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).

Artist Study – Felicity Hammond

Felicity Hammond is a fine artist working with mixed mediums – primarily, photography and sculpture/installation. I had the privilege of meeting her at Photo London earlier this year (in conjunction with The Photographers Gallery). Her series on show was, You Will Enter an Oasis, 2015. This was a photo-sculptural project dealing with the computer generated visions of opulent living and the discarded material that it conceals. Some, if not all of the (concrete) slabs were ‘found objects’ taken from construction sites, the natural elements (leaves, wood etc) were then fused onto it and the final product photographed. The finished product was printed on a surface of Perspex where distortion and warping gave the piece dynamic impact. Her work has won numerous awards/nominations from the following institutions: British Journal of Photography, Catlin Art Prize, Saatchi New Sensations and Magnum/Photo London.

Felicity comes from a very heavy fine art background. Her undergraduate degree was in Fine Art Photography, her MA was in Photography at the Royal College of Art and she is currently working on a PhD in contemporary art research. A lot of the work on her website combines at least two which give her work a conceptual approach. Following which there is a clear process, of making things, (photographing them – if that is what the end result is), and then considering installation.

F. Hammond, Installation, 2015

This photograph appeals to me for 2 reasons. She is a contemporary photographer and her work combines visual art with something tactile (sculpting and installation). An issue which is very dear to my heart has been expressed in a completely different way than I would have thought. It is in colour, Hammond has used sculpture, found objects and no more than 3 types of objects in each image (wood, plant and blocks). Her work has not isolated anyone from the art or photography world which is a sign of this series’clarity and success.

When I entered the room and saw her work I was able to use the items in the picture to hazard a guess at what the work was about. This visual language and visual clarity is something I am striving for in my own practice. Given that Hammond has devoted a lot of her life to visual arts she is able to work ‘quicker’ on great projects than someone who is just entering the professional world of visual arts (like myself).

THE FOLLOWING 3 IMAGES WILL BE USED FOR DETAILED VISUAL ANALYSIS

 

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F Hammond, 2014

IMAGE 1: THE TOWEL

  • Lighting makes the shadow where the wood is hanging on the rack appear soft but defined. The blocks do not have reflections on them and this image mimics a ‘bath showroom’ image.
  • This is a successful image, the lines, repeated pattern, muted colour scheme and simplicity work well. The brick in the top right hand side giving the image a sense of something beyond what I am seeing is particularly clever too.
  • The main focal point of this image is the wood/towel. The use of pattern in lines and object texture cries out to be analysed but not in a competing way – the use of a large depth of field helps here.
  • The image has been composed in a way which is unusual – the towel/wood is off centre and there is a good amount of foreground/background space.
  • The lighting setup is most likely even lighting (see diagram below, paired with a white reflector – see the drastic differences)

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  • Hammond’s intention is to address the spatial inconsistencies of simulated architectural propositions and how they materialise in the post-industrial landscape. She has done this by breaking down the heart of what buildings are made of and what they must remove in order to exists.
  • Looking at Hammond’s galleries of other projects, her stamp is there, in composition, colour palette, way of working and the mediums she employs.
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 F Hammond, 2014

IMAGE 2: THE BATHROOM

  • The lighting in this image is identical to its predecessor – even, soft and with minimal shadows
  • This is a successful image, it looks like a Hammond picture and does not visually stray from the theme of the series or its styling. This image screams nathroom tiles to me becuase of its pattern on the cube. In addition, the material behind the cube combined wiith the cube is what many opulent bathrooms consist of whilst the material on top of the cube has to be removed (clearing the land) in order for this construction work to begin.
  • The focal point of this image is the grass sprouting from the cube sitting on a wooden surface
  • This image has been composed using a play on the rule of thirds. There is a shadow behind the focal point of this image as well as a hole on the left hand side of the image whilst the right side of the image has none. The cube is given less monotony with the 4 main lines on its surface.
  • The lighting diagram mentioned in image 1 was most likely employed here too as well as the intention of this image and series.
  • Looking at Hammond’s galleries of other projects, her stamp is there, in composition, colour palette and way of working.
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Bermuda Grass, F, Hammond, 2014

IMAGE 3: BERMUDA GRASS

  • This images lighting is most likely the same as its predecessors.
  • This is a successful image, well executed, looks like part of the overall series and the 2 elements behind the focal point do not detract from it.
  • The main focal point is the rectangular slap with the grass on top of it
  • This image has been composed using the rule of thirds for the horizontal arrangement. The distance between the table top and the bottom of the picture was considered in the vertical placing of this object in the image.
  • The use of (what appears to be art or picture frames) on both corners of this picture make me think of an affluent persons living room – I could be wrong and this may not have been the photographers intentions.

Artist material and processes

Hammond’s end results are printed onto perspex and she works with sculpture, installation, role play and photography. I am inclined to believe that she used a digital camera for photographing these pieces however the colour palette is quite muted so medium/large format colour film could be equally as probable.

On Hammond’s website there are no behind the scene videos or written insight into her materials and processes. From the variety of projects she has up, I can see that she is a very tactile artist and is not afraid to incorporate a variety of mediums from the visual arts world into her work.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED FROM HAMMOND AND HOW WILL I APPLY IT?

  • Don’t be afraid to incorporate other mediums into my work. I’ve never sculpted but I have had a hand at drawing and painting, see how this changes my work and the end result and possibly photograph that? Maybe even moving image/sound – just experiment and see what happens!
  • Visual language, a recurring theme, nevertheless a very important one. Think about the material/signs present in my photography and what they will communicate to my intended audience.
  • Have a very specific way of working and subject. The ‘boring topic to photograph’ is the easiest to experiment with, because of its simplicity.

Bibliography

Hammond, F. (no date) Works. Available at: http://www.felicityhammond.com/#/you-will-enter-an-oasis/ (Accessed: 31 October 2016).

Johnson, M. (2014) ‘A beautiful mess’, 23 December. Available at: http://www.abeautifulmess.com/2014/12/tips-for-using-natural-light-in-still-life-photography.html (Accessed: 31 October 2016).

Liberation®, P. (2015) Juno calypso wins BJP international photography award 2016. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/news/british-journal-photography-awards-2016-juno-calypso (Accessed: 31 October 2016).

Liberation®, P. (2016a) Architectural photographer Frederik Vercruysse captures serene and haunting spaces. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/frederik-vercruysse-architectural-photography-261016 (Accessed: 31 October 2016).

Liberation®, P. (2016b) Photographer Vincent chapters documents the black lives matter marches in London. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/vincent-chapters-black-lives-matter-march-london-130716 (Accessed: 31 October 2016).
Liberation®, P. (2016c) The complexities of life in Rio de Janeiro from photographer Stefanie Moshammer. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/stefanie-moshammer-land-of-black-milk-rio-110816 (Accessed: 31 October 2016).
(No Date) Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/jessica-lehrman-revolution-250716 (Accessed: 31 October 2016).

 

Research & Development – Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall is an artist renowned for large-format photographs with diverse subject matter. It encompasses urban environments and tableaux vivant that mimics the complexity and size of nineteenth-century paintings. This aspect of his practise lends itself to his training in art history at London’s Courtauld Institute.

Wall started producing large, backlit photographs after seeing an illuminated advertisement from a bus window. He had recently visited the Prado, Madrid, and combined his knowledge of the Western pictorial tradition with his interest in contemporary media to create one of most influential visions in contemporary art.

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A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993

Wall calls his photographs, after Charles Baudelaire, ‘prose poems’. This description emphasises how each picture should be experienced as opposed to illustrate a pre-determined idea or a specific narrative. His pictures may depict an instant and a scenario, but the before and after that moment are left completely unknown. This allows the viewer to become involved in the deciphering of the photographs meaning. Naturally, it follows that diverse interpretations would emerge upon different audiences responding to his work.

The prose poem format allows any truth claims of the photograph – the facts we expect from journalistic photography – to remain suspended, and Wall believes that in that suspension the viewer experiences pleasure. In addition to the light-boxes, Wall has made, since 1996, black-and-white prints, and has recently begun to print large-scale colour inkjet photographs.

Below are the 5 images of his that I find the most interesting/relevant to my intended body of work. Following that are evaluations and influences for my practice to consider.

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Each image is uniquely composed and loaded with societal issues. What is most interesting is that the majority – if not all of these images, were composed by Jeff Wall to convey a particular issue. Yet, without being told that they were ‘directed’ they are assigned a meaning. For example: ‘racism/racial slurs’, ‘apartheid within the USA where segregation of black individuals was prevalent’, the importance of unpaid workers etc. Each of these images, if put on posterd/ads and ran as campaigns would be successful visually for the clear theme they seem to stand for.

My next concern would be of how ethical it is to direct an image that may stand for a prevalent societal issue. The end result would be similar if not identical to street photography however, a lot more instruction and ‘bias’ was involved in the directed photograph.

For my personal practice I wish to envisage the size and scale of the images I take and not wait until ‘printing/post-production’ to consider those factors. In addition, I would like to pay as much detail as possible to what is inside of my frames when shooting – what adds detail, what enhances and what detracts? This is particularly hard when doing fast paced street photography but, it is not impossible.


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