PHO703 Weeks 3-5: Work in Progress

I have continued with my current research project, Hometown Nights, an exploration of my home city of Oxford after dark.

For the past few weeks I have mostly concentrated on the river Thames and the structures along its banks as it flows through the city. I still need a visit or two to the Oxford Canal, which begins here, and to one or two bridges as the Thames leaves Oxford – but, broadly, I have now covered most of this element of the project at least on a ‘first pass’ basis. It will look different, and in fact may look better, at other seasons of the year. We will see.

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Fig. 1: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. Converted warehouses near Osney
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Fig. 2: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. St Frideswide’s at Osney.
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Fig. 3: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. St Mary’s at Iffley.
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Fig. 4: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By Folly Bridge.
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Fig. 5: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By Gasworks Bridge.
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Fig. 6: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. A sluice near Osney.
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Fig. 7: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By River Garden.
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Fig. 8: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. The Folly at Folly Bridge.
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Fig. 9: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By Gasworks Bridge.
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Fig. 10: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. Donnington Bridge.
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Fig. 11: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. In Osney.
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Fig. 12: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. The Thames at Osney.
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Fig. 13: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. The bank at River Park.
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Fig. 14: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. North from Osney Bridge.
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Fig. 15: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. The Thames at Donnington.
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Fig. 16: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By Folly Bridge.
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Fig. 17: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. Osney Bridge.
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Fig. 18: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. By Gasworks Bridge.
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Fig. 19: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. The lock-keeper’s cottage at Iffley.
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Fig. 20: Mark Crean 2020. Hometown Nights. In Iffley Village.

 

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].

PHO702 Week 6: Work in Progress

The topics in Week 6 have led me to think about the importance of context and decoding in my practice, the kind of power dynamics that may be going on in it, and how my work may be received by others – my audience.

Well, I could start by saying that I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class male – all true but also an invitation to self-castigation. All I can do is try to be as aware as possible of the influences that have formed me.

Context and decoding mean that I need to think carefully about what I am looking at before I press the shutter. I need to ask myself ‘What is really going on here?’ Otherwise, the danger is that I will end up photographing surfaces – shiny and alluring no doubt – but miss the dynamics of what lies beneath them.

Power dynamics lead straight to ethics. As a photographer I have a fair degree of control. I can choose when I press the shutter but my subjects cannot choose when or how they are photographed. I need to be aware of that and not objectify people or places.

The wider context of my work is that for the moment at least I am following in the footsteps of practitioners such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld and Mark Power. This is all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, expressing the uncanny, not glossing over difficult social realities and power imbalances, and not privileging any particular thing over another. Everything is potentially material for my lens. In the words of Stephen Shore, ‘To see something spectacular and recognise it as a photograph is not making a very big leap. But to see something ordinary, something you’d see every day, and recognise it as a photographic possibility – that’s what I’m interested in.’ (O’Hagan 2015)

This feeds into thoughts about the audience for my work. These are photographers known for their books and so my intent is for a book in same tradition. A question to resolve is how to tell a story in such a book because a book tells a story whether one wants it to or not. Story-teling is very much a work in progress for me.

There are, however, many different kinds of book. This week has helped me to think about that. I do plan a fairly conventional photography book but looking at the practice of Dyanita Singh has led me to think that in addition I could produce many variant ‘books’. (Singh 2020). A ‘book’ can also be a box, a frame or a concertina containing cards not pages. Dyanita Singh, for example, offers her images in sets of many different formats.

SINGH, Dyanita. 2020. Pothi Box.
Fig.1: Dyanita Singh 2018. ‘The Pothi Box, an unbound book of 30 image cards held together in a wooden structure. It is meant to be hung on a wall or placed as an object on a table. The structure has been built to allow the collector to change the front image as often as they like. The image cards, however, exist as a set of 30 and are not meant to be separated from each other or the box.’ (Singh 2020)

Now, my work in progress this week. The first two slides contain material from Richard Misrach and Gueorgui Pinkhassov, text and images. This is the intent I tried to keep in my mind as I went out to photograph.

Richard Misrach Georgui Pinkhassov
Fig. 2. Richard Misrach and Georgui Pinkhassov
Richard Misrach Georgui Pinkhassov
Fig. 3. Richard Misrach and Georgui Pinkhassov
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 4: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 5: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 6: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 7: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 8: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig 9: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 10: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 11: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 12: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.
CREAN, Mark. 2020. Oxford at Night.
Fig. 13: Mark Crean 2020. Oxford at Night.

 

References

HARRIS, Melissa. 2015. ‘An Archival Interview with Richard Misrach’. [online]. Available at: https://aperture.org/blog/archival-interview-richard-misrach/ [accessed 3 Mar 2020].

O’HAGAN, Sean. 2015. ‘Shady Character: How Stephen Shore Taught America to See in Living Colour’. [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jul/09/stephen-shore-america-colour-photography-1970s [accessed 4 Mar 2020].

PINKHASSOV, Gueorguy. 1998. Sightwalk. London: Phaidon.

PINKHASSOV, Gueorgui. 2020. ‘Sophistication Simplification – Magnum Photos’. [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/gueorgui-pinkhassov-sophistication-simplification/ [accessed 6 Mar 2020].

SINGH, Dyanita. 2020. ‘Dayanita Singh’. [online]. Available at http://dayanitasingh.net/ [accessed 4 Mar 2020].

Figures

Figure 1. Dyanita SINGH. 2018. ‘The Pothi Box’. Dyanita Singh [online]. Available at: http://dayanitasingh.net/pothi-box/ [accessed 9 Feb 2020].
Figure 2: Melissa HARRIS, 2015. ‘An Archival Interview with Richard Misrach’. Aperture [online]. Available at: https://aperture.org/blog/archival-interview-richard-misrach/ [accessed 3 Mar 2020];  Gueorgui PINKHASSOV. 2020. ‘Sophistication Simplification’. Magnum Photos [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/gueorgui-pinkhassov-sophistication-simplification/ [accessed 6 Mar 2020].
Figures 3. Richard MISRACH. 1975. Saguaro Cactus; Gueorgui PINKHASSOV. 2018. Blackpool illuminations.
Figures 4-13. Mark CREAN. 2020. Oxford at Night. Collection of the author.