Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Further research + Idea Development)

Within my images I want to create a narrative so the viewer can begin to unpick the different parts of the image and create a story about the context of the image. From the image the viewer should be able to imagine the story behind what happened at a certain location or the story behind the object which I have photographed. Therefore I have researched into other photographers work which has a similar theme to mine and also a similar way of showing a narrative in their work. After reflecting on my research and initial thoughts I have become more interested on how the areas and objects which I chose to photograph reflect the type of person who lives there or who discarded the object and how this is a reflection of their identity. I aim to raise the questions about the person such as…from the environment or objects photographed does this person or group of people appear to be in conflict or in harmony with society? and perhaps what does it say about their culture and attitudes?

The assignment brief states that we have to use analogue cameras, at first I thought this would limit me to the types of things i could photograph because I only have a small amount of shots on one roll of film however it will make me think more about what I am trying to show in the image. However one elemement which I am most apprehensive about is shooting in black and white film. The darkroom only allows us to develop black and white film, therefore if I shot with colour film I would not be able to develop my film. On the other hand, the use of black and white film may make the different textures and tones within the environment become more prominent and rule out distractions within the image which colour would emphasise. I have limited experience in shooting with an analogue camera  therefore I am going to be using a 35mm camera in order to produce my images as I personally find it easier to use and it is more compact which makes it easier for me to move from location to location.

In order to understand my theme better and explore new styles of working which are very different from my own I conducted further research into photographers and their bodies of work.

Joel Sternfeld

One of the photographers I looked into was Joel Sternfeld and in particular his series On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam. I am also going to take this book out of the library to see first hand how the book is presented. We had talked briefly about his work in one of our lectures and from then on I have been interested in his work. Sternfeld photographed what appeared to be serene urban and rural landscapes. However once the viewer begins to understand the context behind them, which is supported by text they become much more significant and a deeper meaning is formed. Sternfeld describes the series as a “list of places [he] cannot forget because of the tragedies that identify them.” I found this series very interesting and it highlighted to me the importance of a caption or small piece of text to accompany the image and how this can change the way the audience views the image. This is something I am going to take into consideration when presenting my final images.

On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, The Happy Land Social Club

The Happy Land Social Club was a popular, unlicensed Honduran social club. On March 25, 1990, Julio Gonzalez was thrown out of the club for quarreling with Lydia Feliciano, his former girlfriend and a Happy Land employee. He bought a dollar’s worth of gasoline, poured a trail of gas from the street through the club’s single doorway, ignited it, and left. The fire killed eighty-seven people. Lydia Feliciano was one of five survivors.

On This Site: Landscape In Memoriam, The Northwest Corner of Florence and Normandie Avenues

On April 29, 1992, four white police officers on trial for the beating of motorist Rodney King were acquitted. A videotape of King’s beating had been extensively televised. The not guilty verdicts became a catalyst for widespread civil unrest. Riots began with several mob assaults at this intersection. Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was pulled from his truck and severely beaten as a camera crew broadcast the event live from a news helicopter. The Los Angeles Riots caused more than fifty deaths and an estimated one billion dollars worth of damage.

Another key element I noticed when looking further into this body of work is that many of the places he photographed did not show any signs of the tragic events which happened there. This links back to one of our lectures which discussed the truth in photographs. For me these images question how much truth a photograph can hold and how he can only represent what he sees and the key to understanding the image is for the viewer to create the context from what they see and what they already know. I aim to work on a similar concept in my image. That the viewer creates the context themselves and from this a deeper meaning is formed about the culture of the place and the history behind it. Another idea I had relating to this is for the viewer to image what else lies beyond the frame.

Eirik Johnson 

Sawdust Mountain
Sawdust Mountain

Johnson went back to photograph the forests and mountains he grew up playing in. The photographs symbolise the icons of the region and begin to address how the landscape is intrinsically linked to the Northwest identity and the people who live and work there. Johnson explores the relationship between how the natural resources of landscape support the communities, this reinforces the idea that the environment in which you live shapes the culture in which you live. One of the elements I found most interesting about this series of work is it highlights how the logging industry is at odds with the ideal of a sustainable method of timber logging. As the industry begins to decline and the mills shut down it depicts how the surrounding communities have suffered. This is another element within his work which I want to try and embed within my own work within this assignment. Perhaps I could visit locations within coventry which have been effected by deindustrialisation and how this has effected the people there and the types of environment in which they live in.

It also made me question whether the peoples identities were intrinsically linked to the culture and area there were brought up in. Although the images do not contain any human presence it is very obvious how they have shaped the landscape and what activities occur there. This concept interested me greatly and related back to some of my previous research on human presence within an image. By these images not being populated it allows the viewer to spend more time looking deeper into the image and therefore they spend more time contemplate the image. It also allows the viewer to imagine what is beyond the frame. This not only captures the viewers attention for longer it draws them in and creates a studium. I want to be able to do this in my series of 10 images.


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.

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)

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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.