For this exercise we were asked to shoot a street in both black and white. Please see the images below.
I think the main difference is what I noticed about Levitt’s work which is that the black and white gives a timeless feel to the images and we feel distant to the subject matter. The color makes it seem much more realistic and as if we were there.
I can’t say 100% either way which I prefer as I think each photograph has it own strengths and weaknesses, but overall I would say I prefer the black and white as I personally find photographing Istanbul streets difficult because there is so much going on and I like to have a ‘cleaner’ view so the black and white images instantly make the images less cluttered.
We have been asked to do some research into a photographer, so I chose Helen Levitt as I didn’t know much about her. After googling her I had in fact seen a number of her images and had enjoyed them. Below are my notes as outlined by the coursework:
Levitt did her early work in black and white and later she switched to color and the difference is quite striking. The black and white images lend a romantic, timeless and distant feel to the work. It also makes for a very ‘clean’ image. I admit I have found myself converting color to black and white for these very reasons but it is usually when the color photograph isn’t very strong. Her color images makes you feel as if you were there. They are very human and realistic and raw in a sense.
Levitt doesn’t seem to have ever had the sense of surrealism that Cartier had as her images really do seem to capture real life as she saw it. Lots of kids, old people on stoops, etc.
I am not quite sure about the third bullet point where we are asked to comment on the use of irony and how it is used to comment on British or American values. I think that Parr’s works does this really well. As an American at least, I had a view of the English that was more sophisticated tan what Parr highlights in his work. One image I think is the shot where he gets the lady and her kids sunbathing in an empty car lot that is actually near to water.
As far as irony in Levitt’s images, I don’t really see it. What I do see is her view of life as she encountered it and it is what it is. Possibly the image of the man standing in his underwear on a busy NY street, holding a cane as the hot fog vendor looks on is an ironic comment on American values…city life, freedom of expression, street food.
This is an interesting topic with the way that the media and world seems to be today. Sontag had two viewpoints on this, the first being that viewers become de-sensitized to images of war and death if they see too many. I am not sure about this actually. If we look at it in terms of the portrayal of women in the media, sure, we have become de-sensitized to scantily clad, thin women, however it has become deply embedded in the psyche of so many people (and children sadly) that this is the ‘way’ we should look. So while we aren’t shocked anymore at those images (as compared to when I was a kid in the 80’s) it has affected us in a deep way. One just has to look at the way young girls (toddlers even!) pose for photographs or the amount of eating disorders, bullying of kids who don’t fit the ‘norm,’ etc., to know that these unrealistic put out in particular by the American media, does in fact affect us deeply though on the surface we seem numb to it.
I would go as far to say that the problem here has more to do with ‘othering’ as opposed to becoming numb. For a large number of voters in my home country, the USA, some life is more important than others. So when they (yes, I am othering here as well) see images from Syria they are not as affected as they might be by images that come from a terror attack of a Muslim person on American people. Because it is closer to home an something they care and can relate to, the images are more meaningful and shocking than the ones they see coming from a place so far away with people they cannot relate to. I think the problem here is that people have become numb to the plight of others as opposed to being numb by an onslaught of too many images.
However, in one of the post-mass killing speeches that Obama has given, in his address after the mass shooting in Oregon, he stated that these shootings have become routine and normal for the American public. So going back to my original comment, I wonder just how routine these shootings really are. Sure, when we see yet another shooting on the news we are not as shocked, but I think the affect has a deep affect on the American public that has caused a deep divide on the country regarding gun laws, the Muslim community, ‘outsiders,’ etc., that while we seem ‘used’ to the images in fact the increase in terror in the ‘West’ has had a deep affect on the people there. Just look at Brexit and the rise of the buffoon Donald Trump.
I think this is a multi-faceted issue that depends deeply on context and perception.
Maybe it is because I teach IB English, but this idea of ‘context’ is often on my mind, especially since I live in a culture that isn’t mine where I observe what is happening here as well as back in the country where I grew up. Also because I am from the US and what I see happening to journalism with the current presidential campaign, I am always wondering to myself, ‘yes, but what was the context?’
The thing that comes to my mind first are the images seen from the various incidents of African Americans being killed by police officers in the US. Through the media, on both ‘sides’ there is an explanation. Because I believe that the US has a serious racial issue, I tend to believe the footage that is out there showing different people being carelessly killed by police. However, since I always try to think of the context, I do find myself thinking, well, what was happening just before or after this? For example with the case where the man was shot in his car and his partner filmed the entire thing including when he died. I found her calmness to be really odd in such a situation, but it was really clear that the man had been shot by the police officer. The scared reaction of the police officer also made me question what the larger context was. He seemed truly scared and not aggressive, so what social issues are happening in this part of the country that the police officer was so scared by the man reaching into his pocket that he would shoot the man? It really isn’t cut and dry even if there is visual evidence.
I don’t think there is any truly objective reporting. In my time as a human, I have seen that what we think, feel, see, experience, can be and usually is vastly different from what another person experiences.
I do think though that citizen journalism is useful and can be somewhat objective as what is usually recorded tends to be raw and unedited. However, what we don’t see if the just before or just after, or the ongoing narrative and context of any given situation so even this ‘raw’ footage fits somewhere in a larger context and narrative.