Artist Study – Thom & Beth Atkinson

Beth & Thom Atkinson are a brother and sister in their early 30s who after three quarters of a century, have revealed their mysterious reinterpretation of the effect of the Blitz on contemporary London. They combine aesthetics from old paintings and tell a part fictional narrative of the terror of war on London’s landscape. They aim to preserve the physical and psychological landscapes of the Second World War landscapes in London. According to The Independent, Tonkin (2015), “the Atkinsons uncover… hollow monuments, as sites of memory, and, in Benjamin’s premonitory words, as scenes of a crime.” Beth was educated first as a fine artist and then as a photographer at the Universities of Leeds and royal college of Art respectively.

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Copeland Road, Thom and Beth Atkinson

Atkinson’s work appeals to me because it is quite simple yet profound. When I viewed these images I was thinking, okay I am looking at buildings, but what is so special about these ones? Then it hit me, when I saw the imprint of a building on a wall and an empty space. Something used to be here and now it’s gone!

They were chosen for my study because I am examining why everyone fears the wave of gentrification that is happening in London and what people do not want to disappear. The threat of something no longer being there draws in documentary photographers, like myself. I suppose it’s the thrill of being a part of history before it has happened. Missing Buildings, is a series comprised of 42 large format photographs and has been presented with other material to create a photobook. This appears to be a long term personal project.

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Florence Road, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Over a million of London’s buildings were destroyed or damaged by bombing between 1940 and 1945. Some of the types of buildings ranged from a suburban terrace, to the incongruous post-war inner city estate. Missing Buildings reveals London as a vast archaeological site, which still has the visible scars of its violent wartime past. The artists combined knowledge from books, images and grandparents’ memories to make more than a simple record of bombsites. They retell the story of an epic battle.

Below are my 3 key images for visual analysis.

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Hackney Road, Thoma & Beth Atkinson

Image 1 – Hackney Road

  • This is a road I have passed on many occasions. The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building with the pink sign but this is overshadowed by the lamppost.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat, with the absence of clouds.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (buildings).
  • The composition of this image is quite interesting. I would have considered the image without the lamppost in the foreground but maybe it adds to the overall narrative.
  • In addition, the line of the pavement is not directly in the left hand corner but again, these composition choices appear to be intentional.
  • This image tells a story, but the story is stronger as a series instead of this image on its own.
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Dingley Place, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Image 2 – Dingley Place

  • This is a road I have also passed on many occasions.
  • The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building behind the tree, where there is a contrast between the shade of brown and the type of material the building has been made with.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image (buildings).
  • 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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Brunel Road, Thom & Beth Atkinson

Image 3 – Brunel Road

  • This is a road I have also passed on many occasions.
  • The lighting in this image creates a silently eerie photograph.
  • The main focal point is the building behind the naked tree, it is also interesting to note that the tree is not in front of tall buildings.
  • The light appears to be natural (daylight) and quite flat.
  • This is a typical image by the photographer and lends itself heavily to initial training as a fine artist.
  • I think it is a successful image with the subject matter clearly indicated by what is in the image’s foreground (tree) in contrast to the background (buildings)..
  • 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

They have used colour film and a large format camera which alters the way the colour scheme the photographs have compared to a DSLR. Traditionally, footage related to the war has been shown in black and white so this is another opportunity to see it in colour. Given that Missing Buildings searches for mythology/strange apparitions as part of its narrative, this blurs facts and fiction and may have been too complicated to produce in black and white.

Key elements taken for my own practise

As a result of looking at Missing Buildings, I will:

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

Beth Atkinson (no date) Available at: http://www.bethatkinson.co.uk/ (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

Tonkin, B. (2015) Missing buildings: Thom and Beth Atkinson’s photographs capture the scars left on the London cityscape by the blitz. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/missing-buildings-thom-and-beth-atkinsons-photographs-capture-the-scars-left-on-the-london-cityscape-10475272.html (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

2016, T.A. (2016) Thom Atkinson photographer. Available at: http://thomatkinson.com/ (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

Magazine, F.-S. and contributors, its (2010) Contemporary photography: An informal movement. Available at: http://www.fstopmagazine.com/pastissues/43/milbrath.html (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

What is fine Art Photography and how to do it? (2015) Available at: http://digital-photography-school.com/what-is-fine-art-photography-and-how-to-do-it/ (Accessed: 8 December 2016).

 

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Idea Moodboard

Moodboards are very beautiful things for visual people but sometimes, even these need a bit of moderation. For my Final Major Project (which will be a stepping stone into the photographic industry) I decided to limit my initial moodboard to just 2 artists, yes 2!

Following my summer placement at Magnum Photos, I decided it would be a good place to start. This moodboard incorporates a ‘traditional’ photographer and a contemporary one who work in different ways – colour and black and white but are both documentary photographers who employ location and natural lighting in their work. In addition, they fit into the sub-genre of street  photographers. Their names are Alex Webb (the colour photography) and Matt Black (black and white).

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(filename is lecturers name – ignore that bit) – picture references available separately

When I was opened up to the influences that Webb had when studying and learning photography (Professional Photography magazine) he studied masters such as Cartier-Bresson who did not work in colour. This was a critical point for me. Whether or not a photographer has the same working practice as you – either in content or aesthetic there is always some principle that you can take away.

I had the privilege of assisting the setup of the New Blood Magnum exhibition and I was immediately drawn to Black’s work. The pictures he had on display were documenting the ‘Geography of Poverty’. For these he used poignant pictures and a key statistic/caption. The way he presents his work and his approach help give this series and unusual and more profound meaning than stereotypical documentations of poverty and hardship so frequently employed.

This moodboard was a good starting point for me because it challenged me to find similarities/differences between two photographers, whether it be in their work, practice, aesthetics or their approach. It allowed me to dig deeper and to challenge the way I work. I would recommend making a moodboard with a limited amount of photographers, artists (whatever it is you are looking at) as a starting point for a new project. It will force your eyes to be opened.

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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