A photographer’s guide to period properties.
Photographers

A photographer’s guide to period properties.

One of the most amazing things to photograph and look at closely is period properties, especially those that are in London. There’s some amazing features and elegant design that really has huge attention to detail and can create some amazing photos. I’ve taken a look at some of the most amazing things in London when it comes to the period properties and I’ve taken quite a few pictures of them for us to enjoy here. I’ve also borrowed some from the internet and they’re also appropriately sourced. So let’s not waste any time and get started with the photographers guide to period properties.

Amazing sash windows that create the most special pictures(and shades of lighting in a property).

Because sash windows were designed in a time where tradesmen were relatively cheap the design is absolutely flawless and just a beauty to behold. If you look at this picture that I’ve taken and borrowed from London Sash Window Repairs Ltd you’ll see just exactly what I mean. Actually, interestingly enough they were actually repairing this bay window.

wood splice repairs resin sash windows.

wood splice repairs resin sash windows. Source : londonsashwindows.com

But either way it’s nice to see that it’s being maintained because if you look at the picture that’s taken it just looks stunning it gives lots of different light shades and levels that you can only get from such depth of a window. Unfortunately plastic windows just simply won’t give this kind of picture because they don’t have the depth and 3D effect.

Beautiful Yellow Bricks as Yellow Stock

Just take a look at this beautiful external facets of London period property that has amazing colours, even the mortar looks amazing. Because the stock brick is not dirty because it’s just been cleaned, you can see what it would look like over 100 years ago. It was designed in such a way that it just was extremely pleasing on the eye, basically it was an art form and where they cleaned this break it was such a great opportunity to be able to take a photograph of this history and effectively capture 100 years of in just one picture. It’s amazing to think that we just simply don’t have the materials or the ability to make properties of this grandness anymore. It’s just such a shame that the world has developed in a way where we can’t produce such quality.

Beautiful iron railings that make amazing photography

Just take a look at these amazing iron railings.

source : www.pinterest.co.uk

They’ve got such amazing contours and depth that they just create the most special pictures. I can’t think of any modern design that really gives this kind of level of thought provocation. It’s a shame that they’ve been painted over so many times, but I presume it would be extremely expensive to have them cleaned off(it’s clear the owner paid out for this considerably), nonetheless they still look really special and it gives a real appearance of the highest quality that simply can’t be replicated. I was glad to be able to grab a snap of this; it’s an amazing art form and all from my SLR Magic anamorphot.

Beautiful fireplaces and an amazing photo to finish.

Fireplaces were a key feature of Period properties and homes, and this beautiful example was no exception. It’s like a mantel piece but with a fireplace extension. It does really make the property stand out, and just imagine if you were to have a huge portrait of a long relative and long-standing family heritage.

source : www.pinterest.co.uk

It would really create a lot of conflicting thought and interest. If you think about the design of a room, the fireplace was built beautifully by the Victorians and even before then, they really worked out how to get things done and we should be thankful for the photography opportunities that has been provided.

4 Saints in 3 Acts – A Decidedly New Opera
Loose AssociationsNew Writing

4 Saints in 3 Acts – A Decidedly New Opera

Our new exhibition, 4 Saints in 3 Acts – A Snapshot of the American Avant-Garde opens this Friday, and in this short essay, Anna Dannemann considers the impact the production had on American culture when it opened in 1934.

White Studio, Photograph of stage set for Four Saints in Three Acts, 1934. © Archives/Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

White Studio, Photograph of stage set for Four Saints in Three Acts, 1934. © Archives/Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Transpose the picture quite,
And spell it wrong to read it right;
Read Him for her, and her for him;
And call the Saint the Seraphim.
— Richard Crashaw [1]

On 7 February 1934, the doors to a new Bauhaus-inspired building – the Avery Memorial – opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Described as the ‘ first modern museum ’ by Eugene R. Gaddis in his book about the history of the Wadsworth Atheneum of 1984, it is also the oldest continually operating public art museum in the United States (established by Daniel Wadsworth in 1842). The new Avery building was personally designed by the Atheneum’s then maverick director Arthur Everett Austin Jr., and at its heart lay a theatre space offering opportunities for the public to experience the newest experimental plays and theatrical performances.

On this opening night extravaganza, and in parallel to the first comprehensive USA retrospective of Picasso, guests sat down to see the world premiere of Four Saints in Three Acts. With a cast comprised entirely of African-American performers, a ground-breaking nonlinear structure, a composition by Virgil Thomson, libretto by Gertrude Stein, experimental stage settings, and a ‘ deftly simple score ’ as John Rockwell wrote in the New York Times, the opera came to epitomise a unique avant-garde moment for the institution as well as the US modernist movement as a whole.

Behind Director Austin Jr.’s infamous chain-smoking, cocktail- swilling, well-groomed facade was the work of a serious and well-read ‘ Magician of the Modern ’, writes Philip Johnson, who transformed the way ‘ Americans looked at and thought about modern art ’. As part of the so-called “  Harvard modernists ” he belonged to a group of cultural figures widely credited with remodelling public cultural institutions. Alongside Austin, these included the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr; architectural historian and professor Henry- Russell Hitchcock Jr.; writer Lincoln Kirstein; architect Philip

Johnson; painter (and Virgil Thomson’s partner) Maurice Grosser, and of course Virgil Thomson himself.

While the often problematic but always affectionate relationship and collaboration between Stein and Thomson concocted the play, it was within this context that Four Saints became both possible and made its unique contribution, achieving its success through the combined talents of many ground-breaking artists of the time.

Edward Matthews as St Ignatius, Four Saints in Three Acts, New York Studio, New York, c. 1933. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2017

Edward Matthews as St Ignatius, Four Saints in Three Acts, New York Studio, New York, c. 1933. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2017

An important figure for the imaginative visual design of the stage was surrealist painter Florine Stettheimer. Another Manhattan modernist, she created innovative designs using colourful new materials like cellophane for the bombastic sets, and silk, taffeta and lace for the costumes. John Houseman – who would later work with Orson Wells and others – directed the opera, featuring the legendary circular movements choreographed by another associate, Frederick Ashton, an international ballet dancer.

Virgil Thomson’s buoyant music was sung by an all African-American cast, brought together by Eva Jessye, the first African-American woman to gain international recognition as a professional choral conductor. Visiting concerts and performances in Harlem, New York, Thomson was enthused by the musical and artistic dynamism of the time – the so-called “  Harlem Renaissance ”.

Four Saints represented a musical and economic breakthrough for African-American singers, Jessye described Four Saints as ‘ quite a departure, because up to that time the only opportunities [for African-American singers] involved things like “  Swanee River, ” or “  That’s Why Darkies Are Born, ” or “  Old Black Joe. ” They called that “  our music, ” and thought we could sing those things only by the gift of God… With this opera we had to step on fresh ground, something foreign to our nature completely ’.[2] More striking still, was that the production later relocated to Broadway in New York, as the first opera to ever be shown there, receiving broad critical acclaim.

The success of the opera and its reverence ultimately goes back to Gertrude Stein’s seemingly nonsensical text, whose genius was to offer no one narrative, but many voices. Especially when produced by in influential gay cultural figures in a new museum, sung by black singers in stage sets created by women artists, her words were anything but nonsense: they allowed for different truths and decidedly queer forms of modernism.[3]

This ‘ most important night of the decade ’, wrote Philip Johnson, was a brave act of liberation for different groups of people that needed to wait for a long time for their truths to be accepted, legalised and cherished. On the evening of the premiere in Hartford, many of the bohemian audience were overwhelmed and clamorous in their praise. Kirk Askew and Julien Levy sat in the crowd and described what they had just witnessed as a glorious and redemptive affirmation of a new national culture stating: ‘ We didn’t know anything so beautiful could be done in America ’.

– Anna Dannemann

Anna Dannemann is a curator at The Photographers’ Gallery.
This essay is available in the new issue of our gallery print publication Loose Associations.

Notes

1. Crashaw, R., 1917. The Flaming Heart, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
2. Watson, S., 2017. “  The visitable past: Four Saints in Three Acts remembered ”. In: 4 Saints in 3 Acts – A snapshot of the American Avant-garde in the 1930s. Ed. Patricia Allmer and John Sears, Manchester University Press and The Photographers’ Gallery.
3. See Hubbs, N. The Queer Composition of America’s Sound. Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity. University of California Press, 2004.

A True Thing – Wim Wenders on the Polaroid
Loose AssociationsNew Writing

A True Thing – Wim Wenders on the Polaroid

Our new exhibition, Instant Stories. Wim Wenders’ Polaroids opens this Friday and in the following short essay the filmmaker recalls his personal history with the polaroid photograph, regarding them as the last miracle of the analogue age and a formative tool for his work as a filmmaker.

Wim Wenders, Self-portrait, 1975 © Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Wim Wenders, Self-portrait, 1975 © Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

What a unique thing Polaroids were! Once almost science fiction, now definitely from the past, they occupy a very special place in our relationship to imagery and to photography, certainly in mine.

For a long time (more or less from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s) they were my preferred photographic medium. I was learning the craft of filmmaking in those years, and Polaroids were a perfect complimentary tool:  as a visual notebook, a quick way of ‘framing’ the world, a verification of my interest in people, places, objects, or simply as a way to remember things.

Then I stopped – almost from one day to the next.   I started to shoot on negative again having (re)discovered printing.  Before, I had never really done that. Handmade prints had been too expensive for me, and I felt industrial ones just looked plain ugly.  With Polaroids, that dilemma never even arose.  When you took the picture, you automatically produced a print – or something very much like it:  a mysterious and unique object of desire. Taking Polaroids always felt to me like a very different act than ‘photographing‘ as such. The camera itself was almost considered a toy, not a ‘serious’ instrument, and taking pictures with it was fun. There was something playful, carefree, almost reckless about the action.  I think it was because the ‘thing‘ in your hand couldn’t be multiplied which made the result somehow ephemeral.

I used all sorts of Polaroid cameras over the years. In the beginning, you could only photograph in black and white, and then colour stock was produced. After I took them, I would stick the pictures under my armpit to keep them warm while they were developing and keep an eye on my watch. Holding them there for too long would produce dark pictures; too short a time would make them look pale, lacking contrast.  I remember doing lots of things, like smoking, writing, driving or talking on the phone with both arms closely held to my body. Then, depending on the type of film, you’d peel off the cover. There was always a certain surprise involved and a heartbeat of suspense.  What was the image going to look like? Was it going to match the expectation? Often, what I had seen with my eyes wasn‘t necessarily what was revealed.

Wim Wenders, Valley of the Gods, Utah, 1977 © Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Wim Wenders, Valley of the Gods, Utah, 1977 © Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Then the SX70 arrived, a sophisticated little miracle of a machine. You could hold it in the palm of your left hand, pull out its viewfinder with your right hand and hold it at a strange angle to your eye to see your shot. Compared to a car, the SX70 was like the Citroen DS: it had that same touch of design genius.   For a while it was my weapon of choice; no more armpit, no peeling off; you just watched the image appear and take shape out of an amorphous whiteness.  The object you were then holding in your hand staring at while it was actually ‘developing’ (giving that word a whole new meaning) was indeed very special. There was no negative, from which you could make ‘duplicates, no files or any other data except for this ‘real and singular thing’; a little square photograph in its own frame. What you produced and owned was ‘an original’:  a true thing – not multipliable, not repeatable, just ‘solid evidence’, not only of what had just happened, but of your own existence, of existence!

It’s a very different sensation in the digital age.  Holding a small screen in your hand or looking at an instant image on a screen is not the same.  Nothing compared to the Polaroid experience. It was a little magic act each time – nothing more, nothing less.  I don’t think I’m romanticising when I allege that Polaroids were the last outburst of a time when we had certainty, not only in images.  We had nothing but confidence in things, period.

The last time I took a Polaroid myself is more than 30 years ago. This is time travel for me as well.  In their rock-solid presence as singular objects these old photos are a healthy antidote to contemporary picture taking, on smartphones or on other electronic devices and to sharing them via the Internet, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook. Polaroids were indeed a truly social medium.  I could take a picture of a person and we’d see the image appear, together, in front of our eyes. (Funny that there are apps today to recreate that sensation…) In their rock-solid presence as singular objects produced in the spur of a moment, Polaroids carry the entire imprint of that instant and can never be altered or forced to show anything other than what they are.

But why make a book of these forgotten pictures (or indeed an exhibition)? Aren’t they just personal memories? Aren’t they more like drawings I made just for myself – a working process that doesn’t really concern anybody?  Don’t all these Polaroids reveal in the end, is that my life very much centered around the films I made and that these films structured my existence in such a way that I can’t tell them apart anymore? It has been an important issue in my life to never cross that fine line from ‘personal’ to ‘private’. But where does one end and the other begin?  And where does fiction come from, better, where do you draw it from?

It is obvious to me now, as a filmmaker and storyteller that the only things worth talking about are those in experience and based on one’s very own knowledge of the world.  And if by exploring what these small objects represent, and if they can shed some light on what we do today, well then it’s a good thing to share them.

– Wim Wenders

Extracted from Wim Wenders. Instant Stories. Thames & Hudson, 2017. This essay is available in the new issue of our gallery print publication Loose Associations.

Eye Candy: An Introduction to the Story of Food in Photography
New Writing

Eye Candy: An Introduction to the Story of Food in Photography

In accompaniment to our exhibition Food For Being Looked At, currently on view on our Media Wall, and to celebrate the publishing of Feast For the Eyes (Aperture, 2017), the book’s author Susan Bright introduces some of the complexities of food’s visual forms and meanings, as we find it in the history of photography.

***

We are what we eat. Food both fuels and shapes our physical bodies from the inside, as well as being an outward expression of our pleasures and our principles. It crosses and transgresses boundaries in every sense. Eating is one of the most base, visceral, and profane of acts, yet it is also caught up in our rituals, religions, and celebrations—it is the most human of needs, both physically and culturally. Food can signify a lifestyle or a nation, hope or despair, hunger or excess. It is the site of protest and control. It can reinforce stereotypes or undermine them. It is given to riot and spoof—as in the ridiculous food fight—but also symbolises the most refined aspects of a culture. It carries our desires and fantasies; it can stand in for sex, be a signal of status, or engage in our politics, betraying our attitudes about immigration, domestic issues, the environment, animal rights, and travel. Ultimately, food is not only about literal taste, but also Taste with a capital T—both the lifestyles we aspire to and the building blocks of culture itself.

And so, similarly, photographs of food are rarely just about food. They hold our lives and time up to the light. As a subject that is commonly at hand, food has been and continues to be widely depicted. Many of the photographers in this book demonstrate that the most obvious of subjects is often the most demanding, and photographs of food—much like food itself—can invoke deep-seated questions and anxieties about issues such as consumption, aspiration, tradition, gender, race, desire, wealth, poverty, pleasure, revulsion, and domesticity. It can be a carrier for all kinds of fantasies and realities, and photographs of food can be complicated and deceptive, touching on many aspects of our lives, both public and private.

In addition, these pictures can be found in all sorts of places—not only in cookbooks, but also in art, fashion and advertising, or as vernacular, industrial, and editorial photography. But despite the ubiquity of photographs of food—or perhaps because of it—these images are rarely written about in their entirety.

Nickolas Muray, Lemonade and Fruit Salad, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1943; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Nickolas Muray, Lemonade and Fruit Salad, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1943; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Setting the Table

Early photographs of food feature in two parallel histories: that of art and that of cookbooks. But both environments show that photography is the magpie medium, borrowing, copying, and appropriating from other practices with bravura to create something unique. Early nineteenth-century art photographers faithfully followed the traditions of painting, reproducing established genres and calling upon the same strategies and symbolism. Early photographic still lifes, in emulation of paintings, gestured allegorically toward the different states of human existence by depicting certain foods: peaches for fertility, apples as the forbidden fruit, or grapes to reference the Greek god Dionysus, insinuating excess and good living. Early photographers concentrated on the richness of objects, the things that make up our world—turning what was visible into artifacts, and transforming them to resonate beyond mere subject matter

Roger Fenton, Still Life with Fruit and Flowers, ca. 1860; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Roger Fenton, Still Life with Fruit and Flowers, ca. 1860; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

But alongside allegorical meanings and similarities to painting, the photographing of food has also showed photography’s great differences to painting and the insecurities about its own status that have plagued its history. This can be seen in the richly toned black-and-white still lifes by Roger Fenton: the food he photographed may resonate with the history of painting that went before it, but it also works to show the abilities of photography to the fullest. Filling his scenes with rich textures and shapes to heighten the senses and show his skill, he showed great dexterity in illustrating depth on a flat surface—something which painting could do more easily, using colour and the three-dimensional texture of paint. Without an established history within art, photography had yet to prove itself—so the frames of Fenton’s photographs were trimmed to a curve at the top, as if to signal his work as art, rather than mere document. This device of trimming prints to this shape was common among other early photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron in order to mimic the actual shape of the paintings they were directly referencing. As such, the picture isn’t about what is visible, and what is seen in the world, but more about what is photographed, and what is art.

Photographer unknown, Poularde à la Godard, chromolithographic print from Le Livre de Cuisine, 1869; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Photographer unknown, Poularde à la Godard, chromolithographic print from Le Livre de Cuisine, 1869; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Like art, cookbooks also tell us about the values of their time, and are no less rich in symbolism and connotation. In addition, they have often traded in stereotypes and assumptions; they, too, are carriers for all kinds of fantasies. Early examples were no different: when photography was first used to illustrate recipes, it did not represent food eaten in the home or recipes passed down through families, but instead food for chefs, representing gastronomy and indulgence. This incredible image of Poularde à la Godard is a chromolithographic print—a technique that was among the first steps to colour photography in the nineteenth century—found in the hugely in influential Le Livre de Cuisine (1869) by chef and pâtissier Jules Gouffé. This book, and his Le Livre de Pâtisserie (1873), had a lasting impact on the evolution of French gastronomy. They are culturally important not only for the food they describe, but also for their many illustrations, wood-cuts, and extraordinary reproductions, which showed the potential and power that colour photographs could have within the pages of a cookbook. The lavish meal constructions speak to sophistication, extravagance, and French perfection, but to contemporary eyes, the elaborate concoctions make a turducken look humble.

However, going into the twentieth century, home-cooking manuals increased in popularity, stemming from a tradition most commonly associated with Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). Early examples in the United States, such as Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book (1903), Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book (1902), and Mrs. Allen’s Cook Book (1917), all included small black-and-white photographs.

The photographs are carefully arranged and tastefully constructed to show tidy homes and tidy lives, but their cultural significance is huge—they paved the way for both the tone and usability of later cookbooks. These books come from the varied standpoints of domestic science, magazine writing, and, in the case of Mrs. Allen’s Cook Book, the making of  “  modern” food, using products such as Coca-Cola and Pillsbury flour. The author of that book was not afraid to advocate for making women’s lives easier by using boxed and canned products; in this respect, she was an important predecessor of the brand-sponsored “ cookbooklet” and the cultural icon Betty Crocker.

But it is perhaps meals as they appear in vernacular photography that tell us the most about our relationship to food. Snapshots of food have increased and asserted themselves over the history of the medium, to the point where they are now part of the contemporary eating experience, captured with smartphones and distributed through image-sharing apps. But holidays and celebrations were being photographed almost as soon as cameras became readily available.

Due to the expense of very early photography, it was mostly the pursuit of the wealthy. Food did appear in nineteenth-century family photographs, but it was more into the twentieth century, as the camera became more accessible, that food often took centre stage. Since then, snapshots have been taken when extended families gather together around the table. Birthdays, parties, and wedddings are often photographed around the cake, and summer vacation pictures would seem lacking without the requisite ice cream cone or picnic shot.

Martin Parr, Untitled (Hot Dog Stand), 1983–85; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Martin Parr, Untitled (Hot Dog Stand), 1983–85; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

All You Can Eat

But the photographs that we now associate with the commercial practice of “ food photography” (as opposed to food in still life, art, or vernacular images) undoubtedly have their roots in the rise of magazines and packaged foods. The interwar period saw an explosion of inventive printing and publishing techniques in photography. No one mastered these methods more than Nickolas Muray, who, while working in Germany, had perfected experimental colour processes while studying photoengraving and working for a publishing company. On moving to America, he transformed that skill into a commercial practice, creating vibrant tableaux for magazines in both advertising and editorial. His photographs of food and homemaking are among his best, bringing a new and daring aesthetic to magazines like McCall’s. These heavily styled scenes of food offered a fantastical escape and a vision of America far removed from the food shortages and anxieties of the war. Due in part to the success of Muray’s photographs, the almost Technicolor results of the three-color carbro process became a staple of American lifestyle and fashion magazines from the late 1940s into the 1950s—despite the fact that the process itself was costly and time-consuming.

Nickolas Muray, Food Spread, Daffodils, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1946; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Nickolas Muray, Food Spread, Daffodils, McCall’s magazine, ca. 1946; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

In addition to magazine editorials and advertising for brands such as Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola, Muray also worked for an ever-expanding range of processed-food companies, as new products needed new photographs. Muray was adept at altering his more active aesthetic to sparser scenarios such as frozen-food packaging, which needed to be more obvious and leave space for text and logos. These products represented something quick and modern in postwar America, available in the new shopping malls that were beginning to appear around the country. Commercial photographers such as Anton Bruehl and Victor Keppler also brought their own modern aesthetic to the homes and lives of Americans through their images of food in their bright, upbeat colourful pictures, all of which suggested an America moving forward, rather than looking back nostalgically to the past.

As advances in colour printing made magazines and cookbooks more affordable, photography became more of a feature. Popular product lines and time-saving gadgets such as pressure cookers, crockpots, and stand mixers produced their own books and cookbooklets; the latter were designed primarily to advertise the brand and incorporated plentiful, vibrant photographs, as can be seen in the examples made for Aunt Jemima, Crisco, and Knox Gelatine. The impact of these photographic and advertising techniques coincided with the fantasy of nationhood and the increased availability of food after the Second World War, especially in the United States. These books had a lasting influence on commercial food imaging, and indeed on the way that a nation ate. Foods such as tuna fish, avocados, and orange juice made their way into kitchens and became family staples due to the success and ubiquity of the promotional cookbooklet.

Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Harold Edgerton, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Betty Crocker is also worth mentioning here. The first of its kind, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook—or “ Big Red,” as it came to be known—was a guide to home cooking published in 1950 by General Mills. Its famous file system—with heading tabs like “ Quick Breads” and “ Frostings Confections” sticking out from its pages—and decadent colour photos, bursting with American bounty, are a joyful gateway into the nation’s food industry and changing tastes of the time. The pictures, like those in the cookbooklets, are more exuberant than they are appetising, speaking more to tastefulness than to taste itself. They also present a postwar nation of plenty and leisure, which was seen as being in direct contrast to communism.

Such books and the magazines of the time also gave rise to the art and business of food styling. Often shot under hot lights in the studio, food had to be meticulously arranged to last while the photographer worked. Heavily propped and fastidiously set up, food photography from this period relied on techniques that have become somewhat mythic and, of course, made the food completely inedible—such as spraying it with hair spray so it would appear shiny and fresh. Ice cream might be made from powdered sugar, ice cubes from plastic, foam from soapsuds, and condensation with glycerin. But it is not just the food that made a food photograph important; the tableware, tablecloths, garnishing, and props showed mastery in making a scene complete, and were illustrative of the collaborative teamwork needed in commercial photography.

Food For Thought

The 1960s and 1970s saw the increased publication of cookbooks and a shift from postwar ideas about national identity to a desire for armchair travel, a precursor to the multiculturalism of the 1980s. Popular cookbooks with skillful photographs illustrated the advances in colour printing and food styling in North America, Europe, and beyond, reflecting changes and attitudes particular to each nation.

In Australia, The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, first published in 1968 and going on to become a staple for generations, illustrated the impact of European immigration at the time, with the inclusion of Italian and Greek recipes. In the UK, Good Housekeeping Colour Cookery (1968) was as aspirational and unrealistic as many of its American counterparts, but differs in its more international feel. This was represented by lavish pictures of Scandinavian salads as well as a dramatic tableau of “ Ceylon Prawn Curry,” which reflected the wave of immigrants coming to Britain from Southeast Asia. There was also an increase in books featuring foods from a single country, as recipes and accompanying photographs from Mexico, Morocco, India, and Thailand became popular. This was the golden age of jet travel, and Western television began to feature more “ ethnic” chefs. This fascination with the exotic also inspired the American Time-Life Foods of the World series (1968–78).

John Baldesarri, Choosing Green Beans, 1972; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

John Baldesarri, Choosing Green Beans, 1972; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Coinciding with this explosion of cookbooks, the 1960s and 1970s also saw the rise of Conceptual art and, with it, artists who used banal subject matter, mixed high and low culture, and favoured repetition and seriality, both in topographical and typological explorations. They used food for comic effect, as can be seen in John Baldessari’s Choosing Green Beans (1972), Fischli and Weiss’s Wurst Series (Sausage Series, 1979), and Marion Faller and Hollis Frampton’s series Sixteen Studies from Vegetable Locomotion(1975). Marcel Broodthaers’s La Soupe de Daguerre (1975) is more mysterious, however: are these ingredients for soup? Unlikely, as this combination of “ real” fish and tissue cutouts could hardly be cooked. At the bottom is a label that suggests museums and classification. Here, Broodthaers presents food as a puzzle—very much at odds with the bombastic messaging of Pop art, in which food also often featured, and the advertising and lifestyle aims of cookbooks. Perhaps he is parodying oversimplified representations of food and the polarised positions across hierarchies and genres in the artificial divisions between high and low culture.

Marcel Broodthaers, La Soupe de Daguerre, 1975; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Marcel Broodthaers, La Soupe de Daguerre, 1975; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

While much art of this time favoured systems, artists also turned to performance and visual playfulness. Semiotics of the Kitchen by Martha Rosler (1975) does not use food, only the kitchen equipment. In this performance/video piece, Rosler works through the kitchen in alphabetical order—apron, bowl, chopper, dish, egg-beater, and so on—demonstrating each appliance with increasing aggression, in a parody of the growing popularity of cooking shows on TV and the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Rosler has said of her work, “ I was concerned with something like the notion of ‘language speaking the subject,’ and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity.”

The theoretical language of semiotics gave artists much-needed linguistic and visual tools to reclaim their work from critics and their value judgments, often to comic effect. Roland Barthes famously illustrated how the tools of semiotics could be applied to the messages and meanings of images in his 1964 essay “ Rhetoric of the Image,” using an ad for the pasta brand Panzani. By deconstructing the scene, he showed (among other things) how “ Italianicity” could be read in it. These systems for the construction of meaning are key to how food is photographed in cookbooks and popular culture, both of which rely on easy readings across a wide audience. Clichés and stereotypes suggest authenticity.

Sarah Lucas, Self Portrait, 1999; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Sarah Lucas, Self Portrait, 1999; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Another artist who has used food to illustrate its cultural and semiotic connotations is British artist Sarah Lucas. Food can be loaded with a relationship to politics and gender, especially the female body. Three decades after Carolee Schneemann’s performance piece Meat Joy, NYC (1964), Lucas made some of the defining work of the 1990s. In response to the “ lad culture” that had appeared at this time—also apparent in food, with the rise of celebrity chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay— Lucas employed food such as bananas, fish, and chicken in both her photographs and her sculpture, to both call out the base language used to refer to women’s bodies, and reclaim it. Food still titillates, but with a very different stance; she refuses to take a submissive position when the joke is about male aggression. Lucas’s art takes the eroticism of food and turns it into sexual politics instead.

Ori Gersht, Pomegranate—Off Balance, 2006; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Ori Gersht, Pomegranate—Off Balance, 2006; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

In Pomegranate—Off Balance (2006), Ori Gersht deals with politics and national identity. “ All my work has a direct connection with my upbringing in Israel, and this idea within the Jewish diaspora of a utopian place we can never quite obtain—the return to a place that doesn’t really have any material presence in the world, and that can never be realised,” Gersht has said. Here, food is used as a carrier for autobiographical ruminations on place and violence, calling upon traditions of Western art and the history of photography. It is painting that the photograph most obviously references—the still life by Juan Sánchez Cotán titled Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber (1602) in particular. The quince in the painting has been replaced by a pomegranate, not only for its ability to dramatically explode— immediately bringing to mind the experiments of Harold “ Doc” Edgerton—but also for its symbolic place in Jewish culture, as a sign for fertility and righteousness eaten during Rosh Hashanah. The lighting is dramatic, heightened by the black background, making a stage in which Gersht builds the sculptural scene.

The use of food to create a sculpture is something we see repeatedly in this book—not just in art, but also in commercial photography, most famously demonstrated by Irving Penn. In Gersht’s photograph, the sculpture is a stand-in for calm, balance, and harmony, while the exploding pomegranate illustrates the rarity of this state.

What’s Cooking

During the 1990s and into the 2000s, the rise of the celebrity chef, foodie culture, and eating out contributed to a rise in the popularity of cookbooks once again. The Western world shifted away from the idea that French cuisine was best, and embraced food from a wide range of countries, fusing flavours with the very best of local ingredients. Once again, a more international approach was accelerated by the availability of cheap flights to countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, and South Asian food grew popular in the West. Restaurants were increasingly producing their own cookbooks (such as the famous River Café series), and books by television personalities—such as Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver in the UK, and Mario Batali and Ina Garten in the United States—became more prevalent. Rachael Ray, Jane Grigson, Gordon Ramsay, Martha Stewart, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, and Anthony Bourdain followed and became household names, many with their own line of cookbooks and wares.

Photography became increasingly dominant in these books, and a much more relaxed style prevailed. The pictures featured food that you wanted to eat—food as it was cooked, rather than overly styled and presented on the table. The styling was made to look somewhat nonexistent, and, most important, photographers were more likely to be credited. Taking photographs for cookbooks became a more credible, legitimate space in which artists could work. Well-known photographers have shot for cookbooks—including Joel Meyerowitz, Adam Bartos, Richard Learoyd, Ron Haviv, and Jason Fulford, to name a few—illustrating the fact that photographs have become more important than the recipes in many instances.

This represents an important shift in how food is photographed for these books. With the rise of the Internet, most people turn to the web for cooking inspiration rather than books. But conversely, the production and sale of cookbooks and food magazines has never been stronger. A cookbook is no longer necessarily something you buy for the recipes; instead it has become more of a coffee-table book. Cookbooks are more collectible, as fetishised objects.

Perhaps this trend started out of necessity: with the rise of digital platforms, printed books needed to rethink their shelf appeal in order to reach consumers, and publishers have reached into the bag of tricks from art and design books. This has elevated cookbooks to become like photobooks; their pictures have become more aligned with still life and art practices. Though the pictures, in some cases, could operate in a proper artbook, in a cookbook they remain connected to lifestyle and taste, continuing to provide an aspirational experience that situates the reader in a very particular time and sensibility. They are for show, for seductive visual pleasure and for longing—all very far away from the labors of shopping, cooking, and washing up, but not so far away from the very earliest cookbooks, such as Le Livre de Cuisine.

Wladimir Schohin, Stilleben, 1910; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Wladimir Schohin, Stilleben, 1910; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

The distinctions between art and commerce that previously defined photographs of food are becoming much finer with the increasing cultural acceptance of commercial food and product photography, as well as a renewed interest in its history and pioneers such as Nickolas Muray. At the same time, fine-art photography has returned to the still life genre with new vigor. No longer at polar ends of acceptability, a crop of up-and-coming commercial photographers—such as Keirnan Monaghan and Theo Vamvounakis, Grant Cornett, William Mebane, Trey Wright, Lauren Hillebrandt, Paloma Rincón, and Stephanie Godot—produce exciting work that is often indistinguishable from art and its recent fascination with still life. Artists such as Maurizio Cattelan and Roe Ethridge also reference the commercial food photography of the 1950s through the 1970s, while Daniel Gordon and Laura Letinsky incorporate lifestyle pictures found in magazines and online into their collaged still lifes.

In short, many artists are turning to deconstruction, collage, montage, and appropriation to comment on the ubiquity of certain subjects on the Internet—food being one of them. Right now, commercial food photography is incorporating the tropes of fine art, while fine art simultaneously comments on commercial and digital practices. This creates a seesaw of taste-making, and the connotations of aspiration, class, and style are up for examination. All the while, irony, deadpan humor, retro styling, and bold statements dominate. Much of it may seem superficial—but at a time of renewed nationalism around the globe, when we are once again grappling with the intricacies of nationhood in the culture at large, photography is an important marker of how food can define who we are.

Roe Ethridge, Fruit, 2011;from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Roe Ethridge, Fruit, 2011;from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

And yet, despite how food has been photographed in art and commerce, it is how it has been photographed in vernacular imaging that has perhaps had the biggest impact on food as subject matter—and how those photographs are consumed. Photo-sharing on social-media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter have made photography part of the dining experience itself. So many people are taking pictures of their meals that restaurants expect each party to take more time at their table. And for those restaurants, as well as for specialty stores and brands, this sharing, tagging, and geo-tagging of food photos has become a kind of grassroots advertising scheme, in which both the authenticity of the author (and their established connection to the viewer) and FOMO (fear of missing out) might drive others to want the same experience—and it’s all delivered directly into the hands, homes, and pockets of an attentive audience. Photographing your food has never been more popular or encouraged. This may explain why traditional commercial photography has simultaneously become more like fine art—as well as more diaristic, mimicking the “ realness” of social media.

The rise of photographing food has also changed, or at least heavily influenced, the way we eat in the home. The Western breakfast, for example—a historically routine affair of cereal or toast—is now (if we are to believe Instagram) a feast of avocado toast, muesli with a host of berries and toasted nuts, and chia-seed smoothie bowls. Food has become even more of a social currency, and social media provides a space in which to share, find like-minded people, and form communities. It has spawned a host of hashtags to accompany photographs—hashtags that instantly position and self-identify the photographer with a certain group or shared aspiration. These can include the more jovial #nomnomnom, to the more pointed #whatveganseat or #eatclean. On a more serious level, these communities also connect those who struggle with food issues, such as eating disorders, and who have traditionally been outside of the mainstream.

Tim Walker, Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes, 2008; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Tim Walker, Self-Portrait with Eighty Cakes, 2008; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Blogs and social media have also spawned a trend in books that promote healthy eating, the shunning of certain nefarious foods, and wellness, often written by young women who have little or no nutritional training. These sites have garnered huge followings and their authors include, most famously, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kris Carr in the US and Ella Mills in the UK, to name a few. The message is simple: eat like me, look like me. Highly constructed photographs of kale salad and quinoa abound.

But platforms such as Instagram can be outlets for more than just aspirational food porn, a term coined to poke fun at the glamorisation and proliferation of photographs of food on social media. Like the book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady—in which Edith Blackwell Holden provides personal observations from her daily life in 1906 and intricate details of the woodland creatures near her home, along with exquisite paintings—Instagram can also act like a diary or journal, and of course food plays a part in this. Photographs of food in this context can be touching, a way of communicating with families and friends. There are mothers documenting care packages made for children who are away at university, families eating at holidays, and lovely tables, set for celebrations. Food is photographed as it brings people together, as ritual and tradition.

Laura Letinsky, Untitled #49, 2002, from the series Hardly More Than Ever; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Laura Letinsky, Untitled #49, 2002, from the series Hardly More Than Ever; from Feast for the Eyes (Aperture, 2017)

Whereas letters, drawings, small gifts, and especially recipes were exchanged between friends and family in earlier times to sustain relationships and show support, photographs have become part of our larger cultural gift economy—one in which our private experiences are made more public, and a wider circle of friends and followers reciprocate their support through likes and re-sharing. Food photographs have often crossed the boundaries between private and public, and are a natural fit for today’s social media. They invite people into our lives on a much larger scale, in an act more akin to publishing than letter-writing.

The smell and taste of certain foods have an evocative power; for some, nothing says home like their mother’s cooking, while for others the opposite is true. For Marcel Proust, as he wrote in his book À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), memories were triggered most famously by sweet madeleines dipped in tea. Food can arouse repeated and constant links between perception and memory, and when photographed, it is likewise transformed into a network of comparable connections and associated symbolic orders. Much like literature, photography is a medium closely woven with desire and longing—a vehicle for memory and a generator of metaphor and symbol. It also describes in the minutest of detail.

The photographs here will hand the viewer a key for coding and decoding society, if one is prepared to take the time to really look. They can celebrate, pervert, inform, and inspire. From the banality of the diner breakfast special captured by Stephen Shore to the allegorically dense still lifes of Laura Letinsky, from Roger Fenton’s elaborate nineteenth-century setups to the cookbooks of the 1960s, food—and how it’s photographed—defines how we live and how we value ourselves, and, at its very best, connects us to our dreams and desires.

Susan Bright

Feast For the Eyes, recently published by Aperture, is available in the bookshop at The Photographers’ Gallery.

Susan Bright is a curator and writer. She has authored numerous books including Art Photography Now (Aperture, 2005), Face of Fashion (Aperture, 2007), How We Are: Photographing Britain (2007: coauthored with Val Williams), Auto Focus (2010), and Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood (2013). She co-curated How We Are: Photographing Britain (2007), which was the first major exhibition of British photography at Tate. The exhibition of Home Truths (The Photographers’ Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago) was named one of the top exhibitions of 2013/2014 by the Guardian and the Chicago Tribune. She currently lives in Paris.

Conspicuous Invisibility: An Interview with Tom Butler
Question and Answer

Conspicuous Invisibility: An Interview with Tom Butler

Tom Butler (b.1979, London) collects memories, thresholds and hiding places and attempts to re-manufacture them in visual form. In advance of his solo exhibition in our Print Sales Gallery, Alexandra Olczak interviews Butler about his on-going series of appropriated original Victorian cabinet cards. These unique hand-painted or altered cabinet cards – previously discarded albumen photographs – feature portraits of men and women rendered anonymous by colourful patterns and forms applied in meticulously detailed gouache, or manipulated through intricate and precise collaging. By removing sections of the vintage cards and inserting modern coloured paper or carefully re-ordering them, Butler reinvents his subjects as contemporary works of art.

***

Alexandra Olczak: Looking broadly at your artistic practice, I can see you use photography both as a primary and secondary medium. You’ve also previously used found material as the basis of works, such as your vintage postcard series. What drew you to Victorian cabinet card albumen prints?

Tom Butler: I started appropriating vintage postcards when I left art school because I had little money for material, no workshop to use and I was moving around a lot. Using them felt great because even though they were cheap and small they offered me a pictorial space to be creative. They were small portable readymade environments for me to intervene by inserting drawn objects. I made lots of bizarre sculptural proposals such as barriers dividing up towns, enormous bugs climbing up buildings or skies filled with balloons and wondered what it would like to make them for real, only to realise that the appropriated postcard was the work.

One day I was looking for new postcards and found a stack of cabinet cards in a thrift shop. They were such beautiful photographic objects with just an edge of gothic that I’ve always loved. Now instead of intervening with a readymade landscape, I had an anonymous figure I could cloak as a kind of psychological clotheshorse.

Tom Butler, Uber Die Wernerkapelle, Ink on vintage postcard, 2008

Tom Butler, Uber Die Wernerkapelle, Ink on vintage postcard, 2008

AO: What particular qualities do you look for in a cabinet card when making new work, and how to you decide how you are going to alter them?

TB: I always start with the eyes, even if I obliterate them. That’s why I add a glint of white gouache at the end to bring them to life.

I also look at how the sitter is positioned in their photographic space. If they look confident, uneasy or fading into the background this gives me a starting point. I have a collection of unaltered ones too – every now and then I’ll find one so perfect I can’t touch it.

AO: To what extent do you think your two sculpture degrees inform your work?

TB: I rely heavily on my education in Sculpture. In my BA at Chelsea I made things, some of which would fill a room, and I photographed them relentlessly. It was drilled into us to document everything because of postgrad applications but also because a photograph of a sculpture changes how you see it as well as essentially transforming it into another object, in my case a photographic 6 x 4 inch photographic print from the chemist down the road or a 35mm slide from Metro. I reached the point when I was looking at my sculpture and the photograph of my sculpture and wondered if I preferred the photograph.

During my MFA at The Slade, I let the photograph become the starting point, but whilst one side of my work continued to flatten the other became more performative. I made short public performance pieces where I would balance things on my chin or roll myself up in huge sheets of paper but I liked that the photograph was the only physical document of the work. I also photographed my attempts at invisibility by hiding behind mirrors in the street (Invisibility Machine, 2007) and made drawings of spaces beneath furniture that I thought might make good hiding places (From Where I’m Sitting…, 2007). These were all ways I could propose my concealment in a given space without the need to make further physical objects.  So while my BA show was a room full of timber and motors, the work for my MFA show could fit neatly in a few folders, much as it does now.

Tom Butler, Murray6190 & HH6217 (side 1), Double-sided Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2017

Tom Butler, Murray6190 & HH6217 (side 1), Double-sided Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2017

Tom Butler, Murray6190 & HH6217 (side 2), Double-sided Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2017

Tom Butler, Murray6190 & HH6217 (side 2), Double-sided Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2017

AO: There are a number of double-sided cards in this series of works, which we haven’t seen before. What was the inspiration behind these?

TB: Yes, these are the newest and most sculptural pieces in the exhibition. As I’m presenting a figure on both sides of the card it encourages the viewer to move around it and take a bit more time. I like how they jut out from the wall: they’re assertive in their presence but head-on they just look like a sliver of something, hiding in plain sight.

These pieces can’t be viewed from across the room, they have to be approached more closely than the single-sided works and this feels more like a personal interaction. It opens up new possibilities for the work. For example, I can pair two sitters in specific imaginary relationships by cutting the up and re-arranging them so their identities become mixed and joined together. Like a couple so close they can finish each other’s sentences. I can also divide up a single person and represent them twice; perhaps on one side they seem to be hiding behind a barrier and on the other emerging from it.

 

Tom Butler, Gnlies, Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2016

Tom Butler, Gnlies, Victorian cabinet card albumen print collage, 2016

AO: You’ve said before that your practice centres on your fascination with the process of “ conspicuous invisibility” – can you expand on this?

TB: Sure, it refers to how I find the process of concealment inherently performative and that in the process of hiding you actually end up revealing something about yourself: like choosing a specific face mask or personally designed screen. I remember how much I loved playing hide and seek when I was a kid and especially the moment of being discovered where one is ‘seen hiding’ in the chosen location. It always felt like a very sincere moment. Being hidden can be very performative, humorous and even a little slapstick, as well as having the potential to be sinister (the horror film, The Vanishing (1988), plays this out brilliantly), but I think hiding to a certain degree is something we all do in our adult lives too. We have to play a roll to behave appropriately in professional situations that require self-editing, we wear clothes to signify specific group identities that enable us to do our jobs (a grey suit is a costume that practically makes you invisible), or we find a good pillar to lean against when the room gets too crowded.

Alexandra Olczak is print sales gallery co-ordinator at The Photographers’ Gallery.

SUPER. NATURAL.
New Writing

SUPER. NATURAL.

Image: Behind the Scenes Image from Cathedral of the Pines(detail) © Crewdson Studio. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

In this short essay, Clare Grafik considers her first encounter with Gregory Crewdson’s work, in relationship to his new project Cathedral of the Pines, currently on view at TPG. The essay is available in the new issue of Loose Associations, our gallery publication dedicated to photography and image culture. 

*

I first came across Gregory Crewdson’s work in a catalogue of the now seminal MoMA exhibition Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort by Peter Galassi in 1991. This exhibition and book featured establishment figures from the American photographic scene such as Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston, alongside artists including Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Nan Goldin and the emerging figures of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, and Crewdson himself. The dynamism of Galassi’s curation, which juxtaposed works across genres and contrasted established and experimental practices, was formative for a new generation of photographers. Pleasures and Terrors… also excavated a subject which would continue to fascinate and inspire Crewdson in particular: the contemporary state of the American Dream and the dark underpinnings of the suburban psyche.

Crewdson’s early images, which utilised maquettes of small town streets and off-scale taxidermy animals, were striking surrealist dioramas. However, it was his two subsequent series Twilight (1998-2001) and Beneath the Roses (2003-08) that would identify him as a groundbreaking image-maker. Using production crews, lighting experts, actors and meticulous post-production processes, his photographs were cinematic in both scale and subject – relating more closely to the work of American filmmakers or painters such as Edward Hopper than to photography. Crewdson cites David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir drama Blue Velvet and Spielberg’s earlier science fiction masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as particularly influential. However, Crewdson’s meticulously constructed mini-dramas deliberately hint at a narrative which never unfolds.

Behind the Scenes Image from Cathedral of the Pines © Crewdson Studio. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Behind the Scenes Image from Cathedral of the Pines © Crewdson Studio. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

It is interesting to know that Crewdson’s father was a psychoanalyst – the artist recounts eavesdropping as a child on his father’s sessions with clients from the floor above. We can imagine how snatches of incomplete conversations about the most intimate fears, obsessions and foibles of ordinary people may have influenced his creative interests and outlook. In his images, the streets and interiors of small-town America are settings for photographic incarnations of the uncanny, stage sets for not-so-subconscious alienation: a figure sits alone in a car at a cross roads, the driver has disappeared and left the door wide open; a woman stares into the middle distance as she sinks (floats?) in water which threatens to engulf a disassembling living room; figures stand impassively across a disused railway track watching a local house disappear in flames.

Crewdson’s most recent series Cathedral of the Pines (2013-14) is fascinating for both the similarities and differences to previous projects. Emerging from a period of creative and personal crisis, he states ‘It was deep in the forests of Becket, Massachusetts that I finally felt darkness lift, experienced a reconnection with my artistic process.’ Here subjects pose within the small rural town of Becket, Massachusetts, and its vast surrounding forests, including the hiking trail from which the series takes its title. Despite retaining a characteristic cinematic feel, these new works have a deliberate “ hyper” naturalism – where subjects are no longer seen drifting through tarmacked streets but, rather, gaze from claustrophobic cabin interiors out onto frozen lakes or are dwarfed against the vertical architecture of the forest. His most personal work to date, these images offer us a landscape which both dominates and reflects the brooding impassivity of the human psyche made more striking in its inhuman scale.

—Clare Grafik

Clare Grafik is Head of Exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery

Cathedral of the Pines: An Interview with Gregory Crewdson
Video

Cathedral of the Pines: An Interview with Gregory Crewdson

Above image: Gregory Crewdson, The Shed (detail), 2014. © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

In the exhibition Cathedral of the Pines, currently on view at The Photographers’ Gallery, Gregory Crewdson departs from his interest in uncanny suburban subjects and explores human relations within more natural environments. In images that recall nineteenth-century American and European paintings, Crewdson photographs figures posing within the small rural town of Becket, Massachusetts, and its vast surrounding forests, including the actual trail from which the series takes its title. Interior scenes charged with ambiguous narratives probe tensions between human connection and separation, intimacy and isolation.

Crewdson describes this project as ‘his most personal’, venturing to retrieve in the remote setting of the forest, a reminiscence of his childhood. The images in Cathedral of the Pines, located in the dystopian landscape of the anxious American imagination, create atmospheric scenes, many featuring local residents, and for the first time in Crewdson’s work, friends and family. In Woman at Sink, a woman pauses from her domestic chores, lost in thought. In Pickup Truck, Crewdson shows a nude couple in the flatbed of a truck in a dense forest—the woman seated, the man turned away in repose. Crewdson situates his disconsolate subjects in familiar settings, yet their cryptic actions—standing still in the snow, or nude on a riverbank—hint at invisible challenges. Precisely what these challenges are, and what fate awaits these anonymous figures, are left to the viewer’s imagination.

Crewdson’s careful crafting of visual suspense conjures forebears such as Diane Arbus, Alfred Hitchcock, and Edward Hopper, as well as the influence of Hollywood cinema and directors such as David Lynch. In Cathedral of the Pines, Crewdson’s persistent psychological leitmotifs evolve into intimate figurative dramas.

Visually alluring and often deeply disquieting, these tableaux are the result of an intricate production process: For more than twenty years, Crewdson has used the streets and interiors of small-town America as settings for photographic incarnations of the uncanny. Working with a large crew, he plans his images as meticulously as any movie director.

According to the Internet
Digital ProgrammeQuestion and Answer

According to the Internet

As part of our Digital Programme’s recent Experimental Photography School, Search Engine Artist and Internet Imperialist Gretchen Andrew came by to discuss how the internet is imperially, creatively, and maliciously used as a source of definition. Revealing her creative process and using examples from her work, Gretchen invited us to consider the implications on image culture, while teaching us how to do it ourselves.

***

The Photographers’ Gallery: How did you first begin working with search engines as artistic mediums?

Gretchen Andrew: My first search engine piece was accidental. My painting mentor Billy Childish first taught me how to copy his work. I put these paintings on my website as “ NOT NOT Billy Childish paintings” because of their liminal, actor-like state of being both NOT Billy Childish paintings but also NOT entirely NOT Billy Childish paintings. These paintings started to emerge in search results ahead of and indistinguishable from the real deal. This “ not not” nuance is one that search engines, and computers in general, have a very difficult time with. I began to consider how else search engines struggle with nuance and what this means for the way they answer questions and the definitions they create.

TPG: What is your process?

GA: Like any good imperialist I begin by identifying existing vulnerabilities, words, search terms, ideas, places etc. that I might have a chance of getting my images to the top results for. I then go to my painting studio and consider the replacement imagery, how to make a body of work that redefines the existing internet reputation with appropriate nuance. I like to replace existing search results with paintings because, unlike with a lot of photography, the personal bias and hand of the maker is glaringly obvious. This reminder of objectivity, that all images have a perspective, is a large part of what I want to accomplish. I then spread these images around the internet in a way pleasing to searching engines called “ search engine optimisation.”

TPG: During the workshop you focused on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) as a tool. At a basic level, what is SEO, how does it work, and how do you use it in your practice?

GA: SEO is a way of structuring web content to optimise discoverability by search engines. It involves establishing the credibility of your content in association with specific search terms, in large part through getting other sites with lots of visitors to link to your content. The network is really important which means to be successful in my internet imperialisation I need to make lots of content and rely on an increasing army of other creators. I use SEO to push my images up to the top of search results page where they become a larger element in the search term’s definition.

TPG: You call yourself an internet imperialist, what does that mean?

GA: By organising information in a certain way I can take over the online reputation of ideas, names, terms, but places are particularly interesting to me. I like the idea that, through manipulation of search engines, I can extend my definition-making influence in an outweighed way. Knowing how to use and organise information is like having a military.

One of my current projects is to imperialise image search results for “ Bow New Hampshire” with my images of growing up there. It’s a very small town in a very small state so most of the people coming across these results won’t have a primary experience of it as a place. Instead they get my very consciously personal paintings.

“ Internet Imperialist” is a little tongue-in-cheek but also meant to remind us about all the very serious ways internet imperialism is occurring. I’ve been looking into how remote civilisations are represented online and experimenting with replacing their imposed online image identities with blank pieces of paper.

TPG: During Experimental Photography School you shared a video called “ Boys vs Girl.” How does it relate to the ideas we’ve been discussing?

GA: I think a lot about how image search is used as a de facto visual dictionary and how problematic this is because of the way it codifies the existing discrimination in culture. It’s great because it’s revealing but terrifying for the same reason. It’s an obsession of mine that we not use “ girl” to describe anyone over 16 or so. If you conduct and image search for “ girl” you get sexualised women. Conduct one for “ boy” you get children. Conduct one for “ guy” and you get professional looking men. This video is an ongoing project using search results for “ girl” and “ boy” to be arranged in a way that exposes the false equivalency and reinforces the importance of thinking deeply about the increasing authority we give to search engines and the algorithms that make them work.

Gretchen Andrew (born in California, 1988) is a Search Engine Artist and Internet Imperialist whose HOW TO HOW TO HOW TO & #accordingToTheInternet projects look at the internet as a tenuous form of authority that can be used to understand, manipulate, and imperialise definitions. Her search-based practice is accompanied by a painting practice that is used as an image source for her related Internal Imperialism. She has completed projects or exhibitions with The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, The V&A Museum, The Photographer’s Gallery, The British Film Institute, The Lumen Prize for Digital Art, The British Arts Council, The White Building, Ace Hotel, The London Film School, and Whitcher Projects. She works in London with the artist Billy Childish.

To Know The Beast Intimately
Digital ProgrammeNew WritingThe Digital Image

To Know The Beast Intimately

Above image: Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Before it is won through conquest, what “ holds ” the invader is what lies ahead.

— Edouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990)

When hostility towards marginalised people heightens, resulting in blatant forms of fascism, the realm of representation is quick to be studied. Our knee-jerk reaction to the lack of representation or misrepresentation of minorities is predicated on notions that more “ good” representations of minorities will bring more empathy and prevent discrimination. While so much of the discourse on representation circles around questions of visibility, invisibility and hypervisibility, representing minorities in “ casual everyday situations” is in essence an effort to render them legible.

Representation has historically played a crucial role in the way minorities have gained rights through visibility. As minoritarian artists and writers, how do we discuss the inherent shortcomings of representation-as-tactic, and resist the exceptionalist tendencies it inevitably gives rise to? Instead of demanding the basic rights (to life, mobility, welfare and justice) for all, it is often the “ goodness” of the subjects that is used to argue against unjust and biased actions and discriminatory laws. Why should a deserving working engineer, college student, law-abiding citizen, father, mother, or any player of a recognisable and acceptable societal role (generally based on the Western heteropatriarchal understanding of humanity anyhow) be banned or discriminated against?

On the human-monster axis, legibility decreases as we slide from the human to the monster. The barbarian, the alien, the terrorist, the mysterious weirdo ought to evolve into (the late-capitalist version of) the human to become comprehensible: the one that consumes, whose attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s memory, who goes to sleep digesting data and wakes up looking at a screen.

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Legibility and visibility, although not mutually exclusive, are neither in direct causal relation to one another. More visibility does not necessarily render a subject more legible and vice versa. Empathy — any attempt toward peace that emphasises the “ similarity” and “ unity” of all humankind through representational means — operates on the basis of legibility.

If mainstreaming, as a mode of resistance, attempts, through art, popular culture and journalism to render a people “ normal” and “ peaceful”, Morehshin Allahyari’s Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj raises the question of how these notions of “ normalcy” and “ peace” are constructed. Instead of encountering a “ good” or “authentic” representation of a people, in Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj we find ourselves leapfrogging from the human towards the monstrous: the jinn.

In western orientalist representations, jinns are often depicted as either powerful male slaves who can make three wishes come true (think Aladdin) or subservient yet problem-solving females; predecessors of sorts to Siri or Alexa (think I Dream of Jeannie). Like everything else, jinns are also reduced to more tangible creatures for the western orientalist imagination: male jinns are racialised servants with superhuman capabilities but limited agency; female jinns are desirably naughty yet docile. Their gender is binary and, like “ us”, jinns have heteropatriarchal desires.

My upbringing was full of stories of Jinn-o-Pary[1] (Jinns and Fairies). Because jinns were invisible, fluid creatures anything one might need to be alarmed about would involve a jinn’s interference. Devil, the infamous jinn, was the shape-shifter who could manipulate you by “ getting under your cover” and entering your body. When getting close to danger — the edge of a cliff, a river or fire — it was Devil that would push you over, to fall, drown or burn.

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar, 1568

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar, 1568

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

According to the Quran, angels are made of light, jinns of fire and humans of clay (soil and water). Like humans, jinns have agency, while angels are not capable of wrongdoing; they’re purely good. Devil falls because he refuses to bow down to Adam, God’s magnum opus of a life in creation. Devil’s refusal to bow down to Adam was his refusal to accept the human’s superiority. In the quranic version, although Devil originally disobeys God, he remains in competition with Man’s power and stature for the rest of his life, not God’s:

And [mention] when We said to the angels, “ Prostrate to Adam,” and they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was of the jinn and departed from the command of his Lord. Then will you take him and his descendants as allies other than Me while they are enemies to you? Wretched it is for the wrongdoers as an exchange.[2]

Jinns look like humans until they are discovered; their identities revealed by their feet — animal like and twisted backwards. These moments of recognition when the human could tell they were enamoured, seduced or deceived by something not human, such as a jinn, were the climax of many of my childhood stories. What did the protagonist do once they realised the community or the person they were interacting or living with (sometimes for years) was jinn, not human? Once the jinn’s feet were revealed, what remained there to be seen? Was this moment of revelation one of immediate transformation, where from then on the human saw nothing but jinn? This is where all the stories ended, but where an exploration of Morehshin Allahyari’s Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj might begin.

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Ya’jooj Ma’jooj: A tale of survivalism

Dhul-Qarnayn, a good fella, was asked to defend the people against Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj (Gog & Magog), the mystical mass embodying corruption, perversity, debauchery and immorality. A monster depriving the people of peace, spreading pure chaos. According to the Quran, Dhul-Qarnayn built a wall out of pieces of iron, and welded them together with melted copper. Perfectly sealed, the wall was not to be penetrated or climbed by Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, keeping them at bay as the people inside lived on happily ever after in isolated peace. In this tale, then, what Dhul-Qarnayn built was more than just a wall that he claimed he could destroy on God’s order; what he constructed was the idea of the wall as deterrent. The people from then on lived with the knowledge of a deterring technology called “ wall”.

Morehshin Allahyari’s video, She Who Sees The Unknown: Ya’jooj and Ma’joojshows the 3-D scanning of a Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj sculpture the artist previously made, intertwined with text she has written and collected from different sources. While there are numerous Quranic, as well as Biblical and Toratian allegorical and historical interpretations of Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, Allahyari’s rendition is one that takes a curious look at the monster that was created. Allegorical figures, like jinns, are temporal embodiments of human desires and emotions. The beast comes into being to tell a story about good and evil: the people and their invader, the land and its defender. Once the story is told, what remains of the beast?

Allahyari’s Ya’jooj Ma’jooj departs from this tale of survivalism to look at life on the other side of the wall, where creation is a site of simultaneous decadence and becoming. Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, the plural that is also singular, the unit that embodies multiplicity, is constantly “ rendering,” yet never fully formed or legible. The ten-minute video is an extended gaze from when this encounter happened, when the people, Dhul-Qarnayn and Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj stared into each other’s eyes and began to see beyond the “ defended,” the “ invader” and the “ deterrence technology” of the wall. The moment of recognition is that of infinite reflection where one finally sees themselves in the other, yet one will not see the reflection until one stops to see through: ‘she to whom the image clung like a mirror‘.

—Gelare Khoshgozaran

Morehshin Allahyari’s She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj, continues through 16 July on our Media Wall. A video interview with the artist produced by our Education team can be watched. For more information on the subject of the the digital image and the ethics of representation, visit our online platformUnthinking Photography. Book tickets for our upcoming event Trafficking of Cultural Goods: 3D Modelling and Digital Colonialism.

Gelare Khoshgozaran گلاره خوشگذران is an interdisciplinary artist and writer working across the mediums of video, performance, installation and writing. Born and raised in Tehran and living in Los Angeles, she envisions the city as an imaginary space between asylum as “ the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee” and the more dated meaning of the word, “ an institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill.” Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at the Queens Museum of Art, Museo Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, Malmö Konsthall, LACE, The LA Municipal Art Gallery, Southern Exposure, Human Resources, Interstate Projects and Thomas Erben Gallery, among others. Gelare was the recipient of the 2015 California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists, the 2015 Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, and the 2016 Rema Hort Mann Foundation Award for Emerging Artists. She is the co-founder and editor of contemptorary.org.

Notes

[1] جن و پری

[2] Sūrat l-Kahf, The Cave. Chapter 18, verse 50, Sahih International Translation.

The Social: Building a Network: Jenny Lewis and Mimi Mollica
Professional Practice

The Social: Building a Network: Jenny Lewis and Mimi Mollica

Image: Mimi Mollica, Woman with a takeaway sandwich on Kingsland Road, Hackney, Spring 2015. From the series East Up Close

The Social is a regular and lively evening event run by The Photographers’ Gallery that aims to provide practical information for artists and photographers in a social environment.

Advice given by photographers and industry specialists is intended to support practitioners at all stages of their career, from the newly-graduated to the seasoned professional. At The Social, the audience is encouraged to enjoy a drink and, most of all, socialise.

On Thursday 27 April 2017, we focussed on the theme of Building a Network, and invited Mimi Mollica and Jenny Lewis to give their perspectives and tips on this topic.

The Social is free to all, with booking essential.

Building a Network / Creating a community

Advice from photographer Jenny Lewis:

1. You know more people than you think. This is something that evolves naturally with everyone that you meet along the way. Don’t underestimate what you have already achieved.

2. Be strategic but be authentic and focused. Start gathering contacts by using social media to follow and research people you want to network with, Look at magazines, writers, picture editors, curators, galleries and other photographers.

Jenny Lewis, Portrait of artist Simone Ten Hompel, 2016

Jenny Lewis, Portrait of artist Simone Ten Hompel, 2016

Jenny Lewis, Portrait of designer Yinka Ilori, 2016

Jenny Lewis, Portrait of designer Yinka Ilori, 2016

3. Be supportive of others. Supporting, as well as receiving support through a network, is a two-way relationship. Think of your network as collaborative, work together rather than just pushing your own vision or needs. Discussion and learning from others can be valuable and inspiring, and a great break from sitting locked to your computer.

4. Get out there. You can’t beat face-to-face. Be brave, be interested, be present… if you don’t know anyone try going along to things on your own and talking to people. Business cards make it easy to swap details.

5. Be authentic and passionate about your work. Having pride in your work is an attractive quality. People will want to be part of it and help you spread the word.

6. Have fun… It’s hard work and can be isolating so gather some friends along the way. Photography isn’t 9-to-5, it’s a way of life, so you may as well socialise with all these people you have a lot in common with. It’s not only about your work.

Jenny Lewis grew up in Little Clacton, Essex. She moved to Hackney almost 20 years ago. She has made her living as an editorial photographer, but continues to pursue a range of personal work. Much of this centres on her experience of living and working in East London. Alongside One Day Young, which captures mothers within the first 24 hours since having a baby, she has been photographing the network of creatives who live alongside her in the borough. Hackney Studios was published in April 2017 by Hoxton Mini Press.

Mimi Mollica, A man waits for a bus at a vandalised bus stop, Palermo, Spring 2009. From the series Terra Nostra

Mimi Mollica, A man waits for a bus at a vandalised bus stop, Palermo, Spring 2009. From the series Terra Nostra

Building your network

Advice from photographer and co-founder of Offspring Photo Meet Mimi Mollica:

I never wanted to be rich. My ambition is to be together with other people… hoping togetherness will make the world a little better.

1. Be consistent

2. Create, develop and follow your ideas through. This will grant you a trustworthiness, and you’ll be taken seriously in what you do.

3. Share your vision. If you share similar values within your network, you can only expand its potential and go that extra mile with expectations.

4. Be a resource for others. Building your network means that you must be a resource for someone. Collaboration is at the base of a mutually-beneficial interaction.

Mimi Mollica, Woman with a takeaway sandwich on Kingsland Road, Hackney, Spring 2015. From the series East Up Close

Mimi Mollica, Woman with a takeaway sandwich on Kingsland Road, Hackney, Spring 2015. From the series East Up Close

5. Create outcomes. A network must have the scope – the mission – to voice a common goal which can then materialise into a concrete outcome.

6. Connect people together. The more interaction that exists within a network the stronger it will become. Connecting people together serves as a cohesive agent, and offers your peers more and better opportunities to succeed as a group.

7. Be altruistic. Being able to share with others gives you the chance to be kind and be recognised as such, and we all know that what goes around comes around!

Mimi Mollica is an award winning photographer, born in Palermo, Sicily in 1975. His photo essays deal with social issues and topics related to identity, environment, migration and macroscopic human transitions. Mimi chooses to work on long term projects which allow him to research explore and develop a subject in depth. In early 2015 Mimi founded Photo Meet, an organisation aimed at celebrating photography through a series of events, such as Offspring Photo Meet, which includes portfolio reviews, lectures, networking, presentations and much more.