Exhibition review: Andy Warhol – The Photographers Gallery

“I told them I didn’t believe in art, that I believed in photography.”

Photography was a persuasive force for Andy Warhol. Almost every artwork made during his unparalleled career stemmed from a photographic source. He amassed an enormous picture collection of advertisements, news clippings and press photographs, and the photo-booth and Polaroid camera were important tools in the creation of his work.

Warhol began using a miniature Minox 35EL camera in 1976 at which point he shifted from making photographs primarily in the service of his canvases to producing them in their own right. Thereafter, he was rarely without a compact camera, shooting upwards of 36 frames of black and white film a day.

AW1This first photograph is a comment on consumerism; the world has become flooded with advertising and there is too much choice so we get into habits of buying the same products, week in, week out. It is interesting to see the change in item design trends from then to now, although there is not much change in the more popular products, for example Hellmann’s mayonnaise, in order to aid brand recognition. The way that these images have been stitched together makes them look disjointed which compliments the unorganised products in the pantry.AW3The collection of images above have been put together as a grid to form something quite abstract. The subject is only just identifiable as a vehicle, this reading is helped by its personal identification number; its number plate. The use of repetition here is quite hypnotic, the diagonal lines in the photograph contradict the straight horizontal and vertical lines of the frame. My personal interpretation of this grid is a portrayal of a traffic jam.AW2Similar to the previous grid, the subject in these photographs barely resembles a van; the focus is on the branding plastered all over it. It is interesting to explore the movement of the food trade from ice-cream vans and market stalls to superstores, the convenience is not always healthy. Purchasing an ice-cream from a van is much more exciting than choosing one in the supermarket.AW4I like how this grid layout imitates test strip; it is intriguing to see how underexposed and overexposed shots can have different effects on their audience. I prefer the mysterious, second brightest photograph which shows what appears to be an attractive model without revealing the face.

Below, Warhol has captured the perfect moment in a shot that any usual photographer and subject would prefer to avoid. This series captures something really personal about the human race; how and what we eat. This piece has inspired me to do a project documenting the way people eat across different cultures. I think Warhol has used repetition here to say something about the greed of our nation.AW5The idea of ‘artist as machine’ was at the core of Warhol’s artistic process, and the increased auto-function of the new ‘point and shoot’ technology suited his detached approach to image making. Although Warhol also referred to these later photographs as his ‘visual diary’, with subjects including everyday details; people and crowds; street scenes; events; interiors; buildings and signage.

From the singular images, Warhol also created a series of ‘stitched photographs’, commissioning a seamstress to machine-sew multiple copies of photographs into grids of varying sizes. These works emphasise both photography’s inherent reproducibility, but also draw our attention to its material nature.

The works included in this exhibition form part of Warhol’s obsessive recording habit that also included tape recording, diary dictating and the making of time capsules. They also show emerging tendencies and patterns that reveal photography as a persistent influence the artist’s thinking, looking and making.

Exhibition review: Ben Roberts – Manchester Art Gallery

Jeremy Deller’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is an art show that is currently being exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery. It looks at the roots that link pop music and contemporary culture with Britain’s industrial past. Ben Robert’s ‘Amazon Unpacked’ illustrated the parallels between past working arrangements and what seems to be happening in certain sectors now, and rather chillingly what may happen in the future.

The three pieces by Roberts’ included in the exhibition are large format documentary photographs of workers insider one of Amazon’s nine UK fulfilment centres. The curation gave the images, which were initially published in the Financial Times, a new energy, linking the subtle, abstract negatives of contemporary working conditions to the more immediate hardships that characterised the workhouses of the industrial revolution.

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This first large format shot successfully conveys the scale of the warehouse and the operations inside, it exposes the unstimulating, bland working environment in all its glory. The endless ordered shelves blur into a hypnotic pattern drawing the viewer’s eye to the left side of the frame. The patterns formed in this image are similar to those found in Andreas Gursky’s large format architecture and landscape photographs, although ironically, Gursky uses photo manipulation to create such large scale, repeated patterns.

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The Financial Times’ article opens with “the online giant is creating thousands of UK jobs, so why are some employees less than happy?” As Roberts’ was not allowed to photograph any real life employees, he compromised by capturing the surreal life-size portraits of Adam Hoccon and Bev Horton extolling the virtues of working for Amazon. One of the speech bubbles reads; “this is the best job I have ever had!” Are these quotes real? Is the best job really pushing a trolley around a space the size of nine football pitches, glancing down at the screen of a handheld satnav computer for directions on where to walk next and what to pick up on arrival? Before any employee is allowed to go home at the end of their eight-hour shift, or go to the canteen for their 30-minute break, they must walk through a set of airport-style security scanners to prove they are not stealing anything. These photographs show how robotic and mundane some modern day jobs have become.

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“Earlier in my career as a photographer (before I had even started studying) I had lofty dreams and ambitions that my work could ‘make a difference’. Over time I came to look back on these goals as naive. I’m not so vain as to believe that my photographs are so brilliant that they can instantly move people, but the way in which my Amazon photographs have been re-appropiated since their initial publication in the FT Magazine has helped me to understand that in the right hands, photographs have the power to at the very least open a dialogue and engage an audience in new ways.”

Peer-group presentations

David Oates set us the challenge to present a collection of photographs that we had taken in front of the rest of the group. I chose to show a collection of photographs I had taken of paint on speakers, inspired by Sue Venables’ book ‘Photocrafty’. On page 104, there is a chapter called ‘Good Vibrations’ which sets out clear instructions on how to capture the dancing paint.

For this project, my kit included:

  • Canon SLR 500D
  • Macro lens
  • Tripod
  • Flash unit with connecting cable
  • Speakers
  • Cling film
  • Acrylic paint
  • Water
  • Music (Justin Timberlake – Cry Me a River)

edit4Photocrafty advises to remove an old speaker from its outer casing and wrap it in cling film or the latex from a rubber glove. As I did not own any old speakers, I had to borrow my flatmate’s £180 speakers so I kept them in their casing and just covered the surface with cling film. I placed the speaker against a white wall in my kitchen to imitate a studio background.edit1I bought three bottles of acrylic paint; red, yellow and blue so that it was possible to make any colour that I needed. It was necessary to mix the paint with quite a bit of water to create a consistency that would be able to bounce when the music was turned on.edit2It proved quite hard to keep all the paint in focus, these three photographs were the ones where I felt that the focusing was accurate and effective. Also, in these images, the viewer is unable to see the texture of the cling film which proved distracting in some of the others. It was a challenge to capture the movement at the right moment – in these, I was lucky enough to have the paint bounce enough to fill the frame. These photographs successfully fulfilled my aim; to show a visual interpretation of sound.

What do you see?

Rob Hornstra

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This photograph is part of a much larger project – The Sochi Project, which tells the story of the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic games. This particular photograph was taken in 2009, the subject is a retired shipbuilder called Viktor Alexeyevich who claims that Sochi “used to be much prettier”.

The point of emphasis in this image is Alexeyevich. Hornstra has used the perspective of the railings to draw to viewer’s eye towards the centre of the image where the subject stands. The photograph does not seem to follow the rule of thirds in its composition and the only thing which disrupts the balance of the frame is the lifebuoy. A large depth of field has been used, the railing is what separates the foreground from the background. Hornstra has made sure that the horizon line is straight so that it is a not a distraction from the foreground.

This photograph is subjective; it has obviously been composed in a certain way for a desired outcome. Hornstra has taken the image straight on but from a lower position than his Alexeyevich, giving his subject a sense of power and status which is reinforced by his hat. It looks as though extra lighting has been used on location to illuminate the subject and his garish swimwear.

 

Content and Meaning

Denotation – What’s in the image?

Connotation – What does the content suggest is happening?

Denotation is generally the subject matter being photographed and connotation is how it is being photographed (Parsa, 2004). Connotation is ideological and emotional. It is dependent on the background of the interpreter, different genders, ages and cultures can create different interpretations. Denotation may be agreed on many people from a similar background, while connotation is subjective unless it is an obvious part of a culture (Chandler, 2002).

Two dimensionality and the Effect of Depth

What is the point of emphasis in the image?

Discuss foreground and background – how are the two separated by the photographer, is the background important to the reading of the image?

What is its significance?

Figure-Ground relations – has the photographer composed the background as well as the foreground?

Is the foreground separated by a shallow depth of field? Are the fore and backgrounds compressed by large depth of field and use of a telephoto lens?

Is perspective used in the image? How do lines of perspective draw the eye through the image? Is there content of the image that is highlighted by lines of perspective?

How has the photographer used framing

Rule of Thirds – is there a use of the rule of thirds in the composition? How does it improve (or otherwise) the effect of the picture?

Classical balance – is the subject centered in the frame? What are the effects of the background elements?

Graphical Elements

Discuss horizontal and vertical lines, how are they arranged, how do they affect the composition?

Diagonals give a sense of instability and dynamism, are they present? What is their effect?

Do the lines and shapes form a point of emphasis? Where is it (or are there several)? Pictorially, what is seen at the point of emphasis?

Viewpoint

Where is the camera in relation to the subject? How does this affect the image?

Realism

Does the image create an objective or subjective effect? How?

Lighting

Is external or natural lighting used? How is it used? What is its effect?

Contrast

Discuss the uses of: colour, texture, shape, rhythm and repetition.

How do these affect the reading of the image?

Concept or Idea

Does the image convey an idea? What is it?

Emulation

Consider this image the starting point of a series. How would you approach making images that would fit seamlessly alongside this one?