Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Idea development)

After delving deeper into the meaning of culture and social structures I began to brainstorm some ideas and possible themes to explore further. Some of the main areas which came to mind when thinking of social pressures and social change were having to conform to social normalities, socialising, appearance, the fear of failure, stereotypes, different cultures and social issues which we as a society are facing.

Scan 8Scan 7

One of the ideas which I wanted to explore further was how we as a society are becoming more multicultural and how families who have diverse cultural backgrounds are adapting to living in the UK. In particular I wanted to explore the differing opinions of the different generations in the families and how the grandparents feel about their grandchildren perhaps becoming more influenced by english traditions and adopting some aspects of the dominant culture in the UK. In particular I wanted to photograph these people and parts of their daily life to see whether they have multiple identities and how this contrasts the practices of their grandparents or parents. After studying geography at A Level it made me more aware of how these types of changes within ethnic groups can cause tension between different generations therefore it is something I wanted to explore further and highlight with my photography. However due to the time constraints for the assignment I would not have time to find families, get to know them personally and build a relationship with them so they feel comfortable for me to photograph them.

An idea which came to mind as soon as I thought of social pressures was body image, appearance and the pressures from society and the media to look a certain way and conform to these pressures. Another idea which linked into this is something personal which I am experiencing at the moment which is becoming a student at university. I had an idea to photograph the drinking and partying culture and stereotype students are given. However, although I found aspects of this interesting because I understand what it is like to be influenced by these pressures, I wanted to move away from the obvious and I believe that these theme have already been explored and photographed many times before. I also wanted to focus on social and cultural issues which are not only happening in Coventry and in the UK but also are happening on a global scale.

An idea which I find myself gravitating more towards is how we as a society have adopted a throw away and disposable culture. I’m interested in how we can abandon objects and buildings and continue to do this without thinking about the consequences. I find myself beginning to question whether the way we act is something new or have we always discarded items/things which we no longer have a use for? Could this even connect to how we treat people who are no longer ‘valuable’ to us just like the objects which are broken. For example the elderly or those who are disabled? These are some questions I wish to investigate in more depth as my research and work develops further.


Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Initial Thoughts)

Assignment Outline:

A portfolio of photographic work supported by an individual workbook (75% of the final grade). We all see the world from an entirely different socio/sexual/geographic/culturally-unique perspective which in turn will dictate what and how we communicate as photographic artists. This assignment addresses the notion directly by asking;

“Are you in harmony or in conflict within the social structure that you are part of?”

Through a set of 10 photographic pieces you should examine the sources of pressures within society to conform or adjust our behaviour and appearance. Your images can depict the mundane nature  and the theatricality of everyday life.


Before researching into possible themes I wanted to get a better understanding of what culture and social structure really meant. This would give me a better understanding of the task as a whole and give my research a direction.

I found the phrase ‘social structure’ intriguing and I wanted to find out exactly what this meant and perhaps how it is possible to be in conflict with it and what are the effects of this. Social structure in short can be defined as the relationship between different entities or groups and the patterns of social arrangement in a society. The theory behind this is that these social arrangements determine the actions of the individuals within the society. It began to make me question whether the norms of a society shape the behaviour of an individual and what happens when people begin to break away from these norms. By breaking away from the norms of the society does the individual have more freedoms or do they become outcast? Can there be positives and negatives from not being in harmony with the society in which you live in?

I then went onto try and define culture, however during my research I found it difficult to simply find one definition, thus showing how diverse culture in itself is. To me it raised the questions of ‘Can you really be defined by your culture?’ and ‘Can the culture you live in be defined solely as the one element?’

Below are the definitions I found:

  • The totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought
  • Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it
  • the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action

Now that I have a better understanding of the question and theme I am being asked to explore, I can begin to think of initial ideas and social and cultural issues I want to explore further.  I will discuss this further in my next post.

Definitions taken from:

Homage to a Precious Object

This weeks sketchbook task was to produce an image or set of images which pay homage to an object which is precious to you. The image wasn’t allowed to be supported by any text, therefore the value of the object had to be communicated through the image alone.

I started off by testing out the angle and lighting by using my DSLR, as I have no experience using a 35mm camera I wanted to make sure everything was set up right before I started shooting and using my film. I chose to photograph my journal and all of the tickets, stamps, guides and pictures taken on disposable cameras which I have collected over the years. For me this is something that is precious to me, it reminds me of all of the places I have travelled to and all of the memories I had there.

_1800911 copyI used the Pentax LX with a ISO 400 black and white film to produce my images. When developing them in the darkroom I increased the contrast to 2.5 as I felt that my negatives were a bit grey and had a low contrast. Using a contact sheet I chose 4 images which I thought turned out the best and then developed them.

Scan 6 Scan 7 copy 2

Scan 7

Scan 7 copy copy

Assignment 2: Presentation

For this assignment we have to prepare a short illustrated talk which must last 10 minuets and will be followed by a 5 minuet Q&A. The presentation counts for 25% of the final grade and it must investigate the working practices of my given practitioner in relation to a particular theme. The project will enable me to see, research and explore the work of an individual while also seeking out a wider range of photographers and artists. I need to make sure that I consider links between specific bodies of work, single images, methods and agendas.

I was given the practitioner Hannah Hoch and so far have gathered a wide range of information on her and have begun to build up an in-depth biography of her work and the political and social context behind her work. I took out the book Cut with the Kitchen Knife: Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Hoch By Maud Lavin and started to make notes.

Initial Research

Hoch produced work in response to times of great social and political change. She focused on how women were being objectified and the fear and anger she felt towards the rapidly changing expectations and identities of women. In response to this she cut up highly posed images from the mass media and juxtaposed them with images of political leaders and objects and buildings of significant importance in the Weimar society.

Important and significant pieces of work include Dada Ernst & Cut with the Kitchen Knife: Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly.

  • Dada Ernst shows the media’s representation of the ‘new woman’ and how this contributed to feminine identity as well as the power and economic status they have in society.
  • Cut with the kitchen knife acts as a satirical social commentary on gender roles and the exaggerated poses and objects mock politicians. I think I am going to focus on analysing and unpicking these two pieces of work.

Final Presentation (Keynote)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Slide 1 – Introduction to the line of inquiry 

In this presentation I am going to be trying to answer the question of ‘How did the photomontages created by Hannah Hoch during the Dada movement reflect political change in the Weimar republic? I will be investigating the political propaganda and social criticism in her work and how it portrayed the political and social change in Weimar society.

Slide 2 – Background on Hannah 

Hannah Hoch was born in Berlin in 1889 and attended the Collage of Arts and Craft there where she studied graphic design. She was best known for her photomontage work.

Slide 3 – Weimar Republic 

After world war 1 Germany was in political chaos and there was tension between the far left and far right winged parties, in turn this caused violence and civil unrest. In 1919 the Weimar Republic was formed however it still faced copious economic, social and political problems in particular political extremists. All of these issues surrounding the Weimar republic are represented in Hoch’s dada work.

Slide 4 – Dada Movement 

This was an artistic and literary movement which formed in 1916 in response to the chaos of world war 1 and bourgeois society. They challenged every convention and were fuelled by the desire to make anti-art and emphasise art’s irrelevance through new techniques and practices such as collages and photomontages. They wanted their work to provoke a response from the viewer, typically shock or outrage and as a result their work was nonsensical and almost whimsy.

Slide 5 – Women in Dada

Hoch’s work gained recognition within dada despite being the only women in the movement and receiving comments from fellow dadaists such as Hans Richter who referred to her as “the girl who procured sandwiches, beer and coffee, on a limited budget”. Although many of her fellow dadaists claimed their work to change moral views and represent gender equality it is not evident in their work however it was in Hoch’s. Therefore I believe that these comments made Hoch stronger as an artist and more determined to prove herself within dada and to the rest of the Weimar society and show that women could be as powerful has men.

Slide 6 – Social and Political Commentaries 

After joining dada, her work developed greatly into social and political commentaries and criticism for the failings of the Weimar society and expressed her anger, fear and frustrations towards the government and society. In particular the representation of the ‘New Woman’ which the mass media presented to Germany. Hoch began to use her work to propagandise the Weimar society and also question the effectiveness of art.

Slide 7 – Cut with the Kitchen Knife  

In 1919 Hoch produced a piece called ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife: Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly’ which would become one of her most influential and well known pieces of work. The photomontage functions as a dadaist view point on the political chaos in Weimar society. It contains images of political leaders, famous artists, sports stars and significant objects and buildings within the Weimar society which have been taken from the mass media.

The title of this piece alone represents Hoch’s opinion of the Weimar society, the phrase ‘beer belly’ gives connotations of greed and a heavy handed nature of the bourgeois society. In turn this makes it clear that the piece is about the male dominated society and the gender issues in Germany at the time.

The photomontage can be split up into quadrants; However the overall appearance of the photomontage is fragmented and disjointed, creating a sense of chaos and disorder. This is a analogy for the political turmoil happening within Germany. It could even be said that the busyness of the image creates a sense of change, and that so many things are happening it is hard to focus on just one thing. Again I believe that this reflects how society at the time was changing rapidly as the country became modernised and how there was so many problems within the Weimar society it was hard for the government to focus on one thing.

In addition to this, embedded throughout the montage are images of machinery and factories, not only does Hoch use this to symbolise the rapid industrialisation of Germany it could also have multiple layers of meaning such as being a metaphor for how the government are almost like a machine and how Germany was dominated by men. They are driving out all of these new policies in attempt to resolve the chaos however they are not doing so in an human way, they are not meeting the needs of the people. As a result of this, the booming industry is not displayed in a proud or honourable manner, instead it is scattered and in-cohesive, to the point where it is almost theatrical. Consequently the piece becomes whimsical and mocks the political discord.

Upper Right: Anti Dada – The upper right side is the anti-dada movement. Here images of political leaders are clustered together. The portrait of the recently deposed emperor  Wilhem ii dominates the upper right hand side and Hoch makes a point of recreating his moustache using an image of two wrestlers, Hoch is mocking Wilhem. It could also be said that the wrestlers represent her anger towards him as at the time he was said to be the man who lead Germany into war and is the main reason behind the many social and political problems Germany was facing, such as unemployment which is shown through the image of people lining up at an employment office in Berlin to the right of Wilhem’s head.

Lower Right: Dadaists – In the lower right section of the montage Hoch includes images of revolutionary figures such as Marx and Lenin as well as images of people who were inspirational to herself such as other members of the dada movement, dancers and athletes. The heads of two male dadaists are positioned on top of a ballerina, in placing the heads on a female body Hoch has emasculated them and stripped them of their power. Women play an important role within the montage and are assigned important roles. They represent Hoch’s feminist views and her battle for women’s rights in Germany. By juxtaposing female bodies with heads of men in power she is trying to reverse the power men have and give women more power than men.

Another significant detail in the lower right hand corner is the map of Europe which shows all of the countries which women are allowed to vote. Hoch has also added a picture of herself onto the map, this further reminds the viewer of her interest in gender equality and women’s rights not only in society but because it is placed in the ‘dadaists’ section of the montage, her interest in gender equality in the art world.

Lower Left: Dada Persuasion – In this section the renowned artist and performer Niddy Impekoven is shown in a pirouette position and this combined with other images of ice skaters and dancers are allegorical expressions for women’s freedom and liberation, something which Hoch believed strongly in. On their own they do not have a large impact however combined they play a pivotal role within the montage.

Upper Left: Dada Propaganda- On the left it is dada propaganda (hehe young man..dada is not an art trend and invest your money in dada, join dada) not a phase, it’s more meaningful

Slide 8 – Other dada montages

Hoch went on to create more montages during her time in Dada, many of them reinforcing her earlier message in ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife’. The montages continued to reflect the social and political change in Germany. The montages were displayed in galleries which made it accessible for large audiences. The pieces posed questions for viewers about avant-garde and the mass culture stereotypes of women.

Slide 9 – The Beautiful Girl

The next piece which I believe to be another one of her most significant pieces of work is called ‘The beautiful Girl’. In this piece Hoch focuses more heavily on the representation of women and the image of the ‘new woman’.  Wanted to show how life during the Weimar period was very unstable, causing people to fear the future and constantly have a feeling of instability. Adding to this the mass media propagated images of modernisation and the changing identities and expectations of women.

It can be argued that by using images from the mass media of the ‘new women’ and rearranging them in a way which made sense to her, Hoch is also dictating how women should be represented. Perhaps women reading the magazines felt empowered by the images because they were showing women in a new light, and offering them a fantasy of the women they could be. A women with more freedom, less restraints and imitations in a male dominated society.

Slide 10

The nature of the photomontage means that the propaganda is open ended, because it is open to the viewers interpretation therefore it has no limits. The viewer plays an important role in constructing the meaning, although Hoch created the montage using her own ideas the viewer interprets it differently. However the underlying concept Hoch played on is that the viewer and her have a shared knowledge of Weimar society. Therefore this is why the montage was so powerful at the time it was produced.

Slide 11 – Influences

  • Georg Grosz’s series of work – Prostitutes, Politicians and Profiteers
  • Will Steacy – Down these mean streets

Her work on the new woman set her apart from other dadaists – contrasts George Grosz’s work which is misogynistic and makes a point of highlighting prostitutes in Berlin and portraying women in a negative light. In her work gender roles were more prominent and made a point of putting women in a position of power because she wanted new freedoms for women.

Slide 12 – How her work changed

Her work changed over time but she remained to use images from the mass media – the work became more ambiguous (painting Roma 1925) to very critical montages (Deutches Madchen 1930) – challenged gender stereotypes head on

– Scrapbook of clippings from magazines – the image of the ‘new woman’ and of different cultures

Slide 13 – Conclusion

The questions Hoch raised such as the representation of women in the media are still relevant today. Hoch also emphasises that although it was a period of turmoil, change was happening. Women were beginning to have more freedom and power but the fragmentation in the montages shows that it was not straightforward.

Hoch’s work reflected her interest in allegorical uses of montage to represent the society, gender roles and modernity of Weimar Germany. The way in which women were represented in Hoch’s work also takes on a political meaning in the sense that it challenged the distribution of power in society and it begins to break down the barrier between men and women. Hoch also emphasises that although it was a period of turmoil, change was happening. Women were beginning to have more freedom and power but the fragmentation in the montages shows that it was not straightforward.

Brand-New Topographics

In the first week of starting the course we were given the task to photograph different areas of the city using a map with reference points. We had to visit these reference points and respond to the location with one of the quotes we were given. The task was all about the new topographic movement.

The New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was an exhibition which showcased a key moment in American history and landscape photography over 35 years ago. Photographers such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz and Nicolas Nixon were the first to introduce this style of photographing man made landscapes and have greatly influenced the way we view and photograph a landscape. Photographing the suburbs, warehouses, empty streets and roads in 1970’s America, they showed how the natural landscape was being altered by humans and eroded by the growth of cities and the development of industries. The images began to question the distinction between a cultural and natural landscape. The images, in particular Baltz’s, show the loss of the so called American Dream through mobile homes and former industrial parks in ‘boomtowns’ which had since fallen into decline.

The influence of the New Topographics is detectable in  the work of contemporary photographers such as Andreas Gursky, Paul Graham and Candida Höfer.

Although almost all of the photographs taken in the New Topographics movement were in black and white, the photographers work that stood out the most for me was Stephen Shore. He was the only one at the time to use colour in his work. Inspired by this and the work of other photographs such as William Eggleston and Paul Graham I decided to shoot my images in colour. One of the aspects I experimented with in this task was the use of light and how this changed the landscape. By shooting in colour I was able to show a realistic representation of how the city looked when I shot the images. When using black and white I found that it altered how the city appeared and took the images out of their time era. I wanted to show how it looks in the modern day. The use of black and white photography has historically been used in documentary photography, I did not intend my images to be viewed as documents and I did not intend for them to be burned down by the history of the city. This burden of the city’s history was more apparent when shooting in black and white.


“Let the subject generate its own photographs. Become a camera” – Minor White


“I hate nothing more than sugary photographs with tricks, poses and effects. So allow me to be honest and tell the truth about our age and its people” – August Sander

“I am not very interested in extraordinary angles. They can be effective on certain occasions, but I do not feel the necessity for them in my own work. Indeed, I feel the simplest approach can often be most effective. A subject placed squarely in the centre of the frame, if attention is not distracted from it by fussy surroundings, has a simple dignity which makes it all the more impressive. – Bill Brandt


“Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if…’ And then do it.” Duane Michals


“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” – Paul Caponigro


“The immortal photographers will be straightforward photographers, those who do not rely on tricks or special techniques.” – Philipe Halsham


“I would say to any artist: Don’t be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.” – Edward Weston (to Ansel Adams)


“The complete disregard for the camera’s presence indicates its complete saturation in their lives. The subject neither notices nor seems to care that someone has been invited into their private moment” – Nan Goldin


“I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others. Perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.” – Robert Frank


“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa