Virtual Study Visit/VCrit – The Hepworth Wakefield – 10 October, 2018

The resource package that I received for this VCrit provided us with some homework to do prior to the session and instructed us to make notes in our learning log. This was the first VCrit and naturally we had the inevitable tech problems. The VCrit was via Google Meet and I think this is the first time any of the students had used Google Meet. Eventually we reverted to using Google Hangout and the VCrit could then proceed. There were only four students on the VCrit and tutor Helen Warburton.

Exhibition 1: Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain

What does The Hepworth Wakefield say? Read the listing for the exhibition and identify three key points which inform your initial impression of the exhibition.

  • The exhibition focuses on collaborations with artists that Miller knew during the Surrealist period. Eileen Agar, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Henry Moore also feature in the exhibition. Britain was a Surrealist centre for a short while during the late 1930’s.
  • It highlights Miller and her husband’s attempts to unite the work of the Surrealists artists – 1936 International Surrealism Exhibition in London and in 1937 ‘Surrealist Invasion’ of Cornwall.
  • Miller was Man Ray’s apprentice. She was employed by Vogue during WWII as a war correspondent and photographed Hitler’s bunker and other war atrocities in a surrealist fashion.

What does the press say? Read Florence Hallett’s review in The Independent.

Lee Miller was a photographer, artist, muse and model. The exhibition places Miller at the centre of the Surrealist Movement. Her influences on other artists was just as important as the influences that she absorbed from other artists. She was instrumental in establishing the Surrealist Movement as a galvanized force in Britain. Political tensions in Europe saw the influx of Surrealist artists to Britain – International Surrealism Exhibition in 1936 and in 1937 Penrose (husband) organized the “Surrealist Invasion of Cornwall”. Miller’s post war work received less attention that the work she made during WWII, but she did play an active role in the emergence of pop art in 1953.

How does this article influence your initial impression of the exhibition – do you find it encouraging or off-putting? What elements interest you most and/or least?

Hallett’s review is more a condensed biography of Miller, touching very briefly on her involvement with Surrealism. The Hepworth Wakefield write up creates more interest than this article. The elements that interest me the most, I think, would be Miller’s WWII work.

What is Surrealism?

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express-verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

ENCYCLOPEDIA. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.” (Breton 1924, cited in Clayton, 2018:14)

[OCA Virtual Study Visit Resource Package]

The Art Story website describes this psychic automatism as artists bypassing logic and commonsense and giving way to their unconscious dreams or thoughts when making their work. Their work was heavily influenced by Karl Marx and also Sigmund Freud in his own work The Interpretation of Dreams (https://www.theartstory.org/movement-surrealism.htm).

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain Timeline

1924 – Andre Breton – Manifesto of Surrealism – abandon reason, give way to subconscious. Dream/Reality -> Surreality.

1928 – Breton publishes Surrealism & Painting.

1929 – Miller leaves NYC, arrives in Paris, works as Man Ray’s apprentice. Surrealist technique – solarisation.

1930 – Miller, working for Vogue sets up own studio. Acts as living statute in Jean Cocteau’s film The Blood of a Poet.

1932 – Miller breaks off relationship with Man Ray, returns to NYC, and exhibits as artist for first time. Man Ray alters his 1923 sculpture of a metronome Object to be Destroyed with a cut-out eye of Miller.

Sept 1932 – This Quarter publishes first English edition featuring Man Ray’s Object to be Destroyed with caption that viewer must destroy the sculpture with a single blow. (I guess Man Ray took the break up very badly).

1933 – Paul Nash writes to The Times –  announces formation of Unit One – abstract artists & surrealists.

1934 – Miller married Egyptian Aziz Eloui Bey, moves to Cairo. Studies Arabic. Undergoes photo expeditions into the desert. Her Portrait of Space was seen by Rene Magritte in 1938, inspiring his ‘Le Baiser’.

1936 – Roland Penrose organizes International Surrealist Exhibition in London.

Summer 1937 – Miller meets Penrose in Paris, falls in love and together they organize ‘sudden surrealist invasion of Cornwall’.

Nov 1937 – Penrose & E.L.T. Mesens organize exhibition Surrealist Objects & Poems in London. Miller instructs Penrose to make sculpture Le Baiser (The Kiss) for the show.

1938 – Penrose and Mesens turn London Gallery into centre for surrealism. Launch art magazine, London Bulletin. Miller is featured in journal.

1939 – Miller returns to England. Becomes photographer for British Vogue. Does fashion and society spreads detailing war time conditions.

1940 – Final exhibition of English Surrealist Group – Surrealism Today opens at Zwemmer Gallery one week post Dunkirk evacuation. Miller’s work exhibited.

1941 – Miller’s photos of London during Blitz published in Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain under Fire.

1942 – Miller receives press accreditation as official war correspondent for US forces covering Home Front in Great Britain.

1944-45 -Miller only female journalist in European combat zones. Documents D-Day and liberation of concentration camps for British & American Vogue.

1947 – Miller gives birth to son Antony.

1949 – Miller & Penrose purchase Farley Farm in Sussex.

1953 – Miller contributes to The Wonder and the Horror of the Human Head at Institute of Contemporary Arts, London – images of human heads – gendered ways of looking – prefigures pop art.

1953 – Miller’s photos of visiting surrealist friends feature in Working Guests – final assignment for Vogue. Featured artists doing household chores.

1953-1977 – Miller largely retired from photography. Passed away 1977. Penrose became leading art historian and was knighted in 1966.

Text Panels and Thumbnails – Make reflective notes for your learning log about the subject matter, writing style, areas
of personal interest or analysis.

By re-presenting artwork from the two Surrealist exhibitions we gain a better understanding of what/who Miller received her influences from and I think this helps to put her own work into a broader context. The way the gallery presented the text panels was good. I personally would have like to see more explanations about some of the work.

GALLERY 8 – a little more history is given on Miller’s earlier years with Man Ray as well as a further definition of Surrealism. This room features Man Ray’s Object of Destruction sculpture as well as a replica of the drawing which appeared in The Quarter. The drawing had a rather chilling caption below it which reveals what Man Ray’s state of mind must have been over the break up with Miller. The point was raised in our discussion that wasn’t destruction part of art anyway?

Juxtaposed to this drawing or alongside (difficult to tell from the publication) is Miller’s photograph of Rats’ Tails. The downward direction and free swinging rats’ tails echo the movement of Man Ray’s metronome. Rats are also objects that we would wish to destroy.

Miller’s Severed Breast – difficult to see details from the thumbnails. But I find it quite a gruesome concept and for 1930 would definitely have caused a bit of consternation. The juxtaposed knife and fork with the breast on a dinner plate connotes the surgical procedure. I actually found this image rather disrespectful to the woman who had undergone the mastectomy.

Nude Bent Forward and Nude Backs – abstract views of a woman’s body, some slightly ambiguous – more about form.

Man Ray Shaving – good use of light and shadow – fun piece.

Self Portrait – stance mimics the Venus de Milo statue.

Impasse with Two Angels – a play between shadow and light – resembling arms/wings.

GALLERY 7 – Surrealist Hub in London – more in-depth historical facts about the artists who exhibited at the International Surrealist Exhibition. I’ve just made some brief comments on some of the works.

Last voyage by Captain CookRoland Penrose – wire globe featuring longitude and latitude lines with plaster cast of woman’s body inside. Body is painted in diagonal lines of differing widths in white, taupe, orange, blue, brown and black. The sculpture is mounted onto a wooden base and there is a small wooden object resting on the base as well. I have to admit that I did not understand this piece at all. According to the Tate website “Penrose later suggested that the striped torso represented the idea of woman being like the Earth. Among other associations, the work may suggest that Cook was an explorer of the mysterious and the erotic” (https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/penrose-the-last-voyage-of-captain-cook-t03377).

Municipal School; Surrealist Landscape – Tristram Hillier – both muted tones with strong rectangular and square shapes. Drainage pipes feature in both paintings.

Dancers II – John Melville – shows movement and possibly sexuality?

The Philosopher – Giorgio de Chirico – reminds me of Rodin’s The Thinker to some extent. The proportions of this philosopher’s legs are out of sync with his arms and torso. Apparently this is one of his tropes (https://www.christies.com/features/10-things-to-know-about-de-Chirico-8880-1.aspx) The torso contains many icons that can be associated with a philosopher – scrolls, books, Doric pillars, lyre and a bust of either Plato or Socrates.

The Lovers, Adam and Eve – Joan Miró – childishly abstract with definite sexual connotations.

Composition – John Amhurst Selby-Bigge – another sexual rendition. Looks like a collection of vaginas with sperm.

Event on the Downs – Paul Nash – a slightly more relatable painting (to me anyway). ‘It is, however, more than a simple landscape. Indications of its meaning can be found in the incongruous placement of three motifs which are recurrent in Nash’s art of this time: the tennis ball, the tree stump and the cloud. Nash was then interested in Chinese art and philosophy, and the tennis ball should be read as an equivalent for the yin-yang symbol’ (https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/event-on-the-downs-28930).

Quadriga – Eileen Agar – Agar was born in Argentina and the colours in her paintings are reflective of the vibrant colours of this country. Uses bold, bright colours in this rendition of four horses heads.

Observatory Time: The Lovers – Man Ray –  the lips are those of Lee Miller. Red lips dominate the canvas suggesting the passage of time from their break up and her departure.

The Stairway to Paradise – Reuben Mednikoff – for me this painting has sexual overtones again – hinting at life and expectancy, but I am most probably wrong. This type of work really does confuse me a lot.

Study of Three Figures – Salvador Dalí – I suppose I’ve had a little more exposure to Dali’s work as I experimented using some of his work in my photographs for Context and Narrative. His work has always struck me as being highly imaginative, yet there is enough ‘realism’ in it that makes it more relatable.

As They Wish – E. L. T. Mesens – photograph of a hand holding a knuckleduster. The title of the work implies a hidden threat.

Aries – John Banting – According to the Bridgeman site, Aries was Hitler’s birth sign as well as the god of war. This image heralds the approach of WWII.

Time for Tea (Foliage Fantasy) – John BantingBanting was active in left wing politics and his contempt for the upper classes is seen in the titles and subjects of his work. Time for Tea may be a subversion of the social custom of afternoon tea. It is dominated by the sinister figure of a black bird surrounded by foliage and flowers shaped like male genitalia. The background has been made by rubbing over a textured surface (in this case leaves) a Surrealist technique known as frottage, pioneered by Max Ernst (https://www.southamptoncityartgallery.com/object/sotag-20023/).

Portrait of Eileen Agar – Helen Muspratt – Process of solarisation explained.

A Sudden Surrealist Invasion – Miller photographed the Surrealists artists at Penrose’s brother’s house in Cornwall. The artists were captured talking, making art, and at play. The photos reveal the close community that these Surrealists artists were.

Lens of Lizard Lighthouse and Eileen Agar at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton – Lee Miller show Miller’s deep interest in light and shadow to capture ambiguous images.

Surreal Objects and Poems

Onanistic Typewriter I – Conroy Maddox – described in The Independent “as a typical if unoriginal piece of Surrealist subterfuge in which a ready-made typewriter is rendered useless by its keyboards being transformed into spikes” (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/conroy-maddox-5543505.html). Onanisism = coitus interruptus.

Lobster Telephone (White Aphrodisiac) – Salvador Dalí and Edward James – interesting backstory to this work. These type of backstories definitely help to create more of an interest in abstract and Surrealist work.

Surrealism Today

Portrait of Space, Al Bulwayeb, Near Siwa, Egypt’ – Lee Miller – DesignObserver describes the photograph: The portrait is of a landscape, not a person, though the shape of the clouds recalls the lips of Miller floating in the sky in Man Ray’s painting The Lovers (1934), and two hillocks on the right can be seen—if we adopt the Surrealist perspective invited by the picture—as a pair of eyes. The gaping hole in the fly screen is also a kind of eye, opening on the scene (https://designobserver.com/feature/exposure-portrait-of-space-by-lee-miller/39101).

The Joy of Life – Max Ernst – symbolises fear and suppressed desires of the human mind. Jungle undergrowth, but is really overscaled ordinary garden undergrowth.

Max Ernst, Farleys Garden, Farley Farm, East Sussex – Lee Miller – a play on Ernst’s Joy of Life painting. Miller photographs him hidden in the vegetation.

Mother and Child – Henry Moore (sculpture)

Antony Penrose and Mary Moore with Henry Moore’s sculpture ‘Mother and Child’, Farleys Garden, East Sussex – Lee Miller  – photo of children with Moore’s sculpture.

Henry Moore with his sculpture ‘Mother and Child’, Farleys Garden, East Sussex – Lee Miller – photo of Moore hugging his sculpture.

Irina, Henry and Mary Moore and Antony Penrose with Henry Moore’s sculpture ‘Mother and Child’, Farleys Garden, East Sussex – Lee Miller – Photo of Moore family and Miller’s son with Moore’s sculpture.

‘Here is Vogue – in spite of all!’

Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub, Hitler’s
Apartment, Munich – Lee Miller with David E.
Scherman – the photo that I’m probably most familiar with from Miller’s arsenal. There is something shocking and horrifying about this photo of a beautiful ex-model who was clearly clothed in combat fatigues, taking a bath where the orchestrator of atrocities too numerous to mention wallowed in the bathtub. I think this photo is very much an “up yours” to Hitler by Miller. As stated by her son in this news article, her combat boots were covered in the filth from Dachau and how ironic or fitting is that that dirt should be trampled all over Hitler’s apartment.  (see image at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/lee-miller-woman-hitlers-bathtub/)

Page 9 – Image: Lee Miller, Eileen Agar at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1937

See image at: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw83892/Eileen-Agar.

What elements of this image do you think add to its ‘surreal’ qualities? The shadow and light areas of this image give it its surreal qualities. It is almost like the illusion where you look at a picture of a vase, but if you look closely again it is a picture of two faces in profile.
Who do you think is the figure captured to the left of the frame?
Inspired by Eleanor Clayton’s words, note down your own observations of this image. I believe the figure on the left of the frame is Lee Miller. Agar’s silhouette (bar the camera) reminds me of the dress that women in the Wild West used to wear. The column’s creases at the bottom of the frame form the folds of her dress.

Page 10 – Image: Lee Miller, Hands for the Job, Vogue Studio, London, 1942

What do you think of the observations of Dr Hilary Floe? How do her comments influence your interpretation of the images? While I mostly agree with Floe’s observations about the interpretation of the image, I can’t help wondering if this photograph was not staged. It is a well known fact that women were not allowed to wear metal objects (hair pins, jewellery, etc) in the munitions factories for fear of creating sparks that might set off an explosion. This Lady Dashwood is wearing a wedding ring.

Page 11 – Lee Miller, Corsetry, Solarised Photographs, London, England, 1942

What effect do you think this process of ‘solarisation’ has on the way the female body is represented in this photograph? Solarisation makes the female body appear thinner and more evocative.

Page 12 – Image: Lee Miller, David E. Scherman, dressed for war, London, England, 1942

This is the lead image for the promotion of the Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain exhibition – why might it have been chosen by the curators and the museum for this purpose? The gas mask is very other worldly. It is a very strong image in that it conveys the sense of the uncanny very well. The juxtaposition of the cheerfully striped umbrella above this ‘creature’ with the ‘horrifying face’ works well to create surrealism.

Exhibition 2 – Viviane Sassen: Hot Mirror

What does The Hepworth Wakefield say? Read over the listing for the exhibition, copy and paste it into your learning log.

Hot Mirror presents a survey of work by internationally renowned Dutch artist and photographer Viviane Sassen.

Sassen is one of the most innovative photographers working today and cites Surrealism as one of her earliest artistic influences, seen in the uncanny shadows, fragmented bodies and dream-like landscapes in her work.

For Hot Mirror Sassen selects individual images from her notable art photography series of the last ten years, as well as new photographs and collages. These selections are be combined to create ‘image-poems’ that draw on the Surrealist strategies of collage. Hot Mirror also presents a new version of Sassen’s immersive film, Totem, 2014, which places the visitor inside a surreal landscape.

Hot Mirror is timed to sit alongside our exhibition exploring Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain.

(https://hepworthwakefield.org/whats-on/viviane-sassen-hot-mirror/)

Highlight key words or statements, look up and record the definition of any words you might not be sure about. Identify three key points which inform your initial impression of the exhibition. Summarise on your learning log.

  • Sassen is an innovative Dutch artist and photographer.
  • Surrealism is one of her earliest influences.
  • The exhibition focus on “image-poems” using Surrealist methods of collage.

In discussion one of the students remarked that Sassen’s work reminded her of Helen Sear’s Plaiser’ work which uses hot mirrors, there are the same sort of ideas running through the work – sexualized.

What does the press say? Read Irina Baconsky’s review of the exhibition for Dazed: http://www.dazeddigital.com/art-photography/article/40482/1/viviane-sassen-hot-mirror-hepworth-gallery-show-surrealist-dream

  • Sassen works with contrasts in her work: light/dark; life/death; dreams/reality.
  • For her surrealism is a way of looking at something in an unbiased, unconventional way, rather like seeing as a child does.
  • The Hot Mirror exhibition shows photographs from Sassen’s body of work over the last ten years, as well as new photographs and collages. These have been combined into ‘image-poems’ collages juxtaposing unexpected subjects.
  • She draws a lot of her inspiration from the time she spent in Africa.

Page 17 – Image: HCG, from the series Mud and Lotus, 2017

What is this image depicting? How do you feel about it?
Is it shocking, is it beautiful? Write down your reaction and explain why you feel this way.

This image is depicting pregnancy which is confirmed by both the enlarged abdomen of the subject and also the title “HCG” which is a hormone that is produced by the placenta. Although the textures that Sassen uses are rather ‘yucky’ for want of a better word, they do lend a very organic feel to the image. The shape of the dark shadows surrounding and partially covering the body make me think of a hibiscus stamen rising up above its petals.

Page 18 – Image: Yellow Vlei, from the series Umbra, 2014

Visit the Tate website and learn more about Malevich’s Black Square: www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/kazimir-malevich-1561/five-ways-look-malevichs-black-square.

  • First time someone made a painting that wasn’t of something. He wanted to abandon reality and concentrate on depicting forms and shapes.
  • The black square first made its appearance in 1913 as a black curtain … Victory over the Sun, where the characters aimed to abolish reason by capturing the sun and destroying time.
  • It’s a revolutionary symbol. He called this suprematism which is abstract art limited to geometric shapes using a limited range of colours. The black square was a new kind of art object. Malevitch promoted it as a sign of a new era of art. It was first exhibited in the middle of WWI and the Russian Revolution followed shortly thereafter. The artistic revolution Malevich was bringing about seems to reflect the social revolution that was happening. Malevich didn’t intend for the Black Square to be a representation of a real thing, but a symbol of a dawning new age.
  • It was the first icon that wasn’t an icon. When the black square was first exhibited it was placed across the corner of a the wall where traditionally a Russian Orthodox icon would hang. Malevich wanted to show the Black Square to be of a special or spiritual significance, make it the star of the show and the overriding emblem of his new style. The black square became Malevitch’s motif.
  • There is no right way of looking at it. The square is a motif and can stand in for other ideas.

Page 19 – Image: Marte #02, from the series Umbra, 2014

What does the inclusion of the mirror do in this portrait?
What is visible? What is hidden?

The inclusion of the mirror adds another layer to this portrait. It acts as a collage, turning the portrait into one of surrealism. Legs, reflection of legs, chaise lounge with a green blanket are visible. There is no torso attached to the legs. Neither does the viewer see any arms or head. The woman’s sexuality is totally hidden. Rather reminiscent of Francesca Woodman. Sassen’s work thwarts the male gaze by interrupting his view.

Page 20 – Image: Belladonna, from the series Parasomnia, 2010

Page 21 – Image: Inhale, from the series Parasomnia, 2011

Do you notice a trend throughout these images in Sassen’s use of fabric and paint? Why do you think she uses props or paints in this way? How does it affect the way we view the objects and/or people within the images?

Sassen uses fabric and paint to hide body parts. By stripping the subject of their identity (face), the viewer is left to put his/her own interpretation on the image.

Page 22 – Image: Totem, 2014 © Viviane Sassen, courtesy of Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Given what you have read so far and learnt about Lee Miller and the Surrealists, do you think Sassen’s works are ‘surreal’? Why?

Sassen’s works are definitely surreal. Her photos and collages escape the boundaries of reality and appear to represent an alternative universe.

Page 23 – Image: Ra, from the series Mud and Lotus, 2017

Note the gesture captured in this image and the use of colour and shadow. Like the Lee Miller exhibition, this image was chosen as the lead promotional image for the Viviane Sassen: Hot Mirror exhibition. Why do you think this is?

It is an image of light and darkness, rich in colour contrast. The open handed gesture, duplicated in its dark shadow against the red background, represents possibilities/life. The colour white usually represents purity, light, beginnings, while blue is the colour of piety, wisdom, or sadness. Red is the colour of rage, but also of passion. It also represents both Cupid and the devil. This image epitomizes Sassen’s philosophy of an ever present duality.

Page 26 – Compare/Contrast

Which images or references were the most insightful or engaging for you as a reader?

In the Lee Miller exhibition, the gallery text panels provided the most insight into the Surrealism movement and Miller’s work. While the resource package was packed with much good information, it was quite a lot to get through and I didn’t get to reading the recommended texts, but did watch the short videos which were very helpful in putting everything into context.

In the Vivian Sassen exhibition, the images were more engaging to me. But I do think that had I not first worked through the Lee Miller exhibition, I would not have grasped Sassen’s work as easily. The same remark on the resource package applies here too.

From what you have read and observed, what is your lasting impression of Lee Miller’s work and contribution to art in Britain?

Miller has made an extremely important contribution to art not only in Britain, but in North America as well. Her work spans different genres and historically is of extreme importance with the documentation of WWII as well within the historical context of Surrealism.

Ask yourself the same about that of Viviane Sassen.

Although Sassen’s work is also Surrealist in nature, she is only beginning to carve out her career. Her work is very different to that of Miller, more vibrant and in keeping with today’s use of colour – more contemporary, but notwithstanding that there are similarities between both artists’ work. Sassen is definitely someone to study in more depth.

Do you have any unanswered questions about the life or work of these artists? What more would you like to know?

How did Miller manage to pull strings to go behind enemy lines during WWII?

Make sure you have read this article…
An eye for the uncanny: Viviane Sassen on her concurrent exhibition with Lee Miller. Words by Billie Muraben, Monday 25 June 2018
https://www.itsnicethat.com/features/viviane-sassen-lee-miller-photography-250618

What similarities and differences do you observe between the work or approaches of Lee Miller and Viviane Sassen? Do you think the two exhibitions complement each other?

Both artists were models and were involved in fashion photography. Both photograph the uncanny, but while Miller concentrated on recording life as it happened, Sassen prefers to dabble in confusion and doesn’t make statements with her work. The two exhibitions complement each other because they work in antithesis of each other. Miller dealt with harsh subjects such as war, while Sassen deals with imaginative, ‘magical’ moments of her own creation. Both women favour using light and shadow in their work, but more so I think Sassen.

Michael Whyte who is doing Painting 2 suggested a great video link regarding an in-conversation between a curator at The Hepworth Wakefield and Viviane Sassen, which I will watch later. Link is:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ma4tD3vSQdo. He also mentioned a female artist who had painted the Last Supper:  of; http://www.theflorentine.net/art-culture/2017/03/nelli-last-supper/ and the link to the Florentine women artists’ book https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/8890243457/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

Take aways

For me the VCrit was doubly helpful in that it set the stage of how to go about preparing for a study visit. This is something that I’ve always felt I’ve muddled through, never quite sure how to approach them. It is extremely helpful to first read and compare the gallery’s introduction to the work and the press reviews. I now have a template of questions that I can apply to any exhibition that I visit which will hopefully inform my study visits in a more succinct manner. Now all I have to hope is that the local exhibitions in my rural neck of the woods do actually have some sort of press coverage!

The VCrit has also given me a much better understanding into Surrealism and allowed me to realise that this can and has on occassion informed my work. I just hadn’t realised it as such before. Now I will be more aware.

My sincere thanks to Helen Warburton who did an absolutely amazing job of providing the resource package and heading up the VCrits. It really is good to hear other tutors’ perspectives on things.

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Exercise 4.5: Signifier – Signified

I have written quite a lot on Barthes and semiotics in past courses so I am not going to repeat the exercise of reading & discussing the Rhetoric of the Image as I did that in C&N and I&P:

The advertisement I have chosen to deconstruct is one for Sunlight washing powder entitled MUD ANGEL and was done by Ammirati Puris Lintas Toronto advertising agency for Sunlight Laundry Detergent (brand: Sunlight) in Canada. It was released in June 2000.

Sign

Signifier

Signified

Footprints in mud Children running & jumping
Snow angel markings A child lying in the mud waving arms and legs to create the imprint, in other words an extremely dirty child. Celestial being. Curved shape of wings mimic the yellow curves around the sun on the box.
Bicycle tracks Motion/movement, children playing
Mud Recent rain
Gold toned water Brightness, sunshine (one extreme)
Copper toned mud Dirt, grime and grit, earth (opposite extreme)
Tag line: Go ahead. Get dirty. Permission given. Opposite of what mothers usually remind their children (Don’t get dirty).

By using a snow angel in the ad (or mud angel if you prefer), the advertisers are imbuing Sunlight washing powder with miraculous powers. Having raised two boys myself, I know from experience, that to clean a child’s clothes that have been muddied to that extent is almost impossible. By playing on the two extremes – the sun(light) and the mud, this further enhances the illusion that this washing powder is truly miraculous.

Exercise 4.4: ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’

The brief:

Read Deborah Bright’s essay ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men’.  As well as writing widely on photography, Bright is also an established practitioner. This text was written in 1985 and some of the things Bright argues for have been achieved. The text provides a contextual insight (particularly in relation to American photography) and an interesting sense of the climate from which much critical practice has emerged. Read the essay, noting key points of interest and your personal reflections in your learning log.

Bright begins her essay with a statement that there has been a resurgence in landscape photography in the form of coffee table books. I will highlight the points she makes that I found note worthy.

  • “among educated, middle-class audiences, landscape is generally conceived of as an upbeat and “wholesome” sort of subject which … stands indisputably beyond politics and ideology and appeals to “timeless” values” [Bright, 1985: 125]
    Certainly today travel is made cheaper to all social classes with various holiday packages available than it was in the 1980’s. Travel to foreign destinations is still a little elitist and occupies a space on most people’s bucket lists to some degree. But I think even back in 1985 part of this statement would ring slightly false. Think of the 1975 civil war in Lebanon, Falkland Islands (1982), Angola (1975 – 1989), as well as Namibia and Mozambique in that same time frame. I think of the land disputes happening in South Africa and disagreements about land usage between the First Nations and the local/federal government in Canada. Whose “timeless” values is Bright referring to – the local community, the government, international culture? My cultural values most probably differ quite greatly to my First Nations neighbour’s values, or to that of my Asian colleagues.
  • “… the landscape image bears the imprint of its cultural pedigree. It is a selected and constructed text, … the historical and social significance of those choices has rarely been addressed and even intentionally avoided” (Bright, 1985: 126].
    Psychologically our culture influences our reading of the landscape image we are viewing. When I am looking at a photograph by Ansel Adams of Yosemite National Park or a photograph of Banff in Canada, the historical or social aspect of those places don’t even feature in my analysis of those images. Yet they should – without a solid historical understanding of the past, we can have no clear direction of the future. Without understanding the social significance of those images e.g. commodification of national parks, increase in tourism, potential hazards to wildlife, we would be unable to act as a collective community to bring about necessary changes. I’d like to think that this has improved since 1985.
  • “… every representation of landscape is also a record of human values and actions imposed on the land over time” [Bright, 1985: 126].
    Landscape photography is cultural reflection of a community’s values no matter where in the world one lives.
  • Questions Bright poses:
    1. “… what ideologies do landscape photographers perpetuate?
    2. In whose interests were they conceived?
    3. Why do we still make and consume these photographs?
    4. Why does the art of landscape photography remain so singularly identified with a masculine eye?”
  • At the end of late nineteenth century there was a movement that a “nature experience” was a healthier alternative to the urban lifestyle and there emerged a tourist market under the new middle-class, first made possible by the railroad and later the automobile. Creation of parks and forests within the cities reflected an upper-class taste for “aestheticized nature” and the belief that these spaces would improve the manners and aspirations of the immigrants and workers who used these spaces. Wilderness spaces were also staked to be preserved for America’s future generations.
  • Religious overtones exist towards these wilderness spaces. They are ceremonial in nature, have a personal code of conduct (rules and regulations), as well as pilgrimages (holidays) and the compulsion to take snapshots of shrines of Nature. Nothing much has changed in this aspect. People still flood to various wilderness sites to take that photograph that was made famous on the postcard or travel brochure, but today they insist on taking a selfie in front of the view, making themselves the main subject and the actual subject an ornamental background to their narcissistic portrait.
  • With the advent of the automobile, the wilderness was “redesigned … for middle-class convenience and efficiency” (Bright, 1985: 128]. Roads were built in the parks and suitable view points created to conform to pictorial standards. These views became the standard to be measured against and served as lures to get the tourist out to go and view the real thing. Do people really only want to take photographs of what the authorities want them to see? Certain wilderness sites here in Canada are restricted allowing only a certain number of people through in a given season, e.g. Sable Island and the West Coast Trail. Some sites require tourists to register and attend orientation meetings prior to setting off on the trails. These measures have been put in place to protect the local wildlife and preserve the flora.
  • The advent of motion picture, and particularly the genre of the Western, also created a desire among the public to see this wilderness that was being represented and these images spilled over into advertising and marketing. The Western movie implied a very masculine point of view – the men going out to the frontier were strong, powerful and quite dominating – totally in keeping with the masculine view of landscape photography.
  • “Nature has become commodified; its benefits can be bought and sold” [Bright, 1985: 129].
    This is still relevant today. Parks boards charge fees for camping, and trail passes. Television and internet are full of special offers for vacation packages, even to remote places like Antarctica.
  • There is “a landscape that cannot be defined strictly by aesthetic of geographical categories. … (It is) a field of perpetual conflict and compromise between what is established by authority and what the vernacular insists on preferring” [J.B. Jackson in Bright, 1985: 129].
    Historical matters such as beauty, preservation, development, exploitation, regulation are constantly changing and are not critical conditions for landscape. “The political interests that landscape organization reveals are subjects that the practice of landscape photography has not clearly addressed”. [Bright, 1985: 129].
  • Inadequacies in traditional landscape:
    • Dominant landscape aesthetic … offshoot of American purist/precisionist movement in 1920’s/1930’s. West Coast landscape school – Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter – taste for picturesque sublime. Aesthetic premised on identification between mythical Eden and American landscape, suited to conservative post WWII in Manifest Destiny.
    • Aperture began in 1952 … Minor White reworked Alfred Stieglitz’s Equivalent providing a sort of theoretical base for photography. Stieglitz defined a photographic Equivalent as a metaphor for the vision/feeling of the artist.
    • Andy Grundberg … aesthetic of Equivalent has a shortcoming … photograph has difficulty in defining what that vision or feeling is.
    • Final form was less important than its evocative meaning.
    • John Szarkowski – formalist vocabulary (“vantage point”, “detail”, “frame”), used 19th century landscape painters as examples for theory of form. American Landscapes published 1981, only featured two female photographers: Laura Gilpin and Dorothea Lange. Each had one photo in exhibition, while the thirty eight male counterparts averaged 4 or 5 images. Not much has changed regarding the representation of female photographers since then.
    • New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape, organized by William Jenkins …problem of style … convey much visual information, but no cultural meaning.
      The photographs could not be classified as belonging to the chocolate box variety as many featured industrial landscapes, mass housing projects and wastelands. Photographing these types of landscapes is quite common today.
    • The contexts in which photos are viewed/produced/distributed/consumed explains much about how we are to interpret them.
    • Case study – Stephen Shore’s photograph. In Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City (1976) caption is a long description referencing things outside the frame. Same photo in New Topographics gives place-date. This is formula for captioning landscape photos within art contexts (galleries). In Shore’s monograph Uncommon Places same photo is produced with no caption, just page number. No context is there to distract the viewer.
  • John Pfahl … Power Places … romantic nostalgia for picturesque landscape; power plants can be things of beauty – the sublimity of the modern atom by the shores of ancient seas [Bright, 1985: 135].
    By combining a picturesque aesthetic with a socially laden subject Pfahl has ensured that he has very marketable photographs that will not offend any potential buyer.
  • Lisa LewenzThree Mile Calendar … photographs of power plant … constructed in political context in form of a calendar. Adds important dates related to history of atomic history as well as usual famous anniversaries and birthdates, creating provocative juxtapositions [Bright, 1985: 136]. Photographs are taken from within people’s homes and include the view of the power plant out their window bringing home the socio-political aspect. Mass produces the calendar, sells for US$6.00 and opens distribution to audiences who would normally not enter galleries. “Lewenz’s calendar demonstrates a successful attempt at moving beyond art photography’s limited, inbred audience … to using landscape images for articulating a clear position on both formal and social issues while reaching a wider public” [Bright, 1985: 137].
  • Bright posits that other areas that photographers could potentially explore are land use, zoning, the workplace and the home, stating that women “have a special stake in documenting this sort of “social landscape” [Bright, 1985: 137].
    I always wonder why it should be women who should explore the home. Do the men who design the homes, not live there as well? Nigel Shafran and Peter Mansell might be the only exceptions. Many public spaces used by women could be documented by women, i.e. hair salons, laundromats, shopping centres.
Farmhouse, Leroy, New York, 1981 by Marilyn Bridges

 

  • Where are the female landscape photographers one might ask? In the Spring 1985 edition of Aperture (Western Landscape) only one female photographer was featured, namely Marilyn Bridges among eleven men. The landscape environment still remains largely a male dominated one. “No less than Marlboro Country, American landscape photography remains a reified masculine outpost – a wilderness of the mind” [Bright, 1985: 138]. Somehow a common view (and supported by some women photographers like Linda Connor) is that women’s childbearing capacity influences their response to nature because, unlike the male who is not as involved with the reproductive task, women are “closer to nature” than men are. Men on the other hand because they lack this reproductive capacity have to seek their “creativity” through artificial and technological means. “Men choose to interact with nature and bend it to their will, while women simply are nature and cannot define themselves in opposition to it” [Bright, 1985: 138]. This is nothing more than total discrimination – plain and simple. Gender roles are blamed too – sexual difference is taught in the home through example and representation. I wonder what would the reactions of the LGBQT++ community be to that? Will we soon be seeing those categories in landscape photography?
  • If we are to make photographs that raise questions or make assertions about what is in and around the picture, we must first be aware of what the ideological premises are that underlie our chosen mode(s) of representation [Bright, 1985: 139].
    This is something that ties in with what my tutor explained to me regarding an artist’s statement. This awareness will guide the aesthetic and technical decisions as well as assist in editing the contacts. Above all it will reinforce the statement.
  • Bright ends her arguments by stating that we should “openly question the assumptions about nature and culture that (landscape) has traditionally served ad use our practice instead to criticize them… (Landscape) is a historical construction that can be viewed as a record of the material facts of our social reality and what we have made of them” [Bright, 1985: 140].
    This statement is still of utmost relevance today. If we are women photographers are not being invited into the male domain, we should create our own space to display our work, or seek out other places like the shopping centres, beauty parlours, coffee shops, and internet and take the work directly to the viewers.
Reference List

Bright, D. (1985) ‘Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men: An Inquiry into the Cultural Meaning of Landscape Photography’ In The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography ed. Bolton, R. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 125-143

Exercise 4.3: A Subjective voice

It is important to acknowledge my subjective attitude towards the subjects I’m researching and photographing. Right now I am dealing with themes around Landscape. I should reflect on any current and previous circumstances/experiences I think may influence/has influenced my views on landscape. Describe how these factors might inform my ideas about landscape photography or related themes. In doing so I should consider whether where I grew up influenced my view of the landscape? What type of engagements have I had with the landscape in the past? Are there any social or political issues that particularly concern me in relation to the landscape?

My father was transferred a lot in his working life and it seemed that we were always on the move. I attended seven primary schools. Quite a few of the moves were from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a distance of about 1, 200 km and most of the car trip would be passing through flat-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see landscape – semi-desert region – with a few scrub bushes and on the horizon would be a hill. When you reached the hill the scenery was the same again – flat expanse with another hill on the horizon. This monotonous landscape was extremely boring for a child. I always perked up once the desert region was done with and the scenery changed more frequently.  Spending time in the Netherlands gave me a taste of the ‘exotic’ and I reveled in the beauty of the bulb fields and flower gardens and took many photographs of tulips.

During my teenage years my family purchased a farm where we farmed with grapes, had a few dairy cows and bred Arabian horses. My involvement with the landscape was more intense as I was out with the animals every day and also helping to harvest the various crops after school or during holidays, as well as working the horses. We would go for outrides in the forest and through neighbouring farms. My engagement with the landscape has been both work related as well with leisure. Vacationing in places like Mexico and Cuba have triggered my curiosity afresh of foreign landscapes.

When I was 39 my husband and I emigrated to Vancouver, Canada with our two sons. The Canadian landscape was literally the antithesis of the South African landscape I was used to. Instead of brown savannah grass over rolling hills there were massive old-growth forests with 300 foot trees stretching over large mountains as far as the eye could see. The African hue was vivid – brown, orange, red and blue, while the Canadian hue was muted – green, blue-green and brown. I had gone from seeing overall warm tones to seeing cool tones and this was and still is a huge adjustment for me. I do miss the dramatic African sunsets. Most sunsets here in British Columbia tend towards the pastel spectra.

During my shooting for Assignment 3, I discovered certain sights and sounds triggered memories for me of landscape that I encountered in my youth. I was quite interested in the fact that although the landscape looks vastly different here, there were similarities to the landscape in South Africa which were influencing my narrative.

Savona Lake, BC, Canada – Lynda Kuit 2018

Travelling by car from my new home to visit my children in Vancouver I have increasingly become aware of the train traffic that criss-crosses the country. Trains 5 kilometres long carrying potash, and crude oil are the major commodities. I am so aware of the potential of an environmental spillage (the trains travel next to lakes and rivers that supply drinking water to communities) that would have devastating effects on cities. There are companies trying to twin an existing pipeline that will take the oil directly to the USA, but some environmental groups are blocking this endeavour citing all sorts of environmental concerns. I have to wonder if they have considered the more damaging effects of a train derailment vs a pipeline spillage.

Project Personal identities and muliculturalism

Simon Roberts – Contested Landscape

Robert’s blog post relates to the talk given by Ingrid Pollard at the Tate.

Pollard’s work Pastoral Interludes reflects the feeling of otherness of a black woman in a rural setting. Her images refer to the beautiful and romantic landscape of English poets such as William Wordsworth, but also reference the hidden histories of the British slave trade from Africa and the Caribbean. She incorporates ‘familiar’ lines from romantic poets into her captions subverting them to fit her work.  ” I though I liked the Lake District where I wandered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease, dread….” For Pollard, as a black person, the landscape has become a commodity and she has been discounted as a customer.

John Kippin challenges stereotypes. His work pays homage to pictorial landscapes but foregrounds contemporary issues e.g. a Muslim prayer meeting next to a lake. Research done in 2004 revealed that only 1% of ethnic minorities living in Britain went to the rural countryside. Mention is made of the Jaggi family originally from Pakistan who regularly visit the countryside and don’t feel marginalized at all, but see similarities in their rural expeditions to life back in Pakistan.

Ingrid Pollard

The link to Ingrid Pollard’s podcast in the course manual has changed and I was able to find it on https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/audio/conversation-pieces-audio-recordings. Pollard was introduced by Paul Goodwin, curator at the Tate, as a photographer whose work revolved around portraiture and landscape that explores Britishness and Otherness.  She addressed ideas of ownership referencing the eighteenth century paintings and who was allowed to be in the landscape. Workers were rarely shown or if they were then they were way off in the distance or on the periphery. Much of her work seems to revolve about swopping out this perspective and putting the workers front and centre and almost detaching them from the land. She also addresses the language of tourism. She showed slides of her own work, but unfortunately it was very difficult to follow what she was talking about as I could not see what she was referring to. I did try and locate some of the images on her website, but wasn’t very successful. John Taylor (1994: 240 – 242) categorises Ingrid Pollard as an oppositional photographer “harnessing the dominant modality of tourism, especially the identification of core English values which are constantly repeated. … try to unsettle the viewer, and aim for irony and confrontation”.

Fay Godwin

I am not able to listen to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs featuring Fay Godwin because I am outside of the UK. My proxy server access may have expired. I will have to come back to this if I am able to access it later. I did do some research on Godwin during Part 3 of this course: https://lyndakuitphotographylandscape.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/fay-godwin/.

John Darwell

Darwell’s series on the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001-2002 is quite reminiscent of the holocaust with the seemingly innocent, pure landscape evolving into a crime scene, bodies of affected sheep and the incineration thereof and the smoke palls. Devastation of the massive financial loss is evident on the faces of the farmers’, the ever present tubs of disinfectant a signifier of a losing battle being waged against this deadly disease.

http://johndarwell.com/index.php?r=image/default/category&alias=dark-days.

Clive Landen

Usually photographed the relationship between land and hunting, but was prevented from accessing rural trails during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. He managed to get himself seconded to a military regiment and this gave him plenty of access to the farms where the cattle and sheep were being burned and buried.

Reference List

Roberts, Simon (2009) Contested Landscape [online]. We English. Available at: http://we-english.co.uk/blog/2009/01/16/contested-countryside/. (Accessed 24 September, 2018).

Taylor, John (1994). A Dream of England Landscape Photography and the Tourist’s Imagination.Manchester University Press: Manchester

AVA Collaboration

So exciting to see our first AVA collaboration coming together! The credits page has been added and I’ve uploaded a copy to my Vimeo page as I’m unable to embed a Vimeo file in the generic free WordPress blog.

Music credits go to Emma, prose and spoken words to Richard Keys, sound and music editor was Emma and I supplied the photograph, supported by Kevin and Catherine Banks.

As mentioned in a previous AVA post, the collaboration works like Chinese Whispers. Richard started us off by providing the text which he later turned into an audio file. Kevin, Emma and I responded to that in our own chosen media. This has been really fun to do and I’m looking forward to what we can create in the upcoming months.

 

Exercise 4.2 The British landscape during World War II

This section of John Taylor’s book A Dream of England Landscape Photography and the Tourist’s Imagination opens with a reference from George Orwell who “showed how patriotism ran deep, and ran away from reality towards emotion” (Taylor p. 198). This reminded me of a chapter I had read in Stephen Bray’s book,  Photography & Psychoanalysis – The Development of Emotional Persuasion in Image Making which ties in with this exercise. Edward Benays, nephew of Sigmund Freud was responsible for getting the American public on board to join in World War I, even though President Woodrow Wilson had campaigned on keeping America out of the war during the elections. According to Benays in Bray 2013: 43:

“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.”

The word ‘propaganda’ had Marxist connotations so Benays changed it to ‘public relations’. Benays had a strange vision of a democratic society. Instead of applying Freudian principles  to liberate people from their conditioning he “sought to lead them from the daylight of awareness and reasoned values, into the cave-like cinema houses of illusion” (Bray 2013: 43). He further expanded his theory:

“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of”.

(Bray 2013: 43)

(Scary stuff! We can see this happening in the media on a daily basis). This idea was, in turn, used by Joseph Goebbels in putting Hitler’s propaganda machine together. Bear in mind that once something is published it is out there for the world to see (and use) so we can’t really blame Benays for WWII or the Holocaust as this had been published around 1928. I know I have digressed a little but I just wanted to include this piece on manipulation as Taylor’s text also deals with it, albeit it to the greater good and not to evil, destructive forces such as those that occurred in Germany.

In 1940 with Britain fearing invasion from Germany during WWII, an idea of patriotism was developed which centred on the idea of the village, squire and sense of community embodying the very essence of Englishness. The notion of a 1,000 year history of being unconquered became extremely important and “landscape was a route to levels of emotion which were acceptably patriotic without being too nationalistic” (Taylor: 198). As long as England kept the dream of old-fashioned villages at the forefront, the enemy would be defeated.

All signs that could identify towns and villages, including road signs, railway stations, names of pubs or hotels, etc., were removed to make the countryside inaccessible to potential invaders. Open fields were obstructed with heavy obstacles such as cement blocks, stones or barbed wire to prevent enemy planes from landing.

Travel for the sake of pleasure became a thing of the past. Any travel was for necessity sake, mainly for refugees, evacuees and military personnel moving around the country. The most familiar reasons for traveling into the countryside during that time was enforced train journeys and night trekking out of the cities to escape the Blitz. The countryside was no longer a place of please, but became a place of refuge.

Because the countryside was no longer easy to visit, the idea of the English countryside had to be kept alive and at the forefront of the British public’s mind. “England was made strange by ware and then made familiar again because the war was fought” (Taylor: 200). The way this was achieved was to keep the public’s sense of history at the forefront of their minds:

  1. a general feeling of continuity with the past was engendered by referencing various historical periods in the English landscape,
  2. appealing to the Romantic’s love of the English countryside,
  3. referencing the social reforms made during the nineteenth century.

Pretty chocolate box photos of villages and the countryside were no longer used in the media. Instead photos of evacuated school children were displayed to remind the public what they were fighting for.

Picture Post magazine ran an article What are We Fighting For on 13 July, 1940. This documentary article was written to appeal to the man in the street, the common citizen, no matter the social class. This articled encouraged classes to put aside their differences, listing what each class stood to lose should Germany win the war. The working class stood lose materially in terms of wages, hours and conditions of work, as well as their leisure activities of gardening and spending time in the pub. The industrialists and landowners  stood to lose their inheritance (this had happened in Germany). But the middle class would lose their freedom to choice – the freedom to choose their job, and how to spend their leisure time.

The article juxtaposed photos of life in Germany under Hitler’s regime with life in England on almost every spread. The photos were stark reminders of what life would be like if the war was lost – all very powerful. Below is a spread depicting two pub scenes, the first in Germany, the second in England. The article then went on to display photos of the German leaders: Herman Goering, Julius Streicher, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and their “accomplishments”.

From Picture Post Magazine, July 13, 1940, pp 12-13

Illustrated magazine also ran an article on Dover Castle, referred to as ‘the key of England’ (Taylor: 204). The Dover coast was no longer a holiday resort. The coastline had been secured with barbed wire along the beach and was turned into a military zone. The white cliffs of Dover signify strength and resilience and have also been beacons of welcome and sometimes the last sights of England for airmen and troops departing to and returning from the continent. The cliffs are “a marker of what was supposed to be the absolute and inviolate boundary of the country” (Taylor: 205).

By using an innocent, peaceful symbol (landscape) a common, democratic goal was achieved among the British public.

Reference List

Bray, Stephen (2013). Photography & Psycholoanalysis – The Development of Emotional Persuasion in Image Making. Kentucky: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Taylor, John (1994). A Dream of England Landscape Photography and the Tourist’s Imagination.Manchester University Press: Manchester

Image

Nannying Tyrants (2013) What are We Fighting For 3 of 17 [online] http://nannyingtyrants.blogspot.com/2013/06/WWAFF3.html (Accessed 15 September, 2018)