Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"Although for long such effects of the lightning flash were regarded with more or less incredulity, or at least doubt, the observations of the last half century have fully confirmed their existence and then frequent recurrence, and established a field of work which has well-merited the careful investigation which it has now for many years received from the world's leading scientists."

"Keraunography", Henry E. Davis, The Photographic News, 10 February 1888, p. 91.

Jay, Bill. "Keraunography:  Notes on the photographic effects of lightning as reported in 19 century journals." The British Journal of Photography, 13 July 1981.

Bil Jay reports on one of the topics commonly reported in the photographic press from the 1850s to the firs years of this century: the phenomenon of keraunography, or the ability of flashes of lightning to produce a photographic image of surrounding objects, often - usually - on the skin or nearby people. His interest was peaked as he noticed that accounts of this phenomena occurred with such frequency, were treated with puzzled respect, often cited historical precedents and laid claim to serious investigations by some of the most-respected scientists of the 19 century.

Maybe this one is a bit of a stretch, but it was given a good amount of attention in Victorian era photography magazines, why not pay it some due now? I suppose plausibly I could wait for a thunder storm and try to convince my subject that rather than stand in a pool of light I'd like them to stand in a pool of water and get hit by lightning to prove a bit of 19th century British folklore...Really I was just refreshed by reading about a time when a sense of wonder and mystery still surrounded photography. It's mind boggling where we started and how far we've come in the understanding of natural phenomena and in its technical applications in photography.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10/21 Lecture

"Kente Strip-Woven Cloth: Its Significance on Both Sides of the Atlantic"

Babatunde Lawal, Professor of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University

Having sat through a handful of weekly 2 1/2 hour lectures given by Professor Lawal on the history of African art, I have really learned to appreciate the way he delivers each sentence (or 3-5 word fragment) with unequalled enthusiasm. It's almost inspiring to hear him express information that he's been teaching for years as if they're bits of information he's just been amazed by for the first time. That's why I was so disappointed to hear him say that, in the interest of time, he would be reading a brief(er) lecture on the history and significance of Kente cloth.

I was glad to hear him addressing a crowd of adult attendees much in the same way that he addresses his VCU class, and also to hear him use many of the same catechisms from class as well. He spoke about the socially constructed nature of the body and of dress, as well as the influence of visuality, culture-specific education of how to interpret symbols. The connections between African cultural activities and symbols to those of the African-American South(e.g. the Gee's Bend quilts) were of particular interest.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

'Central to Sugimoto’s work is the idea that photography is a time machine, a method of preserving and picturing memory and time. Sugimoto sees with the eye of the sculptor, painter, architect, and philosopher. He uses his camera in a myriad of ways to create images that seem to convey his subjects’ essence, whether architectural, sculptural, painterly, or of the natural world. He places extraordinary value on craftsmanship, printing his photographs with meticulous attention and a keen understanding of the nuances of silver-print making and its potential for tonal richness in his seemingly infinite palette of blacks, whites, and grays.'

Art21: Interview on Tradition;



Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"I make landscapes, or cityscapes as the case may be, to study the process of settlement as well as to work out for myself what the kind of picture (or photograph) we call a 'landscape' is. This permits me also to recognize the other kinds of pictures with which it has necessary connections, or the other genres that a landscape might conceal within itself." -Jeff Wall

"The Landscape and the Street," from "The Photographer of Modern Life," by Kerry Brougher.

MOCA curator, Kerry Brougher, relates Wall's work thematically and aesthetically to painting, dissecting the evolution of his work into "the modern and problematic landscape."

My work with landscape in some ways bares a connection to photographers who have documented or commented on the process of industrialization, or the encroachment of modern industrial culture on the landscape. In a world already reshaped by industrialization, I find myself attracted to places that have not been maintained, spending time in alleys looking for evidence of the persevering landscape burgeoning up through the cracks, peering over fences to catch a glimpse of someone's personal eden just beyond their garbage bins.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Simen Johan

"In his photographs, Simen Johan explores darkly the human proclivity towards fantasy and our attempts, knowing or otherwise, to craft alternate realities for ourselves." ...I'm leaning towards "otherwise." When I went back and reread the artist blurb about Simen Johan, I immediately recognized how eloquently the author of these words glazed over the fact that Simen Johan has yet to figure out what his art is about.

As intrigued as I was by his images, and impressed as I read about their constructed nature, I felt painfully let down by Johan's inability to speak about the content of his work. He could hardly connect the theme of one image to another within a single series and seemed to be driven completely and purely by aesthetics. This may have been sufficient 10 years ago, but as Paul pointed out at the beginning of the semester, in today's world when everyone has a high quality digital camera and Photoshop, you damn well better have something significant to say about your photography. Maybe, as an internationally exhibiting artist who doesn't always get the chance to explain his work to every audience, it is a blessing that the images are much more engaging on their own, before Johan has a chance to explain that there really is nothing going on behind the work.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson's photographic series capture a particularly American state of normalcy--in dissolution. The viewer, at first seduced by what appears to be an idyllic scene, soon discovers subtle off-kilter elements more akin to Film Noir than an NBC comedy. In a work from his Twilight series, yellow school buses are parked outside white wooden houses, and students stand and lounge around in seeming passivity. Something is happening--what, we don't know. The vision is familiar yet unfamiliar, seemingly benign yet threatening. Crewdson goes to great lengths in dramatizing his disturbing suburban scenes, employing elaborate lighting, cranes, props, and extras, espousing a level of behind-the-scenes preparation more akin to the making of a Hollywood movie than the making of a still image. Here perhaps is one place to locate the eerie unreality and narrativity of his pictures, the creepy attention to detail so out of place, in the ordinary settings he evokes. Middle-class reality meets the other side of the normal here--by way of Sigmund Freud.

"Gregory Crewdson's Photo Alchemy" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5157819

Luhring Augustine http://www.luhringaugustine.com/index.php?mode=artists&object_id=66

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Broken Window Effect

"Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken."

"...vandalism can occur anywhere once communal barriers -- the sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility -- are lowered by actions that seem to signal that "no one cares."



The idea perpetuating this article and the urban sociology text that it inspired is that preventing disorder is the first step in preventing crime (the field tends to neglect the former which leads to a shallow effect on the latter). The idea behind the theory itself is that broken windows, graffiti, run down homes or businesses give the impression that no one cares about the community and so further vandalism and crime will go unnoticed. Neglecting these minor symptoms is the fastest way to the deterioration of a neighborhood or community.


It wasn't necessarily the connection I was hoping people would make, but since critique, I am still lingering on the idea of alleys as a traditional symbol of danger and fear. I'm not sure it's the direction I want to take this project, but I think it's worth baring in mind the connection, and I think this brings up the first question I should pose to the class: Do these images in alleys suggest the typical fear associated with them or is it just when you begin to think about the transformation of these uncared for spaces that it brings up their usual connotations?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Garry Winogrand


 Winogrand was a street photographer known for his portrayal of America in the mid 20th century. He documented the city and the urban landscape, concentrating on its unusual people and capturing odd juxtapositions of animate and inanimate objects. His photographs catch that odd moment where unrelated activities coincided, and it is the nature of these juxtapositions that sets his work apart from other photographers.

Winogrand said that if he saw a familiar picture in his viewfinder he "would do something to change it" - something that would give him an unsolved problem. He would step back or change to a shorter lens, which gave him more facts to organize, and changed the meaning of the facts by changing the character of their setting. He was interested in how small in relation to the total field can the most important part of the subject be and still be clearly described; Or, more precisely, how is the meaning of the most important part of the subject affected by everything else within the frame.

For his book, Women are Beautiful, Winogrand photographed women on the streets of New York. He pictured them going about their business, unaware that they were being photographed. The women pictured are determined and fierce, and not necessarily feminine or beautiful. The pictures seem to be less about a particular subject than where the subject lies in space and how the light falls to illuminate them and their surroundings.

Comparing apparently contradicting statements statements on the nature of photography by Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand, one can see that they express a shared fascination, central to the work of each, in the difference between photographs and the world they describe, and in the possibility that the former may nevertheless, if good enough, tell us something important about the latter.

Fragment from Winogrand: Figments from the Real World by John Szarkowski



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

mundane |ˌmənˈdān|


1 lacking interest or excitement; dull : seeking a way out of his mundane, humdrum existence.

2 of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one : according to the Shinto doctrine, spirits of the dead can act upon the mundane world.

of, relating to, or denoting the branch of astrology that deals with political, social, economic, and geophysical events and processes.


mundanely adverb

mundaneness noun

mundanity |-ˈdānətē| noun ( pl. -ties).

"There is a group photo pool on the photo-sharing site Flickr made up 

entirely of images of bottle houses. That is, houses made of bottles."

okay...but seriously

"On these sites, photography has become less about the special or rarefied moments of domestic/family living (for such things as holidays, gatherings, baby photos) and more about an immediate, rather fleeting display of one’s discovery of the small and mundane."

"It seems to speak to a new aesthetic and function – one dedicated to the exploration of the urban eye and its relation to decay, alienation, kitsch, and its ability to locate beauty in the mundane (see Figure 4). Some have claimed that it is indeed a new category of photography, called ‘ephemera’."

Murray, Susan. Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics.

Journal of Visual Culture Aug 2008.

"In this article, the author argues that the social use of digital photography as represented on Flickr, signals a shift in the engagement with the everyday image, as it has become less about the special or rarefied moments of domestic living and more about an immediate, rather fleeting, display and collection of one's discovery and framing of the small and mundane. In this way, photography is no longer just the embalmer of time that Andre Bazin once spoke of, but rather a more alive, immediate, and often transitory practice/form. In addition, the everyday image becomes something that even the amateur can create and comment on with relative authority and ease, which works to break down the traditional bifurcation of amateur versus professional categories in image-making."

My work has been taking a turn towards re-creating the 'everyday' or the mundane, and isolating it and photographing it in a way that it begins to look exceptional. This started in the transformation of alley spaces into sort of secret garden spaces, and I think I would like to keep to this idea of people grounded in reality by the most mundane of activities, but finding that possibility of something greater, even if it really only exists in a cerebral space. I am still looking for more academic report on 'the mundane in fine art photography,' but I think it's worth it to bare in mind the effect of casual, social photography and how it has expanded our ideas of appropriate and engaging subject matter.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Jeff Wall

"Canadian Photographer best known for his large-scale back-lit cibachrome photographs, Wall's work advances an argument for the necessity of pictorial art. Some of Wall's photographs are complicated productions involving cast, sets, crews and digital postproduction. They have been characterized as one-frame cinematic productions. Wall distinguishes between unstaged "documentary" pictures, like Still Creek, Vancouver, winter 2003, and "cinematographic" pictures, produced using a combination of actors, sets, and special effects, such as Overpass, 2001. His signature works are large transparencies mounted on light boxes; he says he conceived this format when he saw back-lit advertisements at bus stops during a trip between Spain and London."

Jeff Wall talks about his piece Milk. “In Milk, as in some of my other pictures, an important part is played by complicated natural forms. The explosion of the milk from the container takes a shape which is not really describable or characterizable, but which provokes many associations. A natural form, with its unpredictable contours, is an expression of infinitesimal metamorphoses of quality. Photography seems perfectly adapted for representing this kind of movement or form. I think this is because the mechanical character of the action of opening and closing the shutter-the substratum of instantaneity which persists in all photography-is the concrete opposite kind of movement from, for example, the flow of a liquid.”

Interview with David Shapiro


Johnen + Schöttle Gallery


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Psychology of Emotion

Cannon-Bard Theory


The Cannon-Bard theory argues that we experience physiological arousal and emotional at the same time, but gives no attention to the role of thoughts or outward behavior.

EXAMPLE:  You are walking down a dark alley late at night.  You hear footsteps behind you and you begin to tremble, your heart beats faster, and your breathing deepens.  At the same time as these physiological changes occur you also experience the emotion of fear.

In this respect complex emotions may be regarded as developments upon basic emotions. Such development may occur due to cultural conditioning or association.

The Psychology of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts by Mark Pettinelli

"This book puts forth the idea that life is divided into three groups, emotion, thinking, and feeling. These three groups make humans feel in certain ways, thinking, physical stimulus, and emotion all contribute to feeling. But what is the difference between a thought, an emotion, and a feeling? Is there an overlap between the three? Probably, since any emotion can be broken down into the sensations and real events that caused it, and these events all lead to emotions, feelings and thoughts. So emotions, feelings and thoughts all might have the same source, they are just expressed differently in the mind. Where do your emotions, feelings and thoughts rate on a scale of clarity? Where do they rate on a scale of focus and attention? How does understanding the psychology of ones emotions, feelings and thoughts lead to a long term increased consciousness?"

After someone mentioned in critique today the dangerous 'dark alley' standard, I went to research some sort of social psychology that might relate to why dark alleys seem to be intrinsically linked with ideas of threat or danger, but I couldn't find any research directly spelling it out. What I did find were some theories about the process of the human emotional response. I was mostly interested in the link between stimulus and response and ideas of social conditioning replacing the need for an actual physical stimulus (this can lead you to more research about fear and paranoia in particular).


Georgia/Russia Conflict Lecture

A lecture put on this month by the International Students for Social Equality, affiliate of the worldwide Socialist Equality Party, addressed the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia with particular attention paid to the role of the U.S. in instigating the conflict, as well as the its increasingly biased news media coverage. According to the speaker, Georgia's provocation of Russia can only be explained by the United States' (with extensive economic and military ties to Georgia) "deliberately seeking a major escalation of tensions between Russia and the West." He looked for confirmation in the form of the recent missile deal with Poland, claiming it is "clearly directed against Russia, not Iran or North Korea, and would give the U.S. first strike nuclear capability without Russia retaliation."

Some audience members found the inclusion of instances of recent U.S. hypocrisy irrelevant to the discussion, but it did elicit laughter when the speaker quoted President Bush and John McCain on the matter, stating, “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state...such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” “...in the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.” While the speaker did raise some thought-provoking points about the political/economic divisions among Russia, ex-Soviet nations, and Eastern Europe and the role of Western powers, some found his speech overly biased or sensational in light of the his self-proclaimed political affiliation.