OCA Symposium ‘Photography Matters’

Saturday 21st May 21, 2016

‘Photography Matters’ OCA Symposium, CAST, Doncaster

1. Les Monaghan – making art photography for public audiences (fairness and effecting change)

Known for ‘The Desire project’ and ‘Aspiration project’ and other portraits.

The questions he posed were ‘In doing my work is it (photographing people) fair? Or is it exploitative of people? Today I am not looking at issues of truth and objectivity.”

An example of ‘untruthfulness’ perhaps is Don McCullin photograph were he is rearranges the body of a North Vietnamese soldier before taking that image; “is that legitimate or fair game?”

There also some photographs that you should not take? He gave the example  a project called ‘Breightmet, Bolton 2009’ where he decided not to photograph some things as he felt they were exploitative of the person or situation. Recommended book; Pollen, Annebella (2011) Beyond us and them: participatory photography after Mass Observation Bolton at Home / Bolton Library and Museums Services, Bolton. (I look at this elsewhere). Where you draw the line seems to be a personal and perhaps learnt quality which would differ from any one else. For example, Bruce Gilden, who is I think more exploitative and ‘assertive’ in his dealing with the public, might not have the same qualms or line about what not to take.

Russell Roberts says that, “They are self selecting” – audiences choose us. I think this is true; as a GP people see me because they have learnt what I am like. As a photographer how can they have a sense of you unless they see your previous work or relate during recruitment?

John Bulmer quote“colonial expedition to the north” – photographs of the ‘gritty’ north can be cliched. I think that is true. I saw Bruce Gilden on Sky Arts recently and he was commenting on the same point and also that the people who are difficult to capture unaware are the rich.

‘Aspiration,’ Doncaster installation – an example of participatory photography. How do we involve ‘ordinary people’ – we are a flawed democracy – can art democratise? Let’s try to be inclusive and include the ‘Unheard unheard’ (Those who did not take part)  and the dissenters etc. Perhaps the ‘test’ of fairness of art is putting it into the public domain where is can be judged by ‘ordinary people’ and not just art critics.

Denotative labeling in the desire project; underneath the image is a statement by the person such as “I want to lose weight.’ I like this labelling as it allows the person to speak in their own language as well as using words to guide interpretation of the work. I have used this ‘person’s comment’ labelling in the Context and Narrative module. “These people are being reflective… “I believe in the essential goodness of people; ” Perhaps this quote illustrates the passion that Les has for involving people – I don’t think it is skin deep.

Martha Rosler said “art makes no difference.” Les believes that it can do as there are more people to make that impact. Where is the evidence for that?

Rachel Swindon – shaming MPs about their hypocritical twitter posts – worth a look.

Richard Brilliant’s book ‘Portraiture’ – there is a direct connection between the objective portrait and the person. I have reviewed this excellent book elsewhere.

Impressions: Les comes with a ‘political’ agenda which is that ‘powerful people are exploitative of the poor, ‘ordinary’ and disenfranchised. I think that this marxist theory. He criticised the current government. I don’t have problem with that because he is overt about his bias which informs and drives his work.

I also liked the way in which he uses research and interviews to gauge sitters and viewers about the impact of the work. I did wonder if he used original research to develop his ideas; I have done that before.

2. Keith Roberts – family portraits and the returned gaze

This was an interesting presentation about the Hardman repository in Liverpool (hardmanportriat.format.com). Archive photos have histories around them.

Brilliant analysis of Photo of Ltd J J W Davies in 1943 and 1949 . “The expression on the face is the rhetoric of the mood” – Bate. Does the latter photo reflect traumas experienced in War? Bate also suggests that pose is part of the rhetoric of the photo too.

Impressions: Interesting discussion about the legitimacy of taking these images and interpreting them. I could not get excited about the process of restoring these images.

3. Derek Trillo – exploring notions of time through experimental photography

Photography of architecture. “My Practice”  – everyone who presented today (all PhD students) used this word – why? It is probably a cultural term.

Conventional architectural photography tends to be ‘lifeless’ in that people and ‘life’ is usually missing in the building shots. This form of presentation of buildings hasn’t changed in 90 years. He is experimenting with how he can show that life alongside the building. Long exposure of buildings using light trails to show life. Paul Graham – photos about time or spatial selection – we choose the moment. Vionnet, Corinne – layers of Flicker photographs. Etienne-Jules Marey. Hockney collages. Nishubi – collages.


Intention: ‘an experience of a slice of the life of a building” – quote.

Book – “The Craven Image’.

“Just take pictures if your are not sure what to do it.”

Impression: New look at an old form

4. Dawn Woolley. Consumer culture and identity : ‘Hysterical selfies and disruptive bodies’.

She has been using billboards and social network sites to make clear the work – maybe I can do this with my images too? Lots of jargon and some excellent ideas (delivered too fast!) – “Fetishism of commodities” – interaction in selfies and other form of social media sharing is by commodity and not the relationship. “The attention commodity” book by Davenport and others. Information grabs our time and attention.

Selfies – “social media micro-celebrities carefully curate their image to help sell their products.” “The integrated spectacle” – book. Tekon theories of the young girl.

Dolce and Gabbana adverts of people taking selfies. L’Oreal advert about makeup and selfies.  We identify with the signifiers in the images – the young girl is in the front line but we are all effected by these images

Impression: Selfies are used to build personal identity but paradoxically they also breed insecurity. Interesting area theoretically and practically. I may use these ideas.

5. Rachel Smith – the materiality of Images

What is the tension between the material and visibility of the photo?

Materiality – there has been a rise in interest in materials – is this a reaction to the analogue nature of most images now? Anastasia Samoylova – uses found images from the internet and fabricate the sublime! Printed and fabricated. Sally Mann rejects digital images. Sabato Visconti – impure ‘glitch’ images. Daisuke Yokota, using dust to make the image look differently. Deliberately exploited this.

Photographic objects – theory and ideas

Examples of glitch and ‘perverted; images are; Luther Price ‘fibroid family kitchen 2005,’ Gerhard Ritcher, ‘Overprinted photo series 21.06.05.’ Material obstructs and perverts and makes us look at other narratives. Wolfgand Tillmans, 2004. ‘Paper drop’ series. Anne Collier, ‘Woman with Camera, 2012’ – idea of using old images to comment on issues such as the male gaze. Note – book with labels that is made up.

Impression: Some very interesting examples here which could inform a future project. Too much too quickly!


Pollen, Annebella (2011) Beyond us and them: participatory photography after Mass Observation Bolton at Home / Bolton Library and Museums Services, Bolton.