Tag Archives: Joachim Brohm

Nicky Bird, Tracing Echoes, Assignment 5 Follow-up

My tutor suggested that I looked at Nicky Bird’s Tracing Echoes (1) as a follow up to my TAOP assignment 5 submission, Change in the Village. This proved to be an interesting line of research that not only plays a part in closing down TAOP but has real relevance to various lines of research that I have subsequently been pursuing as part of Context and Narrative. With this in mind I am posting this essay on both learning logs.

Julia Margaret Cameron 1815 – 1879

I declare my prior ignorance regarding this obviously eminent Victorian photographer. Tracing Echoes includes, as way of an introduction, an essay by Pamela Gerrish Nunn which explains some of Cameron’s history and her place in the history of British photography. She is an artist worthy of study as her work, in many ways, is more closely related to the styles of the late 20th and early 21st century than to her own time. Gerry Badger (2) presents her as an unconventional photographer who “broke all the rules of 1860’s photography” and Pamela Gerrish Nunn explains that her disregard for conventions was not limited to her work behind the camera, she was a strong character who apparently often intimidated her sitters. Dr. Nicky Bird’s book mostly concentrates on her portraits of women, often in tableaux or as allegorical figures, so we have to look elsewhere (3) to find examples of her portrait style and how she often filled the frame with her subjects, sometimes working so close that the camera could not be focussed. This approach gives the viewer no escape, the frame is dominated by the subject and because we instinctively and subconsciously read body positions and faces we are joining Cameron in confronting her sitter and through this process are exposed to some element of their personality. Do they stare firmly back? Do they appear relaxed? Are they being made uncomfortable by the experience? Badger uses a photograph of Thomas Carlyle taken in 1867 to make the point that she was “totally at odds” with the usual formality of the Victorian portrait.

Diane Arbus (4) was a modern photographer who regularly used the same techniques to ensure that her audience did not miss the message when she photographed studies such as A Women in a Bird Mask or Women with a Fur Collar and many other of her street portraits, one might also look to some of Martin Parr’s work to see a similar approach. ( i )

I would like to return to Cameron in the future but, for now, my interest in is Nicky Bird.

Photography’s Relationship with History

Tracing Echoes is a refreshingly affordable book and one that I am pleased to have added to my collection and, from my perspective, a book that is highly relevant to my work on Change in the Village and to my current research into Late Photography. Nicky Bird’s approach to photography speaks to my own interest in finding ways, by combining past and present photography, to understand how history has shaped us and our contemporary landscape. Photography records the present at the moment it becomes the past and since the 1860’s our understanding of history has become increasingly informed by the still or moving image. Today, television, on-line news and social media is consciously or subconsciously prioritised by the availability of images to such an extent that an un-photographed or un-filmed event is, at best, a footnote and, at worst ignored.

As a way of recording a place or an event photographs form part of the archaeological record but, beyond this, the photograph, in itself, is a physical or electronic artefact, a piece of archaeology. Most of us born in the 20th century have a record of our life in photographs forming a visual record of the places we have been, the physical and social changes we have experienced. This “family album” is a tiny current in the ocean of history but becomes more interesting when we attempt to link it with other contemporary or historic currents so it becomes part of a wider stream that tells a more comprehensive story of who we are and where we came from. In Change in Village I was trying to relate two lives that were separated by over a hundred years but played out on the same stage, a small Surrey village, and through this process I was exploring the way ideas and social interactions changed in a single place over time. I was also seeking traces of my life in that place and of the earlier life that had been lived there so the project was archaeological in nature with found images being the most commonly discovered artefacts.

Nicky Bird

Dr. Nicky Bird is a PhD Coordinator at the Glasgow School of Art (6) and a practicing artist whose work usually involves a combination of new and found photographs (7) to support explorations of social and hidden history. Tracing Echoes is one of her older published or exhibited projects dating back to 2001 when she was the artist in residence at Dimbola Lodge, the home of Julia Margaret Cameron.

In 2006/07 she created Question for Seller where she purchased unwanted family photos on ebay and exhibited them with the sellers comments and their original purchase price. At the end of the exhibition the photos were resold. This project raised a series of questions about the value placed on a family’s history and how a family album moves from being a cherished possession to a commodity that sells for a few pounds on eBay. In an interview with Sharon Boothroyd (8) the artist touches on how this process might be connected with class and the way in which working class history only exists at the margins. This is insightful and reminded me that the only reason I could trace photographs of Fred Grover, the real hero of Change in the Village, was because his middle-class employer had photographed him and that this family had placed sufficient value on their family album for it to survive and to be eventually donated to the local museum. I did not attend the exhibition but can only assume that the most asked question was “who are these people?”, a question that we ask ourselves when we pick up an photograph in a market. My mother left a biscuit tin of ancient family photographs and many are unnamed, undated and mysterious, I presume there is a connection with the family, that connection must have been important for my mother or her mother to have kept the photo but there the story ends.

Archaeology of the Ordinary was a series created in 2011 centred around a group of derelict cottages in East Lothian where archaeologists had found the signatures of, what proved to be, Irish migrant workers from the 1950s. Abandoned buildings hold a particular fascination as a place of ghosts and faint traces of history and perhaps because they have been abandoned as opposed to evolved and changed with the times adds a sense that the ghosts and traces are present but on the verge of disappearing forever. These migrants may have moved on and made their mark on the world in many other ways but it is also possible that some of these signatures are the only permanent record of their passing and it is this sense of seeing a moment in time in a photograph or a piece of graffiti and not knowing the back story or what followed that makes these marks, and Bird’s photos of them, so poignant. The idea and the approach of this and other examples of Bird’s work reminded me of an article in the British Archaeology Magazine about tree carvings or arboglyphs left by soldiers who trained on Salisbury plain showing, perhaps, that archaeology and photography sometimes follow the same as opposed to parallel paths. (10) ( ii )

Tracing Echoes

Tracing Echoes is divided into four main sections followed by a detailed conversation between the artist and two individuals from the National Museum of Photography. The first section sets out to map  Dimbola Lodge, which as previously mentioned was the home of Julia Margaret Cameron in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of White. The presentation is of a single found photograph of the house in Cameron’s time and a series of new images taken by Bird. This acts as an introduction and gives a sense of place. I am interested that these images are quite flat, low contrast and without any artificial lighting for the interiors. This made me think of Jaochim Brohm’s Typology 1979 (11) which was part of my inspiration for Change in the Village, Typology 1979 is a study of the small structures Germans build on their allotments and was consciously photographed in flat autumn light. ( iii )

The second section, Timelines, is more interesting as each found photograph is accompanied by one of Bird’s images. The linkages between each pair are not always obvious and Bird makes no attempt to copy the composition and her images are all in colour. She explains that whilst some are of the same location there is a certain amount of guesswork involved and in one case we see Cameron’s daughter in 1867 and her bedroom as it is in 2000 which, as bedrooms have a special relationship with their occupants, this is a link that any parent or grandparent can relate to; the room is now stripped bare but showing it alongside a portrait of the daughter took me to the room in the 1860s asking me to imagine its Victorian decor. I found the subtle and unclear linkages drew me into the archaeological investigations asking me to linger over the photographs to find the clues and traces that Bird had seen or sensed.

There is then a section that records Bird’s genealogical research which I found needed to be read in conjunction with the conversation section at the end of the book that explains who these people are. However, that is a minor comment as any photo book worth owning must draw us back on multiple occasions and when the artist provides the level of context that we have here it will always be necessary to turn back and forth to understand the story. The genealogy searches tell us what happened to Cameron’s sitters which takes found photography to a different and interesting place partly, or perhaps mainly, because the sitters are mostly Cameron’s domestic servants or other working class people who visited the house. ( iv ) This research enabled Bird to make contact with some of the descendants of the sitters and thereby leading to the Echoes and Dialogues section.

It is worth noting that this research and, in some ways, the whole book is fuelled by Cameron’s tendency to note the names of her sitters on the back of the photographs. This is all the more surprising both because the pictures are often allegorical and because the sitters were working class, servants who would have been transparent to many upper middle class Victorians. Most other Victorian photographers and plenty of more modern ones did not take the trouble to find out or record who their subjects were so, as Bird points out, this act held some significant for Cameron despite the fact that some of these acquaintances were quite transitory, a fleeting visitor to the house for example. Cameron is an artist who is much studied and researched so the names of her sitters are well known and well published, the simple act of noting down their names has given these ordinary people an unusual status, a remarkable level of importance 150 years after they sat in front of Cameron’s camera so, for once, we are not asking “who were these people?”, a name gives them a more real existence, a history and, by tracing some of their decedents, a future.

The pairs of photographs presented in the Echoes and Dialogues section are not simply ancestor to the left and descendant to the right. Some are direct decedents, some are unrelated in the genealogical sense and Bird has linked the timeline through other means such as composition in Venessa at the Gate. Vanessa is Nicky Bird’s sister and quite unrelated to the original sitter, Mary Pinnock, the link is that they look similar, the pose is the same but it is not the same gate. Without going through each link suffice to say that they are varied and somewhat complex and I found myself drawn into the narrative to such an extent that I was turning back and forth between the photographs, the genealogical research and the closing conversation to understand the links.

Bird takes a place and shows it to us in the 1860s, she fills the place with the women who sat for a notable artist in that house and then draws us across 130 years to find that same place and another group of local women who are sometimes related to the original cast and sometimes not. This work is part historical research, part genealogy, part photographic and partly the study of a women who has an important place in the history of British photography and of women photographers and a exploration of Victorian values and the history of working class women. It appeals because it blends these disciplines in a practical and unforced manner, using research and photography as equal partners to tell an interesting story.

Notes on Text

( i ) When I made this statement I had in mind many of the close-up portraits that are included in Think of England (5). Plates 17, 19, 20, 24, 25, 58, 73, 82, 83, 104, 106, 107 and 108 are all examples where it might be argued that Parr has invaded the private space of his subject in a potentially confrontational manner.

( ii ) As soon as I saw Nicky Bird’s photos of these signatures I was reminded of an article in British Archaeology Magazine (10) in January 2013 about arborglyphs, the carving of soldiers names and often regimental badges into the trunks of the beech trees on Salisbury plain. All archaeology is about people but the stories become more moving the nearer they are to our own time, in the article the author, Chantel Summerfield, describes how she has traced some of these soldiers from their time training on Salisbury Plain to their service in WWI and sadly to their war graves in France or Belgium. One example combines a photograph of the arborglyph left by one solider with a found photo of his wedding day after the war, another shows a WWII arborglyph recording a soldier’s love for his wife Helen and found photos of the same lady in 1955. This latter story was quite poignant as although the American soldier in question had survived the war he had predeceased his wife but shortly before her death the author of the article had been able to send her a photograph of her husband’s carving of her name in a heart in a small wood on the other side of the world. Looking at this article again I realise that the dividing line between an archaeologist’s article and Nicky Bird’s work is very slight. The archaeologist offers us a higher ratio of words to pictures and her photographs are taken from the perspective of being a functional record but Nicky Bird’s Tracing Echoes also has a high percentage of text and the main difference is in the presentational style.

( iii ) One of the aspects I have struggled with when approaching landscape work during the course is that so many contemporary photographers appear rot actively seek out flat, low contrast lighting. I ask myself whether this approach is mandatory if one wishes to be taken seriously. If so, it is disappointing as I happen to like strong contrasts and saturated colours in landscape.

( iv ) Contemporary historians and archaeologists and the writers of fiction are increasingly interested in the stories of ordinary people following a long period where the world appeared to made up solely of the aristocracy and their servants without anyone in between. One of the great appeals of the work of Hilary Mantel, the two times Booker prize winner, is that her Henry VIII series is written from the perspective of the professional classes that served him. 

Sources

Books

(1) Bird, Nicky (2001) Tracing Echoes. Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, University of Leeds in association wit the University of Northumbria at Newcastle

(2) Badger, Gerry (2007) The Genius of Photography: How Photography has Changed our Lives. London: Quadrille.

(4) Arbus, Diane (1972) Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph. Fortieth anniversary edition 2011-2012. New York: Aperture.

(5) Parr, Martin (2000) Think of England. Paperback Edition 2004. London: Phaidon Press.

(10) Summerfield, Chantel (2013) Landscape of Rememberance. British Archaeology Magazine January February 2013. York: The Council for British Archaeology

(11) Brohm, Joachim. (2014) Typology 1979. First Edition Published by MACK. Mack Books (a small selection of the plates can be seen at http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/1028-Typology-1979.html)

Internet

(3) J. Paul Getty Museum (accessed January 13th 2015), Jula Margaret Cameron Collection – http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/displayObjectList?maker=2026&pg=1

(6) Glasgow School of Art (accessed January 15th 2015) – http://www.gsa.ac.uk/research/supervisors-plus-students/primary-supervisors/b/bird-nicky/

(7) Bird, Nicky – Artist’s website (accessed January 11th 2014) – http://nickybird.com/profile/

(8) Boothroyd, Sharon (accessed January 14th 2014) Nicky Bird – https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/

(9) Bird, Nicky – Artist’s website (accessed January 11th 2014) – http://nickybird.com/projects/archaeology-of-the-ordinary-2011/

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Researching and Completing Assignment 5

Fig. 01 Cattle on The Common - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 01 Cattle on The Common – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Introduction

Assignment 5 has a straight forward brief, the essence of which is to create a magazine story in the form of a picture essay and to design the cover of the magazine that will run the story. The final result should ideally incorporate both illustrative and narrative techniques.

As this assignment comes at the end of TAoP it is an opportunity to bring together elements of the whole course and it was always my intent to allocate a disproportionate amount of time to researching, planing and undertaking this assignment. TAoP naturally led me to researching a wide selection of established photographs, many of whom have very directly influenced my thinking even when their style or chosen field is not directly relevant to my own work but more than this influence they have collectively taught me a set of basic principles that I wanted to take forward into assignment 5 and beyond.

Working in a Series

The first principle, which is especially relevant to narrative, is that work is more effective when presented as part of a series. Nearly every photo book that I have studied and reviewed is greater, more powerful, than the sum of the individual photos within in. Sometimes this is because of the story line but often it is simply the effect of developing and building a conversation with the audience,  exponentially drawing the viewer deeper into a subject as each image is revealed.

See – Planning Assignment 3 with Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Quality of Research and Understanding

The second principle relates to the ethics of documentary photography. Respected photo journalists such as Stuart Freeman (1), and Phillip Jones Griffiths (2) both point out the importance of the photographer immersing themselves in their subject so that their work respects and honestly represents it. Freeman states that “storytelling in photography must be as vigorous in thought and research as it is beautiful in construction and execution” and this aide has directed my whole approach to assignment 5.

This ideal is best summarised by a quote from Tod Papageorge (13).

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough.”

See – Philip Jones Griffiths – An Engaged Observer

Contextualisation

The third principle flows from the second. Jones Griffiths points out that documentary images must be properly contextualised. His example is that a picture of a starving child is just that, it doesn’t mean anything. The photographer must provide the context, why is this child starving? what events led to this point? who is depriving him of food? Jones Griffiths believes that this can only be done by combining photographs with text, he argues that we live in a literal society so words are an essential element of photographic story telling.

See – Captions and Other Words in Photo Narrative and Phillip Jones Griffiths and the Use of Captions, Cutlines and Other text in Vietnam Inc.

Respecting the Subject Through the Quality of the Image

For the final principle I will refer back to the second part of the Freedman quotation. Understanding the subject is not enough, we must use whatever skills we possess to bring beauty to the construction and execution of the photographs. Exhibit one to support the case for this principle can be found in the work of Josef Koudelka (4) who has championed isolated and suppressed communities for much of his career and who makes these marginalised people important, human and valuable by the art and technical excellence that he brings to every one of his pictures.

See – Josef Koudelka – Wall and The Role of Olive Trees in Koudelka’s Wall

The Concept

Choice of Subject

It was always going to be important to select a subject that I already, at least in part understood, I felt that my classmate, Adam Newsome, had been so successful with his assignment 4 on IEDs (Adam’s Assignment) (5) because he had based it on a subject with which he was already intimate. This intimacy allowed him to explore and document the subject in real depth and to offer the audience an unique viewpoint.

I chose to look at my own childhood and the village in which I grew up.

Parallel Timelines

Having looked at a wide range of narratives and photo stories I wanted to develop a story line that had multiple strands. I had connected with Julian Germain’s For Every Minute You Are Angry You lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness (3) for many reasons but I especially responded to the idea of combining his “current” photographs with the subject’s own photographic memories, this gave the audience two timelines to follow and the opportunity for juxtaposing past and present. This worked well because Germain gave both sets of pictures equal prominence and therefore equal value, there was no suggestion that because the subject’s photos were amateur ‘snaps” that they should be treated with any less respect.

To enable me to introduce multiple timelines to my narrative I decided to base part of the story on the writings of George Sturt who lived in “my” village between 1891 and his death in 1927. Sturt was not a typical man of his times, a self confessed socialist who was also a business owner and employer and who saw his employees as people and friends. A number of his books are heralded as classics but his most moving works are a trilogy of books (6), (7), (8), based on conversations with his gardener whom he calls Bettesworth. Bettesworth, or Fred Grover, was an old man when Sturt first employed him and the stories of his life in a tiny Surrey hamlet tell the story of that village from the 1840s until his death in 1905. Sturt’s other book, Change in the Village (10) and his Journals continue to map the evolution of the area until Sturt’s own death.

The concept was to trace the spirit of Fred Grover and to document his path through this landscape and to overlay that with own childhood in the same place. I hoped to find places where Fred and I could meet and ideas upon which we might have agreed or even argued. I aslo wanted to draw on any similarities that I could find between my family history as it related the the village and Grover’s.

From the outset I wanted to use a small number of photographs from Grover’s time and from my family album. This would enable me to not only juxtapose past and present but to also provide visual variety.

Text and Captions

Whilst recognising and accepting that this assignment was about photography it was also clearly set as a magazine article and for that reason alone it needed text to complement the images. My study of the early photo stories had been informative but it was also obvious that this approach is now historic, Life and its competitors have long gone and the Sunday magazines, National Geographic and specialist magazines that are image heavy such as travel magazines have a high proportion of text to image. I am sure that there are examples of pure photo stories in magazines but I would more see this to be the province of the photo book or internet slide show.

More importantly I considered whose work had influenced me the most when researching narrative and quickly concluded it was Kodelka’s WallJones Griffiths’ Vientnam Inc and Lam’s Abandoned Futures. Each of these books are heavily reliant on the written word to contextualise the photographs.

It also seemed relevant that as I would be researching the subject matter in some depth part of the story would only be told effectively by combining words with the photographs. I made the decision to format the story as if it was to be published in a magazine but to adopt a text / picture mix similar to Jones Griffiths.

Appropriation

The use of old photographs would already introduce an element of appropriation to the project but I was also keen to try and link the modern photographs with the past by using quotes from George Sturt’s books as captions. This approach also linked this assignment back to assignment 3 and my research into Anna Fox and Victor Burgin.

Other Influences

Different photographers and writers influenced different parts of the assignment.

Joachim Brohm and the Bechers influenced the way I approached a double page spread typology of cottages and other buildings that I knew as a child and that Grover would have known.

I researched a number of different views on how a photo story should be created and took forward ideas from Harold Evans’ Pictures on Page (11) regarding layouts and the relationship between pots and text although there was, of course the need, to translate the ideas from broadsheet to a smaller format. His ideas on how to build a story are invaluable an, being a newspaper man, he likes words so further justified my essay writing. Equally useful was Derek Birdsall’s Notes on Book Design (12), his ideas on how to layout a page were inspiration even though I know that I fell way short of his high standards.

My general background research is summarised in my post Narrative andI endeavoured to carry forward that research into this assignment.

Overall my strongest influences were the photo journalists such as Jones Griffiths, who I have already mentioned, Stuart Freedman, Chris Steele-Perkins, and Eugene W. Smith (for Minamata rather than his work for Life Magazine). In each case these men talk about and follow the principles I have discussed above. Quite clearly they are usually documenting subjects of world importance and I had no such subject in leafy Surrey and their technical excellence is way beyond my limited skills but their real influence on me was to set a pace for the assignment that allowed me to become absorbed in my subject and think through the photographs I wanted and how I wanted to use them.

The Process

Developing the Concept

The concept was developed in parallel with the research described in Narrative but, even before I started with OCA, I was planning a project to look at the journeys of William Cobbett or the writings of George Sturt. Partly because they were both local men and partly because they wrote about the countryside  I love and rural issues which are important to me and that always take a back seat in our urban dominated political landscape. However, I realised that the scale of the research required to deal with Cobbett was inappropriate for a single assignment and I also wanted to bring a personal element to the work and that would have been harder to achieve with Cobbett.

I felt that I already had a number of personal connections with George Sturt. My father had collected his books and as another passionate socialist shared many of Sturt’s views about the treatment of the rural poor. I had walked past his house everyday on my way to school and knew all of the places he wrote about but, more to the point, I knew these places not as a visiting student but as someone who had grown up in the lanes, fields and commons that he describes. His countryside was my countryside and it was this shared landscape that I mots wanted to explore.

Research

The first step was to re-read Sturt’s books and as I did this I formed a strong affinity with Fred Grover who had lived in a tiny cottage a few hundred yards from where I grew up, moving there around a hundred years before I was born. Sturt’s conversations with his old gardener revealed a complex life hidden behind the simple and stereotypical facade of the Surrey labourer and my copious notes centred around the important moments in Gover’s and, his wife, Lucy’s lives. His war service in the Crimea,  the enclosure of the common, the birth and death of their children, Lucy’s decline as her epilepsy worsened, the shadow of the workhouse and destitution that was the end of the road for so many of the rural poor.

Each strand opened up new avenues of research including:

  • Roger Fenton and his Crimean War photography, specifically searching on-line libraries for a photograph of the men of Grover’s regiment. I had looked at Fenton’s still life work during assignment 4 so it was interesting to look at a different aspect of his career.
  • Farnham Museum, who were most helpful with searching their photographic archives for pictures of the 19th century village, Sturt’s house, Grover’s cottage and, after much searching, a single photo of Fred Grover himself talked by George Sturt.
  • Simon Fairlie’s “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” (15) was invaluable and provided much needed historic context and that helped explain Sturt’s thoughts on the matter.
  • I met and talked to Wendy Maddox, who co-incedentially had been taught by my Father at The Bourne School in the late 1940’s, and who is an amateur but dedicated historical researcher who has carried out extensive work on the history of the village and specifically on the old graveyard. She was part of the team who identified Fred and Lucy Grover’s unmarked graves. The results of some of this research can be found on The Bourne Conservation Society website (16)

Photography

It is not really appropriate to describe my photography trips as shoots. Over a period of nearly three months I kept visiting the village, walking through different areas, talking to the people I met and taking photographs that seemed to capture the village I remembered. My aim was to find Grover’s spirit or part of my own history so other than starting my walks from obvious landmarks such as his cottage, Sturt’s house, the houses where I had lived, the school or the pub I did not plan shoots.

Over time I began to find themes and that invested my work with a little more purpose. I began to form an idea of wanting an element of typology in the final piece and a lot of my walks were in search of cottages that had been the homes of the original squatters who inhabited the village.

A number of my walks were on, what had been the common land, and is now either part of Frensham Common which is managed by the National Trust or The Bourne Woods which are owned by the RSPB and has become quite well know for its staring role in films such as Gladiator and Robin Hood.

My photographic technique changed significantly during this time as a heavy DSLR and camera bag became too restrictive and, given I was often photographing people’s home from the lane in front of their house, it also felt too invasive. Instead I started carrying a mirror-less Fuji XT-1 and this liberated my approach and led to, what seemed, simpler and more appropriate compositions.

Sources

 Books

(3) Germain, Julian (2005) For Every Minute You Are Angry You lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness. Gottingen: Steidl MACK (Reviewed o line via a combination of Julian Germain’s web site – http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/foreveryminute.php and the MACK web site – http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/16-For-every-minute-you-are-angry-you-lose-sixty-seconds-of-happiness.html

(4) Koudelka, Josef. (2013) Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Landscapes 2008 – 2012. New York: Aperture

(6) Sturt, George. (1902) The Bettesworth Book: 1978 Edition, a facsimile of the second edition published in 1902. Firle: Caliban Books.

(7) Sturt, George. (1907) Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer: 1978 Edition, a facsimile of the second edition published in 1907. Firle: Caliban Books.

(8) Sturt,George (1913) Lucy Bettesworth. London: Duckworth & Co. Sturt, George (1907) Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer. 1978 facsimile of the 1st Edition. Firle, Sussex: Caliban Books

(9) Sturt, George (1912) Change in the Village. 1955 edition. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

(10) Sturt, George (1923) The Wheelwright’s Shop. First paperback edition 1963. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(11) Evans, Harold. (1979) Pictures on a Page: Photo-journalism, Graphics and Picture Editing. London: Book Club Associates.

(12) Birdsall, Derek. (2004) Notes on Book Design. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Internet

(1) Freedman, Stuart. (2010) Ethics and Photojournalism – http://www.epuk.org/The-Curve/952/ethics-and-photojournalism

(2)  Photo Histories (August 2014) – Philip Jones Griffiths – http://www.photohistories.com/interviews/23/philip-jones-griffiths

(5) Newsome, Adam. (2014) IEDs – https://adamnewsome.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/level-1-art-of-photography-assignment-4/

(13) Foto8. Mark Durden Interview with Tod Papageorge – http://www.foto8.com/live/tod-papageorge-interview/

(14) Smith, W. Eugene and Smith, Aileen M (1971) Minamata vs. Chisso Corporation – Magnum Photography site – http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=2TYRYDDWZXTR

(15) Fairlie, Simon (2009) A Short History of Enclosure in Britain. First Published in The Land Magazine – http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/short-history-enclosure-britain

(16) The Bourne Conservation Society – http://www.bourneconservation.org.uk/index.htm

Jaochim Brohm – Typology 1979

Fig. 1 Typology for Assignment 5 – Double Page Spread

I was drawn to Joachim Brohm’s Typology 1979 *(1) for two reasons.

Typologies

Firstly, as part of assignment 5 I wanted to have at least one page that showed cottages in a village that existed in my time and at the time of the old Surrey labourer that was part of the story. I therefore wanted to look at some different photographic typologies to see whether there were approaches that worked better than others. My first thought was to look at Bernd and Hilla Becher *(2) who started creating grids of black and white photographs of industrial structures in the 1960s. These are methodical and highly detailed records of 19th century constructions taken head on from similar distances against flat grey skies and have become much sought after art prints. Their original intent was to capture these structures as reference material for Bernd’s paintings but, in doing so, they created a photographic archive of buildings that were destined for demolition as industrial processes advanced and changed and a photographic style that has been much copied. For reasons best known to the art critics of the time they were initially considered to be conceptual sculptures rather than photographs but Gerry Badger neatly links their work to the boards used by lepidopterists to pin collections of butterflies to allow comparison *(3). The Becher’s philosophy has been to find a subject and pursue it obsessively for your whole career.

Slightly aside from the purpose of this review I was intrigued that the Becher’s work had two connections with Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh. The first link, as mentioned above is that the Bechers like Billingham were taking photos as “models” for their paintings, the second link comes from the comments made by Gerry Badger on page 217 of The Genius of Photography. Badger records that the way that the Bechers displayed their work as wall-sized prints had art critics “drooling about seriality, presentational rigour, minimalism, comparative typologies and other art-speak words.” He believes that this diverted attention from the real intent of these photographs which was more about seeing the beauty in these structures and creating architectural photographs with, what he calls, “head on austerity”. The link being that the art world saw something in these photographs that the artist had not necessarily intended to include.

Other than being German there are no specific connections between Joachim Brohm and the Bechers although the timing of Typology 1979 suggest some level of influence. The Bechers were running the Dusseldorf School of Art while Brohm was studying at the Wolkwang University of Art in Essen. Looking at the broad spectrum of his work one might assume that he has been more influenced by Stephen Shore, especially, Lee Friedlander and William Eggeleston more than by the Bechers. In an interview with ASX *(4) he explains that, in the 70s there were few outlets for artistic photography in Germany and he became orientated towards American practitioners and finished his formal education at the City of Columbus, Ohio.

Typologies 1979 is a recent publication of his student work. When asked why he has waited so long to publish his early work he suggests that the world, or perhaps just Germany, wasn’t ready to look at it and that German photography was dominated by the Dusseldorf, and by inference the Becher, School. It is therefore interesting that one of the pieces of his early work that he has chosen to publish thirty years after it was completed, is a typology. It is in colour rather than black and white and the other obvious difference from the Becher’s work is the variety of compositions, angles and viewpoints that he uses, it is less rigourous. However, one clear similarity is the choice of working under pale grey skies.

Allotments

The second attraction to Brohm’s Typology 1979 is the subject matter. There is an element of the banal in systematically documenting the structures that people build on German allotments but I was more interested in the culture that they represent. I have worked extensively in Frankfurt and a number of other German cities and was always drawn to the fringes of the cities where the allotments are found. Very unlike British allotments, that always have a “Dig for Victory” feel about them with their compost heaps and rows of vegetables, a German allotment is like a detached garden, a place that the family can visit for the evening or weekend to escape their apartment in the city centre. They are more personal and varied that our remote vegetable plots and most include structures intended for socialising and relaxing rather than for just storing a fork and spade.

Brohm set out to document the allotment structures of one city, Essen, and, like the Bechers he approached the assignment in architectural terms. There are traces of people but no people appear in the photographs. The buildings are small but are strong personal statements, some are austere, some colourful, some brick, some wood and all nondescript in the context of the city’s architectural heritage. I cannot pretend to know what people travel to Essen to see but it’s not the allotment buildings.

Frankfurt, an otherwise pleasant city, lacked places to eat or drink outdoors and when the weather was hot and humid I was always envious of the German families enjoying a cool drink on the verandas of their little houses overlooking a tiny lawn and neat flower beds. It always struck me that there is something very specifically German about both the allotments and the structures in them and how the close proximity of one summer house to the next appeared un-noticed, the skill of city dwellers to edit out the presence of others.

The Photographs

Having looked at Brohm’s more recent work on line I see a very direct relationship with the work of Stephen Shore. There is a same era feel to both the subject matter and the prints. A certain pale, desaturated look reminiscent of slightly faded prints. If anything, Shore’s work is a little more saturated than Brohm’s but the similarities are there. There is a more subtle relationship with the American colourists, Brohm is interested in marginal places “with all their seeming lack of significance” *(5) an idea that is at the heart of Shore’s Uncommon Places. Typology was obviously completed at an early stage of his career but it is unquestionably about marginal places. In the traditions of the banal movement and the American colourists this study brings importance and significance to a marginal or unnoticed subject.

The book is collection of square prints, each little building is placed in the context of its allotment so we do not have the austere representation of the Bechers. For this project it is a valid decision as we are being shown significant variations on a theme so an identical approach to composition would have told us less that the varied angles arising from placing the buildings in context. As mentioned previously the whole set were taken under grey skies which provides a diffused lighting lacking in contrast, they are also taken in late autumn or early winter so the trees provide a dark, often black, natural frame to many of the buildings. In some of the photos the path across the allotment is used as a compositional device to lead us to the structure.

There is no sense of trespass, no physical invasion of private spaces, the little houses were probably all photographed from outside their gardens and fences are often included as if to make this point. These are private and personal spaces and the photographer has not become intimate with the detail of their structure, we see them as a passerby, a stranger looking over the garden fence. It is interesting that the photographer chose to carryout this study at a time of year when the houses are generally deserted, this choice allows us to see the buildings with no distractions, no colourful flowers or lush foliage but it also makes the allotments look sad and neglected, lonely, drab places on the margins of the city. Only the occasional toy left on the frosted grass hints at these buildings being enjoyed by families. My own experience in Frankfurt is that these are vibrant, joyous places in mid-summer, children playing on the lawns, adults drinking beer in the shade, barbecue smoke drifting on the sultry evening air so the dilapidated feel of so many of these photographs is a slightly misleading picture, an example of the truth not being the truth.

Part of the value of this type of documentary, in the true sense of the word, is that it imparts, records and stores information that we would not otherwise have. One might argue that it shouldn’t matter whether that information is interesting and, interest, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but ignoring my prior knowledge of these structures or my desire to learn something from Brohm’s style I found these photographs compelling. Once again it underlines the importance of working in series because the interest lies in the variety of these structures, the comparisons, the typology. Bohmn shows that the residents of Essen have taken their inspiration from a glorious range of architectural styles, we have ginger bread house, minimalist white box, romantic plantation house, pure garden shed, blue and white Greek Café, suburban bungalow, log cabin, Scandinavian chalet,  ramshackle stable and many more. The colours are uninhibited and bold, Farrow and Ball would have had little success in 1970’s Essen.

This might be a love it or hate it book. It asks the viewer to take time to understand the subject and his approach. Compared with his more recent work it is understandably raw and a little less sophisticated and, I suspect, less generally appealing but it is a book firmly within the banal tradition addressing a ordinary subject that is, in itself, unique and that provides an insight into an aspect of German culture. The simple design, one square print per spread, works well with the subject matter and the introduction by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler provides helpful background to the project and the history of “Schrebergartens”.

Inspiration and Assignment 5

Typology 1979 has been less directly useful in bringing assignment 5 together than I had hoped but the process of looking at typology and the work of the Bechers and Brohm was useful. The way that the Bechers presented their work has helped with deciding on my typology page layout and Bohm has shown me that it is possible to move away from black and white, austerity and rigour and still compile a typology.

Looking at Bohm, going back to Shore, and recently visiting Russell Squires’ D-Day Landings exhibition has left me with a unresolved question on how to deal with colour. I have touched on the subject before and no doubt will again. I cannot decide whether my colour work is generally, or always, too saturated and contrasted or whether it a simple matter of style but there is no doubt that many contemporary photographers present, what to me, is low contrast and desaturated work, many appear to only work in flat light on cloudy days. This in itself is certainly not an issue and a difference in stylistic approach is understandable but my predicament is that I respond positively to this approach in the work of others but never feel comfortable when I process my own work in that manner.

For the sake of completeness I have included the draft versions of my cottage typologies for assignment 5. My main concern is a lack of consistency in terms of light which is somewhat inevitable when the photographs are collected over an extended period of time. Initially I considered using the Becher front-on and consistent compositional approach by having discovered Brohm and liked his work I decided that this was an unnecessary and potentially counter productive approach given my subject. I am also looking for one more image as the photo that I have placed bottom right on typology 2 seems out of scale and therefore not a good fit. The building, now a scout hut and once a temperance hall has some relevance to the narrative so I would prefer to photograph it again from a different angle.

Fig. 2 Typology 1 (left) for Assignment 5

Fig. 2 Typology 1 (left) for Assignment 5

Fig. 3 Typology 2 (right) for Assignment 5

Fig. 3 Typology 2 (right) for Assignment 5

Sources

Books

(1) Brohm, Joachim. (2014) Typology 1979. First Edition Published by MACK. Mack Books (a small selection of the plates can be seen at http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/1028-Typology-1979.html)

(3) Badger, Gerry. (2007) The Genius of Photography: How Photography Has Changed Our Lives. London: Quadrille Publishing Limited.

Internet

The Telegraph. (2013) Joachim Brohm Q & A. The Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/9949287/Joachim-Brohm-QandA.html

(2) Museum of Modern Art. (2008) Bernd and Hilla Becher: Landscape Typology. The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Review – http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/95

(4) American Suburb X (2013) Interview with Joachim Brohm – http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/03/interview-joachim-brohm-asx-interviews-joachim-brohm-2013.html

(5) CPH Mag (2013) A Conversation with Joachim Brohm – http://cphmag.com/a-conversation-with-joachim-brohm/

(6) Squires, Russell (2014) D-Day Landings Exhibition – http://russellsquires.co.uk/d-day-landings/