Category Archives: Part 3 – Colour

Victor Burgin and Appropriations- Post Assignment 3 Research

Citta S'Angelo Fashion Village - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig. 01 Citta S’Angelo Fashion Village – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

As part of the feedback on assignment 3, The Reality and Illusion of Mannequins, my tutor suggested I look at the work of Victor Burgin *(1), a British conceptual artist who extensively explored the relationship between the apparent and implicit meaning of images in the 1970s.

In his lengthy paper on the wider subject of Writing with Images, George Dillon *(2) dedicates a chapter to the subject of “Appropriations”, a chapter in which Victor Burgin has a leading role. According to Dillon appropriation is the idea of placing an object or an image in a context with which it is not normally associated intending to unsettle our normal expectations and lines of interpretation. The concept has existed in modern art for at least 100 years and Dillon points to Marcel Duchamp’s famous sculpture, “Fountain” from 1917 , a piece of art created by placing a standard urinal on its side and signing it “R.Mutt 1917”. According to The Tate’s description of their replica of this work *(3), Duchamp chose an ordinary everyday object and placed it into a different context that changed our view of it. He is believed to have said that he had “created a new thought for that object.”

This act and the thought behind it would resonate with many photographers, especially those looking to follow, in some way, in the footsteps of the American colourists. The idea that art is created by providing a different perspective on an ordinary thing is at the heart of the work of a wide spectrum of modern artists in different mediums. Anna Fox at her recent talk to OCA students told us to “record something to give it significance” an idea that has helped me understand the work of many contemporary photographers and something that I see as a driving force behind the work of Shore and Eggelston (and of course Fox herself).

Victor Burgin took the idea of appropriations in a different direction. He is a man of strong political beliefs and has used photography to comment on a wide range of subjects including consumerism, the imbalance of wealth distribution, racism, the role of the male in modern society and unobtainable aspirations. The later being one of the drivers behind The Reality and Illusion of Mannequins. His work in this area falls into two categories, opposites, or perhaps more accurately two sides of the same coin.

Victor-Burgin-Life-Demands-a-little-Give-and-Take-2014-06-15_15-24-30WRIn “Life Demands a Little Give and Take” (1974) Burgin uses a photograph of a bus queue as his base photograph and then adds a text taken from the fashion world.

The text is typical of the way fashion houses describe themselves and their products.

“…… the tones are pale, delicate. These are the classic Mayfair colours. White naturally takes pride of place ……. very much for the pampered lady dressed for a romantic evening with every element pale and perfect.”

Burgin positions text from a fashion magazine alongside a picture of ordinary people at a bus queue with a black women leading out of the text. The point would seem to be that this fashion house does not have this person in mind when they wrote the text, their target market might be a “pale” white women of a certain status and class  who is unlikely to be queuing for a bus in a multi-cultural area.

This idea resonates with me for a number of reasons. Firstly, the thought that developed during the research for Mannequins was that fashion houses’ literature and websites use an unique style of language. It is flowery, pompous, self indulgent, egotistical and often, in their desire to fit all the desired trigger words into the same sentence, verging on unintelligible.

“Exclusive, glamorous, the most precious as goddess’ require” – Versace

“Its iconography was further defined by the bold and dramatic advertising portraying glamorous but strong women.” – Jimmy Chou

“An universe of contradictions and endless collaboration, noble causes and base temptations” – Prada

Beyond the attraction of using their words for satire or irony there is also a sense that the fashionistas live in a protected bubble inside the glitz of Milan, London, New York and Tokyo but a world that is detached from both the reality of their supply chain and the consumers of fast fashion. When they do talk about the environmental and social issues caused by their policies it is often patronising and condescending and with limited reference to how they intend to change those policies. The stance of Stella McCartney that I used in Mannequins is typical.

“We try to use organic fabrics and low impact dyes but we won’t do so unless we can achieve a high quality product” – Stella McCartney unintentionally explaining why only 1% of all the cotton produced in the world is fair trade and organic *(5).

Dillon quotes Jefferson Hunter *(4) as describing Burgin’s work at this point in his career as “smug texts and truth telling pictures” and this appears to be the perfect summary. His work is difficult to track down on line but Dillon tells us that he created many images using pictures of the everyday juxtaposed with language from fashion, property developers and estate agents.

The interesting facet of “Life Demands a Little Give and Take” is that, in isolation, neither the picture nor the text would communicate Burgin’s message; it is only by combining them that the overall image works. Later Burgin was to reverse the formula to create the piece of work that my tutor originally suggested I looked at.

2014-06-15_16-46-53What does possession mean to you? uses a fashion advert-like picture of an embracing couple dressed in white in the centre of a black poster.

Instead of an everyday picture juxtaposed with an unrelated piece of text that, when seen together, provides a meaning Burgin uses a studio style image combined with language that, whilst politically motivated, is suggested by Dillon to be abstract, theoretical, dogmatic and self righteous. This is clearly a complicated issue and as the viewer we can only read the message we think we see or, perhaps, want to see.

Above the picture the artist asks what possession means and below he makes the simple statement that 7% of our population own 84% of our wealth. This is a remarkably clever piece of work on several levels. The models look straight out of a fashion campaign, their style of dress suggests wealth  and their body language might infer possession.

The bottom half of the picture makes a straight political or social comment which is a quote from The Feminist magazine. My reading of the overall images is that an advertising campaign using such a picture would be targeted at the 7%. Possession was created as a poster for the Arts Council to promote an exhibition of contemporary artists in Newcastle and 200 copies were pasted up around the city. There is an intriguing side note in Dillon’s paper about a survey that was carried out at the time to find out how people seeing the poster interpreted the message. It was found that few passersby remembered the poster let alone understood the message. Dillon puts forward the view that this was because the picture and text were so perfectly integrated people saw a fashion poster not a political or artistic statement. Another view might be that this lack of understanding is connected to the context of the image so visitors to an art gallery, expecting there to be an artistic message, would read this poster quite differently from a passerby expecting to see an advertisement.

In these examples Burgin is using diametrically opposed text and pictures to communicate his message which is an approach used by other artists such as Anna Fox in Workstations *(8) where she uses her photographs of office life in the 80s alongside the smug management speak of business literature. I followed Fox’s approach in Mannequins and have, out of interest, tried Burgin’s approach in fig. 01 above.

The two examples of Burgin’s work that I have discussed are part of a larger body of work carried out between 1976 and 1978. When researching “What does possession mean to you?” i found the work of Scott Benzel *(6). He has taken Burgin’s original poster and reversed the reversal by substituting the glamorous couple with a still from a “possession” genre horror film. This “copy” of Burgin’s work is interesting because the message, which as I have already mentioned was not readily understood in its original form, has become more confused in the copy. It depicts a cowering women which works strongly with the “what does possession mean to you?” banner potentially highlighting domestic violence or the perception that women can be owned but I, for one, fail to understand the link with “7% of our population own 84% of our wealth”. It is always informative to see chains of influences that allow the student to trace ideas both backwards and forwards from a single artist and reminds me of my favourite quote from Steal Like and Artist by Austin Kleon *(7).

” Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – André Gide.

Another example of images out of context being difficult to interpret might be The United Colours of Benneton posters that were used after 1989 when they became the first fashion house to eliminate pictures of their product from their advertising. It strikes me that this campaign might also be in flunked by Burgin. Like “Possession” these were slick, professionally produced advertisements that used photos and text to communicate a message. This could be considered as a different form of appropriation in that Benneton appropriated social and political issues to promote their name and did this in such a sophisticated manner that, Serra Tinic *(9), a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, believes the original issues lost their significance by being transformed into advertised commodities. Ms. Tinic provides a thoughtful analysis, which can be found here, of the issues surrounding Benneton’s United Colors campaign and the mixed reactions it has received  but, there is also a photography subject in play partly because a number of their posters evoke  Burgin’s Possesions.

2014-06-15_18-04-20This poster shows black and white men handcuffed together and is a powerful image taken by the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani *(10).

As well as being a photographer in his own right Toscani is the art director behind the Benneton campaign and according to CNN *(11) the man behind the brand’s rapid rise to prominence.

If we put the appropriation of social issues to one side I could argue that there is no appropriation in the photographic sense of the word because the text and picture are from the same source, an advertising agency and the diversity of the sources seem to be an important aspect of the technique. However, because we approach this poster with the knowledge that Toscani and Benneton make political statements with their posters we read the image as being a political or social statement and “get the message”; without the Benneton logo the image is weakened and its message becomes less clear. I therefore believe that, in effect, there is another form of appropriation in play because as soon as the art director dragged the Benetton logo onto this photograph he changed the meaning of the image by linking it to Benneton’s history of using social political issues.

I am grateful that I was directed towards the work of Victor Burgin, an artist I doubt I would have found without my tutor’s help. He was also a difficult man to research as, despite his status as an artist, a photographer and an educator his work is not easily found on-line. I wanted my assignment 3, The Reality and Illusion of Mannequins, to be considered in the light of my research into Anna Fox’s Workstations but it has been a very useful exercise to also be able to look at what I was trying to do in the context of Victor Burgin’s work.

It has been equally helpful to delve deeper into the subject of reading images and how the idea of bringing text and pictures together can work to make or underline a message.

 

Sources

Books

*(4) Hunter, Jefferson. Image and Word. Harvard University Press, 1989

*(7) Kleon, Austin. (2012) Steal Like an Artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company

*(8) Fox, Anna (1988) Workstations. Cameraworks

Internet

*(1) The Tate. Victor Burgin. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/victor-burgin-834

*(2) Dillon, George L. (2003) Writing with Images: Toward a Semiotics of the Web http://courses.washington.edu/hypertxt/cgi-bin/book/wordsinimages/appropriations.html

*(3) The Tate. Marcel Duchamp : Fountain. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573

*(5) People Tree. Emma Watson. http://www.peopletree.co.uk/about-us/collaborations/emma-watson

*(6) Human Resources. Scott Benzel: What does possession mean to you? http://humanresourcesla.com/scott-benzel-and-what-does-pos/

*(9) Tinic, Serra A. United Colors and Untied Meanings: Benetton and the Commodification of Social Issues. http://homes.ieu.edu.tr/~ykaptan/MCS570/Serra%20Tinic%20Benetton.pdf

*(10) Toscani, Oliviera. Oliviero Toscani Studio. http://www.olivierotoscanistudio.com/it/biografia.htm

*(11) CNN. Oliviero Toscani: ‘There are no shocking pictures, only shocking reality’ http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/08/13/oliviero.toscani/index.html

Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback

Overall Comments

This was one of the strongest and most visually interesting submissions I have seen for this assignment to date ! It was a really interesting themed body of work.

The issues raised in the previous report are as follows:

You are responding very well to the feedback offered in my opinion and methodically address any issues as they are raised. The structure of your assignment submissions are very well organized and should benefit you during assessment.

Feedback on assignment

This assignment specifically looks at the use of colour and different colour use in deliberate relationships. [IE: Complementary / Similar / Contrasting etc]

The assignment works very well from start to finish and not only provides evidence of visual problem solving, but does it in an interesting manner. The work just caught my attention from the outset …. Which is so refreshing ! Not only was the work really visually interesting to look at, but it was clearly grounded in appropriate and relevant research (Anna Fox etc).

“the shop mannequin sees endless activity that passes for human existence” British Film Council

Fig. 03 “the shop mannequin sees endless activity that passes for human existence”
British Film Council

As a series the images work well together – Fig 03 and Fig 14 are really well observed and use both colour and the randomness of reflection to great advantage. The first shot almost has a relationship between the glance of the model to the couple walking by with the pink umbrella … which is a really interesting shot, that also deals with the colour relationship at its heart.

Fig. 14 “unique mix of innovative audacity and legendary Italian quailty” Gucci

Fig. 14 “unique mix of innovative audacity and legendary Italian quailty”
Gucci

Then the use of DoF within Fig 14 was excellent, with so many layers being explored within the plane … the model actually looks like she is moving out through the glass shop front.

Fig. 15 “available in male, female or child sizes and any skin colour” Red Beau Mannequins

Fig. 15 “available in male, female or child sizes and any skin colour”
Red Beau Mannequins

I also liked Fig 15, where the child is almost looking down from the reflected roof top. It looks like both the window contents and the integral reflection have both been carefully considered here in relation to interplay, which I think is why the work is so strong.

In addition to the below, I’d like you to take a look at the work of Victor Burgin  (see follow up work here)…. And in particular his series in the mid 1970’s ‘what does possession mean to you?’ – I think you might be interested in this work in relation to this recent assignment submission. Also take a look at the most recent publication by Jason Evans called NYLPT … which has been created using double exposure.

http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/47-NYLPT.html

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

The blog is really well structured and contains everything you would expect to see from a student studying at this level. It is easy to navigate and has been posted on regularly. Excellent work Steve. 

Suggested reading/viewing

Penn, I.2001:Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson. ISBN-13:978-0500542484 (see follow up work here and here)

Weston, E.1999: Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen ISBN-13: 978-3822871805 (here and here)

Pointers for the next assignment

As you are already aware, it is important to continue to read around these practitioners as they will have an ongoing relevance to your studies at this level. In terms of your next assignment, I would suggest looking at the work of both Edward Weston and Irving Penn in specific relation to lighting an object and still life experimentation. [See Suggested Reading] I’m hoping you can also attend some more exhibitions and comment on this within your blog.

My Response

It was obviously pleasing to receive good feedback on assignment 3 and something of a relief as I know that the final submission had drifted away from some aspects of the requirements. There were a number of attributes of these images that I had worked hard to develop and it is especially pleasing that I managed to communicate these ideas to my tutor through the pictures.

Beyond the comments on assignment 3 there are some very helpful pointers to artists who might provide inspiration for assignment 4. Clearly the feedback on my work is very important but at the previous two feedback points my tutor has pointed me in the direction of specific artists or movements that have shaped the next phase of my study.

I will investigate Victor Burgin and Jason Evans in the context of assignment 3, I have taken a brief look at Jason Evan’s book and at the images I can find from Victor Burgin’s “what does possession mean to you?” and it is very clear why my tutor thought I might find these interesting. I suspect that both these works will be quite difficult to track down on line but I sense that it will be worthwhile.

I have searched the normal on-line second hand books shops and have Irving Penn’s “Still Life” and Edward Weston “Photographic Study” winging their way to me. I have also tracked down a collection of Bill Brandt’s photographs following an email conversation with my tutor today.

In addition to these three and for my own satisfaction I also want to finish studying Stephen Shore’s “From Galilee to the Nagrev” which I have had for a couple of weeks now. I am especially interested in seeing how his work has changed and developed since “Uncommon Places”. I was very affected by Austin Kleon’s brilliant little book “Steal Like an Artist” and have taken to heart his point that you need to study your chosen artist sources in depth if you are to reap the full benefit. I feel that this is a very relevant point at this stage when I am embarking on looking at a further three practitioners, I feel it is equally important to keep studying Shore and Parr (who are the two that have given me the most inspiration so far) so the next phase will be about maintaining an appropriate balance between new and established study paths.

My tutor makes a good point about exhibitions, I have only been to one since starting the course and this is clearly a poor effort. I have been invited to the Cecil Beaton exhibition currently taking place in Salisbury and loaded Time Out to my iPad today in an attempt to find some exciting contemporary artist on show in London.

Assignment 3 Self Assessment

Fig. 01 Pescara - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720

Fig. 01 Pescara – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

The choice of subject created a number of technical challenges. Firstly, the project became an exercise in low light photography; it was essential to have as deep DoF as possible to have both the mannequins and the reflections of the street in focus but because I was photographing from the street into shop interiors and through glass covered with reflections, light levels were usually low.

In any situation where low light is an issue there is the option of using a tripod and longer exposures but this has to be weighed against loss of spontaneity and introducing movement blur. Movement blur would not have been a problem in this instance but it was not practical to use a tripod on, often crowded, pavements and spontaneity was essential.

The end result is that a lot of the photographs were taken with a high ISO. I am not particularly concerned about this, many of the set are quite moody and melancholy and any noticeable noise has only added to that.

In summary, at a technical level I feel that I generally rose to these challenges with a few of the images having the desired mix of saturated colours and acceptable noise levels.

The second challenge was compositional. There was a limited choice in viewpoints that enabled me to frame the mannequins, capture reflections and avoid including myself in the frame. This meant that I ran the risk of capturing 16 similar images. There are too many right to left shots and, in this regard, a lack of variety.

Since looking at William Eggelston I have been focussed on improving my observational skills and I believe that a number of these images are based on having seen and captured small details that strengthen the photographs. There is clearly a lot more work needed to refine those skills but I believe assignment 3 is a step forward in this area.

Quality of Outcome

This submission was the end result of, what felt like, a long process. I started looking at the change in the high street being brought about by the opening of large indoor shopping centres resulting in the high street of many towns comprising of small, often immigrant, businesses, charity shops and betting shops. However, when I moved from Basingstoke and Aldershot to look at Guildford the model didn’t hold up because the town is comparatively wealthy and the high street is still full of mainstream fashion names. In effect Guildford High Street is more akin to a large shopping centre than to a high street. This started me thinking about mannequins and how they are created as body shape role models and about fashion in general with its endless new lines that promote cheap “disposable” clothing and waste.

I found the compositional opportunities of the mannequins and reflections and the multiple layers of light visually exciting but wanted a way to set these, hopefully attractive, images against the excesses of a hedonistic and self obsessed industry. Anna Fox’s idea of using relevant quotations from the industry she was critiquing to put her photos in context in Workstations was the perfect answer so, quite late in the day, I adopted that approach.

It is for others to judge whether this has come together to achieve the assessment criteria points but I feel that it has for most of the images. There are still one or two that I am not convinced about and I may yet make some changes. I was interested in Anna Fox’s point that one has to allow enough time between capture, edit and presentation but on the other hand every time I look at the set there is another image that I am not convinced about but I need to move on from this project. She also made a strong point about the role of the curator and I can see how having an independent but skilled review by another person would improve selection.

Demonstration of Creativity

This is the hardest area to self access, I’m not even sure what creativity really is and certainly find it hard to measure. I know that I have had to think deeply on how to complete this assignment, I had to work through several processes and the project demanded experimentation, testing, re-evaluation and re-positioning several times. I believe that it is a step forward for me and a move away from anything I have tried before. My main concern is that a lot of images rely on other people’s creativity such as mannequin artists, photographers and window dressers so how much of me is in there is hard to judge.

Context

The research and reflection required by this course is one of its great benefits. I have enjoyed looking for inspiration, reading to gain understanding, following leads and cross references and writing up my thoughts. Having spent many years in my commercial career writing for specific audiences it is satisfying to be writing for myself both in terms of the pleasure of writing and in building  a record of my thoughts.

 

 

Assignment 3 Contact Sheets

Assignment 3 has taken an elapsed time of about eight weeks which is probably too long but it took a few initial shoots to develop the theme and then several more to capture, edit and select a final set. I am now in the final stages of selection and presentation and have selected the short list of photographs on the following contact sheets.

To put these images into context, my theme for assignment 3 is based on the idea that shop windows present a fantasy based on stylised and aspirational human forms that are surrounded by distorted reflections of the real world so reality and fantasy are interwoven.

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 1

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 1

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 2

Assignment 3 Contact Sheet 2

Test Shots and More Thoughts for Assignment 3

Contact-sheet-culled-01

Over the course of the last few weeks I have visited several towns testing ideas for assignment 3. As previously discussed (here and here) I have evolved the idea from reflecting change in shop windows through to looking at the high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

To help me consider how best to approach this subject I have looked at the work of a number of practitioners (here) and have seen how they use reflections as a compositional tool rather than setting out to photograph reflections.

I have been looking through the best of the images I have captured in Guildford, Aldershot, Farnham and Godalming and culled a few that will not make the final cut. The above contact sheet contains 20 of the culled images. My process has been to work through the raw images editing those that seem to work and then re-visiting that collection of edited images on several occasions to cull the weakest. I find that I have to create some distance between capture and editing and between editing and selecting to allow me to be as objective as possible in my choices.

For various reasons none of the above will make the final selection although they all had some promise at some stage in the process. A number of them take me away from my main theme (Figs. 10, 11, 13, 18 & 20), they all work as images but I feel and I sense my tutor felt that my series on Turks and Caicos (assignment 2) was not as coherent series as I wanted it to be. This group of pictures are directly about people or objects and, whilst reflections play a part, mannequins and retail marketing does not.

Of the others many have been culled because they are vertically framed. I have considered producing the series as verticals but although this works well when I focus in on a mannequin I often need the horizontal format to provide an appropriate context.

A small number of the culled pictures stand out for me at this point because they are close to what I am trying to achieve.

Fig 01 - Shoulder - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig 01 – Shoulder – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

NK0_5812-shoulder-2-coloursThis image works well for me. In the context of assignment 3 the main colour relationship is between shades of blue and brown/orange with these colours both appearing in a range of shades. The image gains a lift from the small group of red accents to the right of the mannequins head and the golden backlight on the photograph of the model. I particularly like the cross relationships such as the necklace on the mannequin being similar to shades in the model’s hair and how the faded denim is close matched with the tarmac road.

My selected subject matter for this assignment dictates that colours will often be muted as there are, by definition, layers of glass and reflections obscuring the subjects and current fashion colours appear to be quite subdued.

Whilst working on this assignment I have become interested in the relationships between us, mannequins that in some way are intended to represent us and photographs of models that often appear with mannequins in shop window designs. This is a good example where the mannequin has body form but the head only hints at having any features. By removing the eyes and mouth the designer has removed all personality but then a large photograph of a real person forms a backdrop to the mannequin. Often, as in this case, the model’s clothing is the not the same, either specifically or generally, to those on the mannequin.

This is close to the end result I am seeking. The colours are harmonious, the layers are complex enough to demand attention if the viewer is to decipher the image and it asks questions about why we want to buy clothes modelled on a being with a body but no personality, is the model aspirational and is that message about her looks or the beautiful summer’s afternoon she is photographed in.

Whilst these complex layers play out on and behind the window life goes on in the street with an uninteresting white van heading into the distance.

Fig. 08 Holding Hands - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

Fig. 08 Holding Hands – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100

NK0_6232-holding-hands-2-coloursFig. 08 is a very different image. It is far simpler, the reflections are faint and not important to the composition and the focus is far more clearly on the hands of these two mannequins.

There are four main colours, blue, red and yellow and brown. The blues of the nearest shirt are linked to the pink trousers by  the strong turquoise of a belt and the left hand mannequin is linked to the right hand mannequin by their brown wooden arms. The colours compliment each other both left to right and up to  down with some tension created in the pick to yellow diagonal.

From a subject point of view I was interested in the mannequins holding hands. The designer has gone to some lengths to de-humanise these artefacts, they are obviously made of wood, their joints are puppet-like, they have no heads. However, they have been positioned to hold hands so we have two, presumably “male” mannequins holding hands in a very conservative (in every sense of the word) town centre.

This opens another avenue  about how shop displays ask questions and, especially in big brand chains, they tell us something about the physiology of marketing and what is perceived to influence us but at a micro level they might reflect something about the window dresser, their humour, or their reaction to the street outside or their sentimentality.

Fig. xx Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

Fig. 14 Perspective 1/125 at f/13, ISO 640

NK0_6995-perspective-coloursAfter a fairly fruitless couple of hours in Godalming I came across this combination of reflections and interiors that appealed immensely. For me, the image is made by the perspective of the five mannequins receding into the distance to the child mannequin in the window at the right.

The colours are the blues in the clothes and sky and the reds and browns in the third mannequin’s trousers, the street and the roofs.

This composition lends a lot to my study of practitioners and the way they often use the reflected sky as a frame for the interiors and other reflections. I began to look for this far more after seeing the work of some of the Magnum photographers. It is a very effective device and in this example forms a tunnel of blue that leads the viewer into the picture.

The nearest mannequins have some personality both in their subtle features and their jaunty styling. They are in an independent shop where the budgets are presumably tighter so they have to work in isolation, no expensive model shoots here, and this might require them to be more than a clothes rail, their fibre glass features have to be aspirational and become our role model in terms of style and dress sense.

This photograph is complex enough to hold my interest without asking me to decode it but the diminishing sizes of the models, the ornate window frame in the centre and the blue sky mixed with the shop interior make a strong combination.

Fig. 06 Clock Face - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 Clock Face – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig. 06 approaches colour differently and, whilst red/orange is prevalent as a background, the most active colours are the accents of green, in two passerby’s clothes, the red dress bottom right and the gold on the clock. My interest in this composition is in the two squares of the clock and the reversed Body Shop sign and their relationship with the mannequin’s head. The mannequin is another hybrid with a human body but a stylised human head that is rather alien in the Doctor Who sense of the word.

As a composition this has a number of the elements I am looking for. The shape of the mannequin, the two squares, the strip of sky acting as a frame or ceiling and a clear picture of the street with two people reflected within the mannequin’s black dress.

At this stage I feel the theme is taking on some shape and that the ideas I have explored are leading me towards a conclussion. The main decision is whether to edit a series based on what I have done so far or whether to look for more variety. I am conscious that trying to tick off the design elements in assignment 2 led me further and further away from the series that I wanted to produce so I am hoping that I can get near enough to the assignment 3 criteria with the images I now have. I feel that, if I start searching for specific colour combinations, I will start to compromise the theme.

Researching Assignment 3 – Practictioners

Fig. 01 Signs - 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

Fig. 01 Signs – 1/125 at f/13, ISO 1,250

In parallel with considering an approach to assignment 3 and working on test shots (here and here) I have been looking at the work of established practitioners. My subject is to look at the changing high street using reflections in the physical sense and mannequins in a more metaphysical sense.

There is a wealth of material available for both window reflections and mannequins and a combination of the two so the hardest challenge was to focus in on contemporary practitioners that were using reflections and mannequins in a way that helped me think about my own angles, lighting, composition and subject matter.

Having said “contemporary” I started somewhere quite different. Eugéne Atget worked in Paris at the turn of the last century and viguorously pursued a personal project to document the changing face of the city. What makes Atget unusual for his time, and especially relevant from my perspective, is that he saw Paris as a complex series of intimate spaces, he photographed the streets not the famous landmarks, the shop fronts and their interiors, the ordinary people not the gentry because he saw that this, close-up of the City, was what was important to document as it changed and disappeared. Graham Clarke in The Photograph (1) describes him as “the photographer as archaeologist” and his huge catalogue of images of a discrete part of Paris supports this view.

I cannot say whether Atget had any particular interest in either reflections or mannequins but he inevitably captured both during his mission to document the store fronts of Paris. I found a small collection of these images at www.atgetphotography.com. (2)

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Fig. 02 Eugene Atget Whiteboard

Having tracked down six Atget images that featured mannequins I put them up on a whiteboard to try and better understand his approach. his style is direct and unfussy, there is nothing fancy about his approach, he does not appear over concerned with neat edges but he does keep his verticals aligned to the frame. The angles are quite soft, that is not far from front-on and he takes full advantage of the logic of the window displays to give balance to his pictures. Importantly the reflections appear very intentionally composed, they do not obscure the main subjects in his shop interiors which tends to indicate that his motive is  to record and document either fashion or shops but to use reflections as context and highlights.

When searching for more contemporary inspiration I found references to a photobook by Gary Dwyer. “Window Dressing”  (3) which can be viewed on line at www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/. Many photographers have photographed mannequins as part of a wider assignment or project but Gary Dwyera travel photographer and the producer of many photobooks, has made them the central and single theme of a complete collection as published in “Window Dressing”. There are a number of aspects of his approach that I find interesting; in common with Atget he uses reflections to frame the mannequins, he composes the reflections to serve the features that he wishes to emphasise so a white face will appear out of a dark reflected building or bright, reflected lines from the street lead the viewer to the subject inside the shop window. In one image a reflected, blue sky forms an arrow that points in and overlaps the mannequin’s head. As a result many of Dwyer’s images are three dimensional compositions with the shop lights, subject, backgrounds and reflections, both light and dark, creating layer after layer of light but he allows fairly minimal overlay of these zones so the images are quite clean and not especially complex. Interestingly I didn’t find any headless torsos, all his mannequins are complete and quite lifelike.

The key lesson I take from his work is that to be effective in using reflections it is critical to compose both the subject and the reflection in tandem.

Fig.4 Various Practitioner's Whiteboard

Fig.4 Various Practitioner’s Whiteboard

Having looked fairly closely at two particular photographers I widened my search using Magnum as a source.  Initially I searched for window reflections to gain a sense how a selection of established practitioners used them in their work.  Using the whiteboard I looked at screen prints of an initial set of about 35 photographs to gain an overall sense of whether there was any compositional pattern or commonality.

My impression is that the pictures can be roughly divided into four groups depending upon he photographer’s intent.

1. Interiors: Some are about interiors, reflections may play a part in the composition but the photographer is telling a story about or documenting activity within, a room space and does not let the reflections obscure the view. It would appear this this is generally true of Dwyer’s work as discussed above.

2. Exteriors: The other extreme are images that are about the exterior, the outside world and windows or other reflective surfaces are being used as a screen upon which to show an scene or an object. The reflection is fundamental to the composition but is a medium rather than an end result.

3. Context: In some cases reflections are used to put the interior into the context of the exterior so we are show both quite clearly.

4. Complex: The final group are the most complex images where the interior and the exterior blend together to such an extent that they become one but the viewer is invited to dissect the composition to identify the different planes and layers. In effect this is a progression of the third group but where, I sense, the photographer wants us to see the inner and outer world as one.

Whilst there appear to be these, and other, ways of directing the composition it is also important to recognise that the reflection is not the subject but a device for presenting the subject.

Bruno Barbey

Bruno Barbey is  French, Magnum, photographer born in Morocco in 1941 (4). His beautiful and highly colourful photographs of Morocco are reason enough to visit his website (here). But at this time I am most interested in his images which use reflections to great effect. A number of these can be found by using the search engine on the Magnum Photos website (5).

China Kunming 2013 is a good example of an image that fits into my 4th category (complex). The split, plate glass window is reflecting three different viewpoints of the street from three vertical zones with the central zone overlaid by the a large photograph of a women which appears to be inside the shop. As I have discovered when taking shots of this nature the picture is mostly made up of dark tones but the gate pillars of the park (?) entrance opposite provides a bright contrast.

China City of Dali 2013 is an example of my 2nd category (exteriors) and another picture where Barbey presents 3 distinct vertical zones, a rail of clothes, a mirror and the open street. The rail of clothes provide pattern and colour, the mirror contributes the reflection of a woman and child and the street contains a street vendor. Whilst this image uses a mirror rather than a shop window for the reflection it fits into my research because of the way the photographer uses the vertical zones. The image is bright and colourful and gives a compact insight into the street life of this city.

China Kumming Airport 2013 is an exampole of my 1st category (interiors) where reflections from a glass panel near to the photographer act as a visual device to bring additional layers of form and light to a photograph of a large and empty airport terminal. There are a series of images of this same airport on the Magnum site (5) and each uses light and reflection in slightly different ways to bring something extra to the picture.

There are many other examples in Barbey’s portfolio at Magnum Photos (5) and judging on the number of times reflections appear in his 2013 portfolio he obviously uses this device on a regular basis and in different ways. The common factor is that he is using reflections to bring additional sources and intensities of light to his images and by using the layers that reflections provide he captures more detail that would otherwise be possible in a non reflective composition.

Michael Christopher Brown

Michael Christopher Brown is a New York based Magnun photographer whose portfolios (6) are filled with striking images from many different locations. His bird’s eye view of Broadway is one of the most powerful reflection images that I have come across and certainly quite difficult to imitate in Hampshire. It is a perfect example of my 1st category (exteriors) as, looking down from high in a building, he uses the face of the building to reflect the traffic on Broadway. A predominance of yellow cabs provides strong yellow horizontal lines that are complimented by the yellow “V” of a reflected billboard (?).

Another image that uses strong colours and reflections to create a powerful example of my 3rd category (complex) is taken on street level on Broadway. This picture has multiple layers of bright blues, reds and yellow but is made by the single person who stands just right of centre and provides a sense of scale and human interest.

Underpass on Broadway is also given scale by the inclusion of people and is a comparatively simple street or architectural photo except for the large dark head and bright rings of light that are reflected across the frame.

The Broadway collection include many reflections and, like Barbey, Brown uses them in many different ways. Some are very graphic such as Hotel Empire, some very complex like Yellow Taxi and Pedestrians, but what stands out for me is his use of strong saturated colours. He uses bright sunlight or neon signs to add these colours to what would otherwise often be quite low key scenes.

Although the Broadway collection are exciting images and very helpful in seeing how effectively colour can be used in street photography I was originally drawn to Brown by a much more muted photograph New York February 2013 – Street Life (5) which is a complex composition built around a women arranging, what looks like, pussy willow in a shop window. One eye peeps round the window display and she is framed by a flyover, the sky and traffic on the street. This type of image perfectly places the internal activity into the context of the external activity in a way that would be hard to do without using reflections.

 Chris Steele-Perkins

Chris Steele-Perkins is a London based Magnum photographer who is well known for his 1979 book “The Teds”. His website is at www.chrissteeleperkins.com. (7)

Steele-Perkins is another photographer who makes frequent use of different types of reflections. Myanmar Yangon Chaukhtatgyl Paya and reclining Buddha (5) is an excellent example of a highly complex reflection. It is quite an extreme example of my 4th category as the mixture of a grey steel building, the golden buddha and the multi faceted reflective surface are intertwined to the point that the viewer has to study the image for some time to interpret the various components. However, it would be misleading to suggest that it is a muddled composition as key elements such as the two reflections of Buddha’s face are carefully positioned inside the facets. Other Buddha shots such as  Buddha in Yangon (5) and Sewgagon Pagoda (5) show how a similar subject can be treated in quite different ways even when reflections are a common technique. In the first image selected parts of the Buddha are repeated in the frame so there are many hands, and many eyes and in the second there are multiple faces.

In Yangon, Street from inside a Taxi he uses the inside mirror to look back at a street scene which underlines the fact that there are many reflective surfaces available to use.

One of my favourites and the image that originally led me to looking more closely at Chris Steele-Perkins was taken in South Korea in 2013. Soonchin Bay is a complex image but one that also puts the interior into the context of the exterior but whilst this is a carefully composed image that could stand alone it is clearly part of a series about a national wetland area and shows a display of fresh fish being laid out by a fishmonger as a passerby looks on. This is a good example of how the reflections and composition can be used to highlight the underlying subject of a photograph.

Lessons

These practitioners have helped crystallise my thoughts. The photos I have looked at most closely are not about reflections but are where the photographers have used reflections as a compositional tool to present their chosen subject. This is not to say that there are no photos about reflections, there are, but my assignment is about using reflections not about reflections.

Michael Christopher-Brown in particular shows how strong saturated colours can be found either at night or in strong sunlight and how these, often dramatic, swatches of colour can lift a street scene.

Many of the most interesting examples use reflections to lead the viewer to the subject or to frame the subject.

Looking across all the examples also highlights that there are many different ways to use reflections and that I have to be careful to avoid putting together a series of over similar pictures within the theme.

It has also helped to look at how the lighting varies and how these photographers use the light to their best advantage. Most window reflections have significant dark areas, if they didn’t there would be no reflection so it is important to find a balance so that the light tones compensate and contrast the darker tones.

Sources

Books

(1) Clarke, Graham. 1997) The Photograph. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Internet

(2) Atget Photography. Eugene Atget. www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Eugene-Atget.html

(3) OpenISBN, Gary Dwyer. www.openisbn.com/preview/0981884431/

(4) Barbey, Bruno. Bruno Barbey Official Website brunobarbey.com

(5) Magnum Photos – www.magnumphotos.com

(6) Brown, Michael Christopher. Michale Christopher Brown Official Website www.mcbphotos.com

(7) Steel-Perkins, Chris. Chris Steele-Perkins Official Website www.chrissteeleperkins.com

 

Evolving Assignment 3 – Mannequins

Fig 1 Clock Face - complex multi-layered reflections - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

Fig 1 Clock Face – complex multi-layered reflections – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 900

The theme for assignment 3 is evolving. The initial idea was to focus on the changing face of small southern towns as viewed through the reflections in high street windows but, whilst this offered some interesting results on test shoots, it began to feel too premeditated and potentially exploitive. The most interesting “reflection” test shots feature mannequins and these shots are further lifted when the same window displays include photographs. This gives at least three layers of image – the reflection of the street, the mannequins and the photographs and this complexity is often multiplied when the opposite side of the street or the tops of buildings are included in the reflections. In terms of composition and design I am exploring how these these layers relate to each other.

This exploration has been done by visiting several towns, often just for an hour, to capture pictures at different times of day and in different high streets. To some degree it is easier to think more clearly with a camera in hand and I can test DoF, angles, subjects, and lighting far better on location than by trying to create pre-meditated story boards. The nature of the subject makes planned shots especially difficult as the images are often complex with, by intent, crowded frames containing lots of detail and the multiple layers of subject bringing an equal number of layers of light with differing intensities. The reflections are the common thread that hold the physical aspect of the theme together. In parallel , I am developing  a theme of these displays as reflections in a more metaphysical sense.  The mannequin represents an ideal, an aspiration, a style model for us to mimic and over the centuries mannequins have gone beyond being glorified coat hangers displaying current fashions and styles. These shop window dummies have followed their own fashion trends and thereby reflected society in both an obvious and sometimes quite subtle way.

Fig. 2 Holding Hands - mannequins being given human emotions - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100.

Fig. 2 Holding Hands – mannequins being given human emotions – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 1,100.

In their article for the Smithsonian Magazine in 1991 Emily and Per Ola d’Aulaire * (1) describe how fashion dolls in the 14th century evolved to become today’s mannequins and how their shape changes to reflect how society wants to see itself. In the 1890’s they were big bosomed with impossibly narrow waists, during the great depression the trend was to appear affluent and well-fed, during the two great wars they were patriotic, in the 1950’s demure, in the 1960’s they became as skinny as Twiggy with short hair and slender thighs (here) * (2).

In the United States the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, one of the driving forces behind prohibition in the 20s, declared mannequins as vulgar and campaigned for their destruction and today the debate still appears to phase in and out of the headlines. The normal female mannequin is a size 8 or 10 and as the average women in Britain is a size 14 it is often argued that these skinny mannequins damage self-esteem by promoting an unrealistic body shape. On the other hand, when the Swedish equivalent of John Lewis used size 12 mannequins it came under fire for promoting obesity * (3). In early 2014 mannequins again made the headlines when American Apparel, a large clothing chain with stores world wide, featured a display of  mannequins with pubic hair, an action that kept this particular retailer front and centre of the debate about whether ever more realistic mannequins court controversy or are a empowering statement of the female body. * (4)

Without intending to take or promote any position in this debate it is an interesting to wonder why the mannequin is the only shop fitting that has the ability to stir such strong emotions. This inanimate model has variously been the subject of films, possibly even the inspiration behind the Wizard of Oz *(1), love stories and, in December 2013, even a music video to promote Daft Punk’s latest release “Instant Crush”, a video that dramatises the love affair between two museum mannequins. The obvious conclusion is that we identify with a paper mache or fibre glass object to such an extent that it doesn’t just reflect our aspirations but has an assumed personality and assumed values. Not all models of people have these attributes so it is not simply the human form that creates this relationship between human and dummy it must also be the setting and the context in which we see them.

Fig. 3 Over My Shoulder - example of photographs being used with a mannequin - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

Fig. 3 Over My Shoulder – example of photographs being used with a mannequin – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 800

In my current project I can see that the trend, at least in this corner of England, is to de-humanise the mannequin with many shops using headless torsos or wire frame heads but then to display these models with photographs of models wearing the same clothing lines.  The body shape is on display but with no personality but a large backing image shows how attractive or happy we will become if we dress this way. This relationship between dummy and photograph is yet another sub-plot. It is not clear to me whether this fashion for headless mannequins is for aesthetic, marketing or economic reasons. The manager of Reebok Guildford was not sure why his mannequins seemed to have the most personality in town but he did suggest that “personality costs money”.

Fig X Face Lift - mannequins with personality at Reebok - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 2,800

Fig 4 Face Lift – mannequin with personality at Reebok – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 2,800

Sources

Internet

* (1) D’Aulaire, Ola and Emily. (1991) – The Mannequin Mystique, originally published in the Smithsonian Magazine April 1992 and reprinted with the author’s permission on the Manequine Madness Blog – http://mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

* (2) Voices of East Anglia. Mannequins – Brochures for Dummies. http://www.voicesofeastanglia.com/2012/06/mannequins-brochures-for-dummies.html

* (3) Mail Online – Department Store Uses Normal Mannequins – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2299498/Swedish-department-store-hl-ns-reignites-body-image-debate-photo-normal-sized-mannequins-goes-global.html

* (4) Huffington Post – American Apparel Pubic Hair mannequins Stop Pedestrians In Their Tracks – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/american-apparel-pubic-hair-mannequins_n_4610688.html

* (5) Daft Punk – Instant Crush Video – http://www.mtv.co.uk/daft-punk/news/daft-punk-debut-new-video-for-instant-crush