Sunday, 14 March 2010

Photography and Simulation: 1

I have already described and explained I think the nature of simulation as discussed by Dr Dean Lockwood in his lecture ‘Is it Life or is it Memorex?’: What is Simulation? Okay, so to some extent I have described it. See the entry for Digital Culture: 5.

I wish to talk briefly about simulation and photography. Although simulation is association with digital photography and other imagery made via the computer my examples are “originally” printed on paper via the use of a chemical process and the use negatives, again produced via a chemical process- or are at least made to seem so.

By the 1970s modernist ideas about authorship, innovation, experimentation, progress and originality were being challenged by post-modernism. Post-modernism considered art and photography amongst other forms of communication differently. Photography was now going to serve a “larger system of social and cultural coding” (Cotton, Charlotte, 2004 p. 191). The post-modernists, certainly Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine “became acutely aware that to present an image out of context is to alter that image forever” (Wheeler, D 1991, p. 311).

Sherman, Cindy. Film Stills Series.

Cindy Sherman produced a long series of photographic simulations the Untitled Film Stills series in 1978. Described by Sherman as “one frame moving making” (Wheeler, D 1991, p. 326), this series drew from B-movies and on a whole repertoire of female stereotypes. These pictures are not just pastiches of a generic type of visual image, but operate as a critique of the cultural codes that construct femininity in our culture. Sherman condenses the role of model and photographer and as Charlotte Cotton says “she both observer and observed” (2004, p.193). Her work raises many issues to do with the representation of women: for who are the representations we see on a daily basis for? Femininity can be described as performative. Sherman appears playing with multiple images of female-ness, seemingly revealing that that the post-modern self and all identities are equally artificial and constructed. This seems to support Judith Butler’s reading of gender as performance (Ward, P 2003 pp. 133-136).

Cindy Sherman Untitled #224 1990

Caravagio Self-Portrait as Sick Bacchus

Sherman’s work moved from black and white film to Cibacrome colour and expanded her repertoire. In the late eighties and early nineties Sherman abandoned popular culture and focused upon art history, “decking herself out as subjects, male as well as female, in paintings from the “schools” of such Old Masters as Holbein, Watteau, Goya” and above, Caravaggio. Here she plays Carravagio, “playing” dress-up as the sick Bacchuss (Wheeler, D 1991, p. 326). Sherman helps to enlarges photography’s history by including “styles preceded the camera’s invention, a medium whose democracy is reflected in Sherman’s oeuvre, where social and aesthetic hierarchies crumble as the artist explores with equal interest a great dispersion of differences among genres and idioms” (Wheeler, D 1991, p.326). Sherman’s work seems to reflect the fragmentary and mediated nature of our culture, society and our experience.

Richard Prince Untitled [cowboy] 1980-84

Richard Prince came to prominence in the late nineteen seventies as an appropriator of mass culture. In 1980 he began to re-photograph Malboro cigarette adverts. By re-representing and cropping the familiar imagery, cutting out the text, isolating elements and placing the image within the context of a gallery setting, Prince seems to be reflecting on American iconography and forces the viewer to re-read a mythical representation of the American west. Traditionally signs are taken in all at once by a viewer. We do not inspect advertisements like we may inspect an oil painting. Prince in re-contextualising the image may wish to attempt to slow down the eye and the pace we look at the visual.

Levine, Sherrie. After Walker Evans.


Even starker than Prince in her approach to re-photography is Sherrie Levine. Notoriously she re-photographed reproductions of famous male photographers: Rodchenko, Edward Weston and Walker Evans (above). Levine exhibited the work as her own in an “assertion that all art, far from being autonomous, is the product of history, memory and culture” Levine cited Roland Barthe in her defence: “a picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres.” Edward Weston for example had copied Greek sculpture in his photographs of his young son’s torso (Wheeler, D 1991, p. 326-327). These works and Levine’s other appropriations are a critiques of patriarchal notions of authorship and genius, of modernist ideas of originality, innovation and skill-- perhaps all patriarchal constructions.

Susan Lipper Untitled 1993-98

Paul Strand, White Fence 1916

Susan Lipper’s descriptions of small town America draw upon the heritage of its representation within the context of documentary photography. Lipper seeks out and finds in contemporary places connections with potentially an archive of pre-existing imagery. Untitled 1993-98 makes a formal reference to the work of the American photographer Paul Strand (1890-1970) and specifically The White Fence (1916) which Charlotte Cotton describes as a photograph that embodies “ a key moment in photography’s modernist history” (2004, p.214-5).

Zoe Leonard and Cheyl Dunne, The Fae Richards Photo Archive 1993-96

The above imagery by Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, is their attempt to reclaim and challenge official history, and construct positive representations of the marginalised. Fae Richard’s (1908-73) “is a celebrated African-American Hollywood actress and singer” invented by Leonard and Dunye (Campany, D 2003, p. 60-1). The Fae Richard’s Photo Archive 1993-6 sees the artistic appropriation of visual styles and cultural stereotypes in an attempt to blur the distinctions between pastiche and the real. These careful forgeries are constructed in such a way to seem authentic and challenge the “clichéd tragedies of the lives of infamous black singers and performers” that dominate collective cultural memory with a representation of a successful black lesbian who was creative, affluent and happy (Cotton, C 2004, p.198-9).

Jemima Stehli, After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come', 1999

Helmut Newton, Here they Come! 1981

Jemima Stehli, After Helmut Newton’s Here They Come! 1999 is a critique of Helmut Newton’s Here they Come! (1981). This remaking of an iconic image emulates Newton’s style and the pose of one of the models, but Stehli’s authorship is evident by the inclusion of the shutter release cable. The critique uses a similar approach to Sherman’s in that she becomes both the subject and object of the work challenging the objectification and stereotyping of women.

Roger Fenton, The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855. The Royal Collection c. 2005.

Paul Seawright, Valley, 2002. Kerlin Gallery

Paul Seawright's imagery connects with moments in history. His image of the Valley from 2002 is part of a series called Hidden commissioned by Imperial War Museum in response to the conflict in Afghanistan. We do not exactly witness here scenes of conflict, but of the aftermath of battle. Commentators have noted that these pictures “draw us to these edges or fringes of things” and show us “photographs of scenes when the photographer is too late” (Lister, M 2007 p. 259). These photographs seem to pay homage to Roger Fenton’s (1819-69) war photography from the Crimea. This is an example of contemporary world events being mediated through pre-existing image-making.

An Overview:

Modernism, key ideas:

– Experimentation
– Innovation
– Individualism
– Progress
– Purity
– Originality

Post-modernism, key ideas:
– Appropriation or Simulation (see the ideas of Jean Baudrillard) is one approach by image makers
– Hyperrealism
– Questions ideas of originality, authenticity, authorship and skill and anything else on the previous list.
– Pastiche
– Parody
– The Art of Quotation
– Postmodern Art and Visual Culture largely informed by the work of:
– Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and the art movement Dada (1915-1924)
– Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935). Influences John Berger’s Ways of Seeing Chapter 1 Episode 1 (1972)
– Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Pop Art
– Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) Simulations (1983)
– Roland Barthe (1915-1980) “Death of the Author” in Image-Music-Text (1977)


Post-modernity and simulation can be about the:

– Critiquing ideas about authorship (Levine, Prince, Lipper)
– Attacking ideas about genius (Lipper, Levine)
– A critique of the art world, patriarchy and so on.
– A strategy of critiquing an authors work (Levine, Stehli)
– A way of critiquing objectification and stereotyping and challenging cultural clichés (Sherman, Stehli, Leonard & Dunyne )
– A strategy of witty appropriation
– Blur distinctions between pastiche and the ‘real’ (Leonard & Dunyne and the others)
– Reclaiming history (Leonard & Dunyne, Sherman, Levine, Lipper)

Campany, D (2003)
Art and Photography London and New York: Phaidon

Cotton C (2004) The Photograph as Contemporary Art London: Thames and Hudson

Lister, M (2007) “A Sack of Sand: Photography in the Age of Information”
Convergence: The International Journal of Research Vol. 13 No. 3 pp. 251-274.

Ward, G (2003)
Postmodernism London: Teach Yourself

Wheeler, D (1991)
Art Since Mid-Century London: Thames and Hudson

No comments:

Post a Comment