Write an essay of 1000 words on an image of your choice.
The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.
I initially had three photographs in mind for this assignment.
Aleppo boy, Omran
Omran Daqneesh, silent and in shock in the back of an ambulance, became the face of Aleppo overnight. The photographer, 27 year old Mahmoud Rslan, from Aleppo, took the picture of 5 year old Omran at the scene. (1)
This image points to the fact that the power of war photography is still strong. It conveys a human story in war-torn Syria. The little boy has become a ‘poster boy’, a symbol of suffering. For me this image is so visceral, it transforms the ordinary (a little boy sat in a modern vehicle, in a clean plastic seat), into the extraordinary (he is covered in dirt and blood). Dazed and bewildered, he sits still and patiently, almost as though the experience is a daily occurrence for him. There is video coverage of this event showing Omran wiping the blood from his face, as he would if it were chocolate or ice cream.(2)
Josef Sudek – The Window of My Studio
This is from Sudek’s series “The Window of My Studio”, spanning from the beginning of the Second World War to the first half of the 1950s. The series features blurred images with strong shadows. He was interested in how the glass refracted light. I am interested in his work because it echoes my daydreaming (assignment 3) and how I enjoy looking out of windows, taking in nature, weather, life. “I remember well standing at that one window and just watching the flow of life”. Dorothea Lange. (3). There is nothing picturesque about this image, but I feel the atmosphere and the metaphoric links to Sudek’s feeling of confinement (he lived in Prague) during the Nazi occupation.
John Maher – Blue Chair
My third photograph is the one I am going to write about. I have decided to study and discuss this image for two reasons; One – because the photographer is still relatively unknown, and two – because on visiting his exhibition Nobody’s Home see here, this image stood out for me and evoked sadness and a sense of curiosity. I could not stop looking at it, though it doesn’t resonate with me consciously, it evokes an image of an elderly couple sat contentedly by the fire. Perhaps that sense of nostalgia is the reason I chose to analyse the image for my essay.
Before I analyse Blue Chair I want to research around it and look in wider context at other artists’ work that may relate to the image in some form or another. Geoff Dyer in his book The Ongoing Moment (4), was keen to “… see if style could be identified in and by content. The only way to do this was to see how different people photographed the same thing”. The average onlooker may denote similar contents and structure when glancing through these photographs. I however am keen to unpack, delve deeper into the images to identify the studium and, if applicable for me, the punctum.
Jeff Wall – The Destroyed Room
By comparison, the image which immediately springs to mind is Jeff Wall’s “The Destroyed Room,” 1978, Transparency in light box, 159 x 229. Wall’s image in no way relates to events leading up to the scene in Maher’s image – although I am of course making a huge assumption here. The true history of Maher’s scene is unknown.
The image documents the disturbing repercussions following an act of domestic violence. On first glance I see similarities to Maher’s image, the disruption, the chaos and the fact that it is a room full of personal belongings. Note however the delicate porcelain figure, still intact, the only item not destroyed. She appears to be bowing as though she has won the fight, yet beside her on the wall is an object (mask like?) mimicking the shape of the figurine, but it is an angry red in juxtaposition to the purity of the white porcelain. In Maher’s image, aside from the mirror, the only obviously intact item is a shiny goblet on the mantlepiece – a trophy. Similar to the porcelain figure, a sign of victory.
Of course Wall’s image is a constructed one so one has to consider the relevance of the perfect figure poised high above the destruction. While strong feelings of violence and misery are present, it would be misleading to conclude that the work tells the truth. We know it is staged, but many of Wall’s reconstructions are based on previously experienced sightings.
Robert Polidori – After the Flood
Here, in the first image, we see a similar unsettling scene. One has to wonder whether (some) photographers (and indeed the viewers) have some kind of fixation with the domestic possessions of others. Why are we compelled to look so closely? It could be natural instinct to try to mend and bring order to the chaos. Or perhaps it is simply curiosity and the need to add our own connotation.
The second image has little to show of household objects and possessions. Polidori has carefully composed to signify destruction; the remains of fixtures and furniture are tucked into the corner of the frame, half hidden. The camera focuses on the paint peeling from the walls, red in colour, associated with blood. In Maher’s Blue Chair we also see stacked items and peeling wallpaper. All the above images evoke neglect and decay.
Digital artist Jon Rafman’s used paintings to ‘wrap’ entire rooms. For his project BNPJ (Brand New Paint Job), he used the artwork of artists such as Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall and Picasso. The rooms are 3D models taken from the online platform, Google 3D Warehouse. Using clever application and positioning, Rafman carefully positioned lines and angles to create form and add texture to his images. I picked out this image from his collection because it has a messy, dishevelled effect, as if it is the result of a recent earthquake.
Rachel Whiteread – House
Although disparate in appearance, this ‘structure’ follows a similar vein to the images of Jeff Wall and John Maher. in that present day living habits are caught in the tiny details such as plug sockets, light fittings and framing windows and how we make a house our home. House was an eye-catching look at the spaces which we all take for granted. Whiteread made a full-scale replica of the interior of a condemned terraced house in London’s East End. “With my earlier works, I was really thinking about how one interpreted something from its place and spatial surrounding.” (5). This is an impression of the house innards, resulting in an inversion of the original building, with doorways, staircases and fireplaces all marked out and cast in solid concrete. The sculpture acts as a monument to those who lived within the building. Whiteread created House to be deliberately disorientating while also linking the viewer to a familiar sense of history.
I also looked at paintings because I think Blue Chair has painterly qualities, particularly the pastel hues of the walls and ceiling.
By contrast these images are neat and organised. They depict homeliness and comfort. The eye moves easily around the scene taking in the detail – flowers on the table, delicate drapes at the window, open door inviting us in, bags and coats hanging tidily on the wall. I imagine the viewer, on scrutinising the images of Wall, Polidori and Maher et al, would try to return the rooms to some semblance of order as shown above. Calmness is restored.
Above are some photos I took this week. This is a farmhouse set in a remote elevated spot a short walk from where we live. The house was in a poor condition and has stood unoccupied for a couple of years. Recently it sold and the builders moved in. I had the opportunity to take a quick peek inside and was interested to see the few remnants of what was once a family home.
Although it doesn’t compare to John Maher’s abandoned homes series, the sentiment was the same. Layers of wallpaper had been revealed, peeling back the years, a whisky bottle with a wee drop remaining. The builders had unearthed a brass jug and carefully placed its broken handle beside it. I felt uneasy standing in the abandoned home that was slowly being pulled apart, surrounded by debris. Yet, this old building is about to start a new life, a grand design for future generations.
For my essay on Blue Chair please see here.
1. available from: http://www.time.com The Night Omran Was saved, by Andrew Katz. 26th Aug 2016.[accessed 30th October 2016].
2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/18/boy-in-the-ambulance-image-emerges-syrian-child-aleppo-rubble [accessed 30th October 2016].
3. & 4. Dyer, G. (2005). The Ongoing Moment. p. 202. Canongate, London.
5. available from http://www.theguardian.com 21st June 2016. [Accessed 30th October 2016].