PHO703 Week 1: Repeat Photography and Rephotography

What has emerged for me from this week’s topics of repeat photography and rephotography:

First, context is all. Without a powerful context or story line repeat photography – in the crude sense of then and now – does not strike me as very interesting. I am not sure it has really caught on. The Flickr Group ‘Looking into the Past’ cited by Jason Kalin (Kalin 2013: 172) has been moribund since 2016 and on Instagram the hashtag #rephotography has just 12,600 iterations.

The matter is very different with a context or story, however. Recently, before-and-after Covid-19 lockdown pictures of Venice or of smog-free views of the Himalayas from India have been hugely popular. Such images offer a visual record of a big and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime change.

Similarly effective was Now and Then, an exhibition of repeat photography by Daniel Meadows at the Bodleian Library last year in which portraits from the 1970s were shown next to re-photographs of the sitters two or three decades later (Crean 2019; Meadows 2019). The exhibition included audio recordings of the sitters describing their lives in deprived areas of northern England, and there were plenty of captions and background material including a talk and discussion with Meadows himself. In other words, this was not just the basic ‘then and now’ but a view into a story and into the lives of others.

Another recent exhibition, Shot in Soho, at the Photographers’ Gallery in London featured various photographers and their interpretations of the Soho area over the decades (Rodriguez 2019). The crucial distinction here is that each photographer offered a very clear story. A simple collection of images would not have been nearly so effective. Again, we were drawn into individual lives through the stories the photographers chose to tell.

Two more points I have picked up from this week.

First, I very much warm to the idea of repeat photography as a form of mnemonics, ‘a social practice for remembering, a particular orientation to memory, and thus a way of being in the world. Rephotography, rather than a representation of memory, suggests a practice of actively constructing and inhabiting memories and their times and places while also incorporating them into the present as active forces’ (Kalin 2013). This is very relevant because it is close to my current practice of urban photography.

Second is the perhaps unexpected conclusion that Mark Klett found emerging from his practice of rephotographing the landscapes of the early American Survey photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan (Klett 2011). What emerged was that all subsequent photographers no matter how apparently different – whether Ansel Adams or Robert Adams – had employed the same world view without realising it. They had all seen nature and man as distinct and in opposition – there is the pristine wilderness and then man despoils it – but in reality they are not distinct. Man and nature are part of the same whole, a view instinctively understood by native peoples all over the world.

So, repeat photography can have some cultural surprises hiding inside it. Another good example is the history of Afghanistan drawn out by Simon Norfolk (Norfolk 2020) and his search for the photographic locations used by the nineteenth-century photographer John Burke: war after futile war, all driven by the almost exactly the same imperial delusions and all failing in almost exactly the same way. The images – both Norfolk’s and Burke’s – tell the story together, but just one or the other alone would not.

Distinct from repeat photography is rephotography, meaning the reinterpretation, re-creation or re-staging of the past. This strikes me as very different and much more creative and interesting. I do not have any particular thoughts about it right now but perhaps I will return to the subject. I liked the interview with Jeremy Deller (Mellor 2011), however, and this set me thinking about the place of rephotography in the practices of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson, artists I really like – so I have plenty of interesting connections to follow up.

The overall connection which emerges from the whole week, however, is one word: collaboration.

References

CREAN, Mark. 2019. ‘Predator or Collaborator?’. Critical Research Journal [online]. Available at: https://markcrean.photography/index.php/2019/10/19/predator-or-collaborator/ [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

KALIN, Jason. 2013. ‘Remembering with Rephotography: A Social Practice for the Inventions of Memories’. Visual Communication Quarterly 20(3), 168–79 [online]. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&amp. [accessed 04 June 2020].

KLETT, Mark. 2011. ‘Repeat Photography in Landscape Research’. In Eric MARGOLIS and L. PAUWELS (eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods. Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE, 114–31.

MEADOWS, Daniel. 2019. ‘Daniel Meadows: Now and Then’. Bodleian Libraries [online]. Available at: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/display/daniel-meadows [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

MELLOR, David Alan. 2011. ‘Jeremy Deller Interviewed by David Alan Mellor’. Photoworks (17), 14–17 [online]. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&amp. [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

NORFOLK, Simon. 2020. ‘BURKE + NORFOLK’. Simon Norfolk [online]. Available at: https://www.simonnorfolk.com/burke-norfolk [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

RODRIGUEZ, Julian and Karen McQUAID. 2019. ‘Shot In Soho’. The Photographers’ Gallery [online]. Available at: https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/shot-soho [accessed 11 Jun 2020].

PHO703: For Cemre Yesil

My current research project is called Hometown Nights and is an exploration of my home city, Oxford in England, and its environs after dark. I have kept with the same project since the start of this degree course last September.

To quote from my Critical Review of Practice for PHO702: ‘I am locating my practice in a long tradition of urban night photography. The genre goes back to practitioners such as Steichen and Stieglitz, but my primary interest here is twofold: first, the tradition of photographers of urban American culture such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and Mark Power; and second, with contemporary practitioners who have often concentrated on night photography such as Rut Blees Luxemburg, Todd Hido, Nick Turpin, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, David George and Awoiska van der Molen.’

This is very much a work in progress because I haven’t yet found which particular approach and style of photography after dark is my own and the one to zero in on. But … I hope I am getting there.

My most recent Work in Progress Portfolio- submitted for PHO702 – can be found here:

MarkCrean-Final-WIP-250420

My Critical Review of Practice – also submitted for PHO702 – can be found here:

MarkCrean-Final-CRP-270420

🙂

PHO703: Ed Ruscha Style

This is my preparation task for the new module, PHO703: Surfaces and Strategies.

I have got to grips with Adobe In Design and used it to prepare a simple photobook called Short Waits. A subtitle for it might be Bus Stop Magic in 26 Signs.

True, it is inspired by Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations (Ruscha 2020) and his similar books. My images also show largely unpeopled, workaday way stations we don’t normally think much about. And like Ruscha, ‘I was after that kind of blank reality that the subject matter would present’ (Ruscha 2006). However, if I am honest I would say that my book also owes a lot to the peculiar psycho-social conditions of Covid-19 lockdown in the UK. Isolation and emptiness have become the new normal, another kind of ‘blank reality’.

My book is larger, a little less barebones and apparently artless, and it is in colour. I could easily have made the book with monochrome images but part of my intent with this course is learning to use colour much more effectively, and so I have forsworn black and white for almost all my coursework. Ruscha said that he used his camera as a simple recording machine – ‘I just pick it up like an axe when I’ve got to chop down a tree’ (Coleman 2002: 53) – but I am not as hard-hearted as that.

I offer a pdf of the book online here for anyone who is interested. I have sent the original material off to be printed (by Blurb) and expect to receive a finished copy on about 05 June.

What have I taken from this work? An appreciation of Ed Ruscha, the satisfaction of starting and completing a project, the pleasure of creating a book, and learning how to use Adobe In Design. Making a start on using this software effectively is a great step forward for me.

Short-Waits-Cover

Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2020. Short Waits, a booklet of mysterious bus absences in the style of Ed Ruscha.

Here is the URL for the pdf:

Short Waits PDF

References

COLEMAN, A.D. 2002. ‘I’m Not Really a Photographer’. In Edward RUSCHA and Alexandra SCHWARTZ. Leave Any Information at the Signal : Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT, 53.

RUSCHA, Edward. 2006. In Denis LAWSON, ‘Paper Movies’, The Genius of Photography. BBC TV Arts Documentary. London: BBC.

RUSCHA, Edward. 2020. ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations, (1963, Printed 1969)’. Art Gallery NSW [online]. Available at: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/427.2008.a-vv/ [accessed 27 May 2020].

Figures

Figure 1: Mark CREAN. 2020. Short Waits, a booklet of mysterious bus absences in the style of Ed Ruscha. Collection of the author.