Exercise: Recorded Conversations

I did something maybe a little unethical, but I have deleted it and didn’t let anyone else listen to it.  I recorded a conversation with a student regarding grades.

After recording it, I shared the gist of the conversation with my head of department because the student I recorded is a difficult one who wants the high grades but is not willing to do the work for it.

My account of both sides of the conversation

My side of it was that I had been teaching the exam content for 7 weeks and that asking me the day before the exam what the exam was about was not a good plan and explains why his grade was so low.

To my recollection, his side was simply not listening to anything I said but to keep asking me how he can get a higher mark on the next exam, or how many points he lost specifically.

Notes after listening

Honestly, because I have had conversations like this, I am pretty good at conveying what occurred since I usually need to report it to a parent or head of department.  Having said that, what I did notice were lots of awkward pauses from me after he would say something, but after I would say something he would quickly jump in and ask about how he could better or why he got such a low grade. One could say the pauses were a reaction of shock and so were his reactions.  We were both shocked but for different reasons.

Listening to it it was really clear to me that he was not understanding what I was telling him (that learning a language is an accumulative task, not something you can cram in the night before) as opposed to not listening to me as I had thought before. He also was clearly focused only on grades and short term and not really the long term effort that is required for the top marks.  Essentially he was asking me for the easy way to get the grades, and I simply wasn’t understanding him either.

In applying this to constructed photography, I think that you can never really capture something in its pure rawness.  There is always going to be a mis-reading or a different understanding.  Also, the way that words are said, the cadence of sentence structure, the eye contact (or not) or body language is also important and can be lost. Therefore it is nearly impossible to capture something real when it is constructed.  Having said that, something can very nearly be captured that feels real if the person constructing the photograph is empathetic to the subject matter.  I think automatically of Crewdson.  He does a fantastic job of re-creating scenes that actually don’t look real, but somehow convey real emotion.  His photographs really affect me even though they are completely fabricated and I have seen his behind-the-scenes set up.  It is almost like the plastic quality he adds to the images help to make it more realistic.  I am not sure how he does it, but he does it really well.


My own archives

I think it would be interesting to look at my photo archives from before my life with children, but after I left the US.  My life has changed so much, so I think there could be an interesting project there.

It might also be interesting to look at images I took of my sons before I started thinking seriously about photographs and then compare them to images after I started thinking more seriously about it.  For one, there are far less shots now then before.  For some reason I feel that less is more.  In a lot of ways, I am going against the snap happy culture I see with so many parents, so know I try to take photographs that are more meaningful and significant. But I have also become more aware of ‘good’ photography and sometimes I think this has hindered me a little.

Another project could be to look through my family photographs that my dad gave to me before he died.  I didn’t have the most happy childhood, but I know my dad loved me, so it could be interesting to look at what images he chose to send to me and what that might say about how he felt about my upbringing.

Project 2: Question for Seller

The coursework asks us to consider the work of Nicky Bird who found images on ebay and when buying them, asked the seller why they were being sold.  She then put them in the gallery with the answers from the sellers and then re-sold them at auction.

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

I am not sure if it is an elevated status, but it gives them status once again.  These images I assume were tucked away and forgotten, so having them placed in a gallery makes them a part of the ‘world’ again.  But, yes, I guess in some way it does elevate their status since anything that is on a gallery wall we consider maybe a little more carefully, even if we in the end, don’t like the work (I am not moved by this work).  But for that vrief moment before judgement sets in, the work is elevated from its prior status.

Where does their meaning derive from?

Similar to the comet photos from the beginning of the course, the meaning comes from the thought the artist put into curating the work.  Meaning is made from the juxtaposition of the image(s) and the text which is the answer to why they were being sold.  But also our own context comes into the meaning as we look at the images, regardless of the text, and wonder who these people were an why nobody cares about the photographs. We start to draw on our own family history and maybe even wonder what will happen to images of us when we die.  So the meaning here is prompted by the artist, but filled in by the viewer.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they are now ‘art’?

I think yes, I mean, they clearly had little value when they were being sold, so by the curation here the photographs have been re-contextualized so the meaning, while likely different from the original, has been given a new face lift.

Gregory Crewdson–Research Point

The coursework asks that we watch a short video on Crewdson’s work, but from a suggestion from a classmate on the FB forum, I watched the film Brief Encounters about his work. I really like his work, even though I usually am not a fan of staged photography that reflects real life.  I am usually drawn to staged work that is more whimsical or magical, but this work has something to it that really draws me in.
Below are the questions from the coursework and my answers:
Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
Absolutely.  He says that himself that there has to be more than just an aesthetic draw.  He creates work that is haunting at times, scary at times, and just too damn real at times.
Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
Absolutely! The layers he creates mostly due to the positioning of the actors augmented significantly by the lighting create this feeling that can be felt deep in the guts.  Being a middle aged person with kids and a career, he captures that feeling I get–quite often these days–of ‘what am I doing with my life?  But they are not depressing in my opinion, they are beautifully pondersome and capture that mundane aspect of the human condition.
What is your main goal when making pictures?
I still don’t know yet.  But when I think about when I first started, I mainly take images of things that are pleasing to me but also images that make a statement of some kind.
Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?
This issue of beauty has been on my mind for quite some time.  I think in the art world there is a stigma attached to things that are simply beautiful (which is of course relative) but personally, I think it is OK to make images that are beautiful.  I agree with Crewdson in that beauty can’t be all that there is, there needs to be something else that anchors it.  But again, this is all very relative.  I think pictures of flowers are pretty mundane generally, but then you lay your eyes on one of Mapplethorpe’s flowers, and viola, there is meaning (dare I say punctum?)  and something that you carry with you after seeing it.  Sally Mann’s images of her dead dog’s bones are also beautiful and haunting–but they are just dried up old bones, but her process is what transforms the mundane into the beautiful.  She also commented that her southern landscapes would get some criticism for being ‘too beautiful’ but they are beautiful and the way she photographed them gives them a haunting quality that stays with you.  Crewdson does this as well.  I mean, how beautiful can a distraught middle aged man or woman be?  But when you add his sense of mis-en-scene you have something that is both beautiful and provocative.

Exercise: Goodfellas and the single shot.

This is a great scene and the use of the long shot helps to create a continuous narrative that is augmented by music, props, other characters, and lighting.

The mis-en-scene here is what contributes to the overall feeling that the main character is an important guy–and with any knowledge of the American mafia one can easily extrapolate that this is a mobster.  The clues given are the style of clothing, the way the man interacts with workers (tipping, slapping on the back) as well as they way they interact with him (preferential treatment, a look of acknowledgment or happiness when they see him).  Additionally the lounge atmosphere is created by low overhead lighting and ambient lighting (provided by the lamps on the tables).

Overall, the viewer gets the sense that this is a man with money and power.

Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Howarth

This essay is the one that sparked my idea about Mann employing her gaze on her children as a response to her father’s distant approach to fatherhood. It really struck me as being ‘true’  and even though I think the assessors will say it is too much of a stretch (as my tutor did) for some reason I feel strongly in going with it.  I have done some more research and have hopefully made the connections more academic and plausible (see assignment 4).

Also, looking back at this essay after my tutor’s feedback, I saw more connections and that is that both Arbus and Mann were accused of exploiting vulnerable subjects for their own purposes. Sontag equated this with Arbus trying to deal with her privileged upbringing.  So my connection is that both women were dealing with issues from their upbringing and as a result both produced work that was not necessarily well-received by the public.


Howarth, S. (2005) Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. London: Tate Publishing.



Photographs void of meaning?

The coursework asks us to ponder the notion that photographs might not be used as a means of expression or communication.  I don’t think there is such a photograph.  At the most simple, the photograph is a communication of someone’s interest.  They took the time to shoot the image, so there must have been something there.  At the most complex there is of course the constructed image where meaning is in everything from the lighting to the props, etc.

I guess photographs that are errors or taken by small children could be considered in this way (no meaning).  But even photographs such as these could be deconstructed by a keen photography student to have some kind of meaning.=)  Something along the lines of ‘the innocence of child play’  or ‘the chance photograph.’ As humans, we are wired to categorize and make meaning, so I think all photographs carry meaning, whether it is the same to different people or even wrong because the impression of the viewer in making meaning is a part of the deconstruction of texts.