Assignment 1: Encountering Culture (Additional Photographer Research)

After researching into Joel Sternfeld and his series On this Site: Landscape in Memoriam, I decided to take the book out of the library so I could view the images in person and see how they were presented. This would also give me ideas of how I could present my final images. I did want to view the book sooner into my assignment however I had to file for a reservation in the library which took time. After finally getting hold of the book I was exited and intrigued as to how the work was displayed within the book and how this affected the way in which I viewed the images.

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The book allowed me to see details within the images which I had previously missed when viewing the pictures online. The text accompanying the image on the white page next to it gave me a greater insight into the context of the image. In turn, this allowed me to have an emotional connection to the individual image and the series as a whole. This is something I am going to take into consideration when presenting my final images.

While I was in the library I found a photobook by a photographer which I had never heard of before and thought their work would be helpful to look into for this assignment. I found Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai series very moving. Although the series is not shot using an anallogue camera, nor is in black and white, the images still tell a story and create an eerie atmosphere.

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House on Songshan Lu (2005)
Huangpi Lu House (2005)

The series shows how the city of Shanghai has transformed itself in the early years of the 21st Century. As Shanghai modernises and becomes a mega city, the buildings and neighbourhoods which were once preserved in many cases by accident are now being demolished. Girard has been photographing the effects of this transformation since 1998. He has managed to capture how buildings, shops, homes and neighbourhoods are being turned to rubble during the process of urban development. This unique series of images allowed me to gain a further insight into how other cities around the world respond to urban decay and buildings which have fallen into disrepair. This series of images has really inspired me and made me think of the wider context surrounding the image. This is something I want my audience to gain from my images.

Another photographers work I researched into was Jeff Brouws. Having briefly viewed his work in a lecture, I wanted to know more about his series Discarded Landscape. Although this series is shot in colour, his style of photography is very similar to his black and white analogue series Twenty Six Abandoned Gasoline stations. In this series Brouws’ work is presented in the form of a diptych and I think that this method of presentation works very well. It allowed me as a viewer to see more of the scene in the frame and therefore see the scale of the abandoned area.

Abandoned House near Chene Avenue, Detroit, Michigan (1999)

Brouws stated that “Photographs always exist in a context—they are laden with social or political meaning” (Landscape Stories 2011) and this is an idea which he explored closely for twenty years. Having experienced a philosophical affinity with the New Topographic’s movement and how this acted as documentation for the impacts the suburban world had on the natural one, he wanted to get to the core of the issue. Through his images Brouws asked how suburbanisation after World War 2 affected the city centres in America and what the consequences were as America moved from an urban lifestyle of high density living to a suburban lifestyle.

By the mid 1990’s Brouws turned his attention to discarded landscapes which were composed of abandoned manufacturing sites he “wanted to investigate these obscure parts of our social landscape, environments shaped by a devolving decay.” (Landscape Stories 2011). While reading an interview Brouws did on this series of work I picked up on a key point which links directly to my own assignment. Brouws explains how photography plays a vital role in our understanding of social issues and social structures, and this is something I aim to show in my work as well.