee Camp. This series was done as a charity commission for Save The Children.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Salwa waits for dinner, A Family’s Story, Jordan, Giles Duley

Image 1 – Salwa waits for dinner

  • The lighting in this image focuses on the child on the left hand side, and the slight vignette makes the detailed and ‘in-focus’ background, complimentary as opposed to distracting. especially behind the man in the centre.
  • The main focal point is the child and her environment. The child, the dinner and multiple cutlery pieces on the table help tell the story which is probably a justification for not blurring out the child’s background.
  • The light in this image is artificial – when you zoom in, the little girls eyes have evidence of on camera (or off) flash. Possibly a small flash gun, or continuous ring shaped LED lighting. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalism/using photography as a tool for societal change.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (a child, surrounded by patterned furnishings – rug, the cultural food and even the other child’s feet in the top right hand corner).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. Without the slanted image, and the whole image in focus, the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the patterns in this image add to the setting of this story being in that part of the world (Jordan) whilst the presence of a child draws empathy and makes the story relatable. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, the story is just as strong as a series, as well as this image on its own.
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Amin holds his youngest daughter Safa who was born in the camp 8 months ago. The family sees her as a blessing that has helped them get through the hardships of the camp, 2014, Jordan, Giles Duley

Image 2 – Amin holds his youngest daughter Safa…

  • The lighting in this image draws immediate attention to Safa, in her fathers arms.
  • The main focal point is the little girl, Safa.
  • The light appears to be artificial – from a flash gun, and emphasises the Safa more than Amin, her father.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to humanitarian and emotive photojournalism.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by the subjects of the image (father and daughter) as well as the feelings it evokes straight away – empathy, familiarity and a sense of compassion.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. The image has been cropped quite closely, to really remove any distracting background elements.This image is very strong on its own but also, with the series.
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Amin washes his feet before prayer, Jordan, 2014, Giles Duley

Image 3 – Amin washes his feet before prayer

  • The lighting in this image creates a strong and moody photograph.
  • The main focal point is the right foot that the water is washing.
  • The light appears to be a combination of natural (daylight) and flash light, as there is a difference in light distribution between the arms – top part of the image, and the feet which are lower.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to humanitarian work.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (Amin washing his right foot) in contrast to the background (filled with stones/pebbles and the other parts of Amin’s body). It is strong for two reasons, it freezes the act and it shows a portrait without a face.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.
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Amin’s family, Jordan, 2014, Giles Duley

Artist processes/materials used

Duley works both in black and white and in colour. Based on some of his behind the scenes/travel companion photos, I have seen that he uses a Canon DSLR for his work. In some of the earlier series however, it is possible that this work was completed on film. Cost throughout the process is important to Duley as he sells his prints at around £130. It is highly unlikely that film work can be sold so cheaply. His digital work is printed in a special way (inkjet photographic paper) and sold until the series is no longer available. He has also produced a number of books, images for campaigns and posters.

Long term documentary photography projects where one is required to live in an environment other than their own, means a change in access to amenities such as electricity (important for photography battery charging). This implies, that it is more practical to complete such a project on film photography. Duley has however, gone against this norm. He also combines statistics and facts with his humanitarian work to give it some context and an extra dynamic. For example:

“We have rights to dream and rights to achieve those dreams” – Amin

3 years of war.
6.5 million internally displaced people.
2.4 million Syrian refugees.
560,000 in Jordan alone.
Za’atari Camp with over 100,000 refugees.

Siwar, Amin and their five children.
One family.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at A Family’s Story, I will:

  • Produce an edit of analogue styled  black and white work which contains portraits with detail of the subject’s environment
  • Combine other elements into the final story besides photographs – such as statistics which can be used to represent the societal issue in question
  • Consider which other publications – besides a book, can used to present the story of the people represented and initiate a positive change

(no date) Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/watch/here-2012/giles-duley (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

(no date) Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/isabelleq/tedx-observer-unstoppable-ideas (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G (no date) Available at: http://walkingwounded.emergencyuk.org/witness/giles-duley/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G. (2013) Giles Duley: ’I lost three limbs in Afghanistan, but had to go back …  ‘. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/10/giles-duley-photography-amputee-afghanistan (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Duley, G. (2012) When a reporter becomes the story. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/giles_duley_when_a_reporter_becomes_the_story (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Artist Study – Matt Black

Matt Black is a 46 year old documentary photography born in California. His work focuses on poverty, migration and the environment. He has received a World Press Photo Award, Robert F Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism (2016) and the W. Eugene Smith Grant (2015). He is also a nominee member of Magnum Photos. He usually works in his native area in Southern California and in Mexico. Black has photographed over 100 communities across 44 US states for his project, The Geography of Poverty. His projects often feature short films. Black has been named a Senior Fellow at the Emerson Collective, received a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and other professional acclaims.

Matt Black 1.jpg
Fallowed Tomato Fields, Corcoran, California, Matt Black

Black’s work appeals to me because it is in black and white, political and socially engaged. His work deals with issues affecting a large proportion of society everywhere and he adds another element to his documentary photography – short films. Black has had to gain access to a range of communities and this takes both time and personal funding. Whilst I am at a stage where I can still personally fund my long term documentary project, I do not have as much time.

The ability to use the camera as a tool for telling stories of marginalised communities is one that takes time and a lot of dedication and personal interest. For this assignment, I will be focusing on the series, The Geography Of Poverty. This series was done using census data and then geo-tagging his photographs.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

matt-black-el-paso
El Paso, TX. The population is 649, 121 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. Matt Black 

Image 1 – El Paso, TX

  • The lighting in this image creates strong contrasts, especially behind the man in the centre. It appears that this photograph used natural lighting and the sun was quite high in the sky (daytime as opposed to sunrise/sunset).
  • The main focal point is the column in front of the building with the number 1500. This is overshadowed by the darker contrasts evident in this picture.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and with the presence of clouds. The light enhances the message this photograph is sending.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (a person, surrounded by shadows and items common to a road – street sign, lamppost, etc).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. Without the column/lamppost in the foreground the message of this image would not be as strong.
  • In addition, the lines in this image imply an idea of overarching system or structural error. These composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story,the story is just as strong as a series as well as this image on its own.
matt-black-modesto
Modesto, CA. The population is 201, 165 and 20.8% live below the poverty line.

Image 2 – Modesto, CA

  • The lighting in this image creates an interesting effect though it is more even than in the previous image.
  • The main focal point is the man in the foreground, after which the competition for my attention is between the horizontal line, the Stop and Save Sign and the man in the background.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by the subjects of the image (2 men) as well as the sign on the building and the horizontal line working almost as a divider.
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. There is a relationship/narrative between the visible and connoted factors inside this photograph. This image is very strong on its own but also, with the series.
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Allensworth, CA. The population in 471 and 54% live below the poverty level. Matt Black 

Image 3 – Allensworth, CA

  • The lighting in this image creates a strong and moody photograph.
  • The main focal point is the hand on top of the pillar in the fields.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite dynamic (the shadow on the underside of the subjects hands) and the clouds in the sky.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to photojournalistic training.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (human hand on a pillar) in contrast to the background (expanse of empty land).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting and this image tells a story, both on its own and as part of a series.

Artist processes/materials used

Black works only in black and white. His earlier work in Kingdom of Dust has different shaped images – so I am inclined to say he used a medium format 6×9 camera. His Geography of Poverty series is in square format. I can speculate and say he used a square format film camera such as a Mamiya, or a Bronica 6×6. Alternatively, he could have used  Canon or Nikon DSRL/medium format, and edit and crop his images. Long term documentary photography projects where one is required to live in an environment other than their own, means a change in access to amenities such as electricity (important for photography battery charging). This implies, that it is more practical to complete such a project on film photography.

The fact that short films often accompany his documentary projects suggest that Black travels with a film maker or uses a camera which can produce short film footage – digital camera.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Geography of Poverty, I will:

  • Produce an edit of analogue styled  black and white work
  • Combine other elements into the final story besides photographs
  • Compare a consistent (fine art versus photojournalistic approach) in both aesthetics and content

Geography of poverty (no date) Available at: http://www.mattblack.com/the-geography-of-poverty/idp5g8h3xnyw3afef56puvetzhu1k8 (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Laurent, O. (2014) Matt Black is TIME’s pick for Instagram photographer of the year 2014. Available at: http://time.com/3615902/matt-black-instagram-photographer-of-2014/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Matt Black • photographer profiles • magnum photos (2016) Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/matt-black/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2016) ‘Poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/29/matt-black-photography-poverty-geography-california-us-sean-ohagan (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Written and Sritharan, B. (2015) Matt Black’s ‘moral’ photography of America’s sprawling poverty. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2015/08/matt-blacks-moral-photography-of-americas-sprawling-poverty/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Exhibition Review 2 

Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond St, The Decisive Moment

Planning for 2 exhibitions in the morning…

Map, address and writeup by TimeOut

As advertised in the TimeOut magazine

Photography was NOT permitted, however there was a free postcard witch an iconic Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB) image on the front which has been collected for the sketchbook.

Review:

This exhibition was enlightening regarding presentation, printing and fine art valuation. Also, there were a few HCB images I had not yet encountered. See below for these (sourced from books/online).