Week 11 – Critical perspective

I spent this week completing and handing in my assignment and on joining the forum discussion. This week’s topic was to discuss your practice in relation to established critical perspectives. Further, to reflect on the relevance of theory on your practice and what are the most important aspects of communicating and contextualizing photography.

I had not previously given a great deal of thought to photography theory or its relevance to my practice, however, this is changing as the course progresses, although, I think I need more time on this subject before I can come to any conclusions.

My current practice captures industrialised landscapes and the processes that exist within them. With agriculture literally on my doorstep, this is an accessible theme to explore. My preferred aesthetic is somewhat artistic, which given the subjects I take pictures of causes me to question the validity of my approach and if this diminishes the hard edged issues I photograph.

I found this quote from Susie Linfield insightful, as there is probably no one particular approach to documenting difficult topics.

Some are criticized for taking too-beautiful pictures, while others are chided for images that are too ugly to bear; some are criticized for a gruesome realism, while others are accused of being overly romantic in their approach. (Susie Linfield 2010: 44)”

Creating artistic representations of an industrialized landscape can be interpreted as aestheticising the reality and papering over the social and cultural issues that such a landscape produces. The work of Trent Parke in ‘Crimson line’ is an example where he creates beautiful images of billowing smokestacks and industrial skylines at daybreak.

AUSTRALIA. South Australia. From the series, The Crimson Line. Adelaide. 2019.

Contrasted with the 1983 ‘Durham Coalfields’ work by John Davies, here the gritty reality of the British industrial landscape is laid bare. Even here, his choice of black and white changes the aesthetic of the work and interpretation. I found this quote by John interesting as he distinguishes between society and his aim to explore our relationship to landscape.

I do not attempt to judge the complex evolution of a postindustrial society; my aim is to explore our relationship to landscape.

John Davies, Durham Coalfield, 1983

In looking at his images and knowing the time period they were created, it’s difficult not to take the social aspects into consideration and the impact the closure of these mines had on the local communities.

On my photographing aspects of the meat industry, this quote from artist Sue Coe provides another perspective; “I couldn’t care less about whether people call my work cartooning, drawing, painting or whatever,” she declares. “I don’t read art magazines and have no interest in painterly issues. My work is an opportunity to present information.”

Sue Coe, Standing Pig, 1993

I like this statement that her work is an opportunity to present information; I find it easy to get caught up in the image and forget to step back and refocus on why I took it in the first place and what I want to say with it. In the words of Ansel Adams, “If you take photographs, make the photographs useful.”

My tutor suggested I have a look at the series Aux abattoirs de La Villett by Eli Lotar. Although many of the images are brutal, there is an aesthetic element to the work. The picture below an example, the severed cow’s legs are visually jarring, but this seems more like a posed still life than the remains of a group of cows. The aesthetics of documentary images is an area I need to research, does beautifying an image of tragedy diminish the message.

In my work I like to experiment with differing representations and realise that by changing the aesthetic the context and interpretation may alter, therefore, without understanding or taking into consideration other perspectives, what it communicates may not be what I intend.

Eli Lotar, Abbatoir, 1929

BATAILLE, Georges. 1929. ‘”ABATTOIR” de Georges Bataille’.
http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2017/02/abattoir-de-georges-bataille/ [accessed 10 Dec 2020].

Cieplak, Piotr. (2017). Chapter 2: Images of After: Gilles Peress and Sebastião Salgado. 10.1057/978-1-137-57988-1_3.

CLAY-ROBINSON, Matthew. 2016. ‘Sue Coe: Porkopolis’. Available at: https://yorkcollegeartgalleries.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/sue-coe-catalog.pdf [accessed 10 Dec 2020].

DAVIES, John. 1983. ‘Durham Coalfield – Amber Collection’. Amber [online]. Available at: https://www.amber-online.com/collection/durham-coalfield/ [accessed 10 Dec 2020].

Karolina Kolenda, Aestheticising the Post-Industrial Debris : Industrial Ruins in Contemporary British Landscape Photography

‘Les Abattoirs De La Villette Par Eli Lotar’. 2013. La Villette [online]. Available at: http://canalsquare.blogspot.com/2013/12/les-abattoirs-de-la-villette-par-eli.html [accessed 10 Dec 2020].

LINFIELD, Susie. 2011. The Cruel Radiance. University of Chicago Press. P44

MARKOGIANNIS, Nerris. 2015. ‘Aesthetics And Ideology Of Sebastiao Salgado’. New York Photography Diary | Exhibition & Event Guide [online]. Available at: https://ny-photography-diary.com/sebastiao-salgado-by-nerris-markogiannis/ [accessed 12 Dec 2020].

PARKE, Trent. 2019. ‘The Crimson Line’. [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/the-crimson-line-trent-parke/ [accessed 10 Dec 2020].

Slaughter of the Soul : Sue Coe’s images of horror in the meat industry indict a dark consciousness that she sees at the core of man’s cruelty to man

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