Week 11 Positioning Practise
My day job is dance photography, capturing the lines, form and shapes the dancers produce on the dancefloor or in the studio. Dance is the ultimate performance art. They train everyday, pushing their bodies to the extreme, working through injury, to become more flexible, stronger and fitter.
It is with this in mind and my work in progress with Drew, I am particularly drawn to performance artist Heather Cassils and his performance, Becoming an Image. In the performance, Non Binary Cassils attacks the 1500lbs of clay with his fists and knees in front of an audience in the dark, the only light coming from the flash from the accompanying photographer Eric Charles. Charles shoots blind but captures images of the attack on the clay, the performance frozen within the images. Heather is a long time advocate of the Trans and Queer community, he is also a personal trainer and stunt actor. His ethos is training changes your life. Metal castes of the beaten clay are being used as statues to commemorate the lives of murdered trans people throughout the USA.
The performance reminds me and my work with Drew in that he has many layers, many sides to him, like the Rubik’s cube. The beaten clay could be a metaphor for Drew and his many challenges he has with mental health and anxiety, his challenge to become visible as a man. I also hope my own work with Drew can be seen as a beacon of hope for older Trans people and it is never too late to become the person they have always been.
CASSILS Heather. 2013. Becoming An Image. Available at: https://www.cassils.net/cassils-artwork-becoming-an-image [Accessed 24/04/2021]
Fig.1. CHARLES, Eric. 2013. Heather Cassils/Becoming an Image. Available at: https://www.cassils.net/cassils-artwork-becoming-an-image [accessed 24/04/2021]
Week 8 Module Leader Seminar: An Agent for Change?
Christmas 1999 I was given a beautiful book, The Photographic History of the 20th Century (Purnell 1999), well I thought it was, it turned out to be pages full of photographs of deaths, accidents, plane crashes, wars, starvation with the odd moon landing. It was thoroughly depressing, so much so I have never looked at it since.
It reminds me of the new word ‘doomscrolling’. Humans seem to revel in bad news, in horrific imagery and no doubt the 24 hour news channel’s viewing figures will rise when something bad happens. Is it in our psyche to look (gaze), to be horrified but fascinated at the same time? Our lives are wrapped around recorded events out with our control, we have all had a ‘where were you when……’ question I would wager.
We had our own 9/11 in July 2015 with the London bombings. At that time, with no Facebook, twitter etc, i was unaware of it happening until the next day as one of my children was taken ill. Today, with more and more 24hr news and social media, it would impossible to ignore. Is the saturation of imagery satisfying a demand or feeding it?
The outrage and attack on the Muslim community was fed by the ‘War on Terror’ and the images that followed, Photographer Terakopian said of this next image.
‘Everyone, including the lady with the burnt face, and even the crying lady, were very dignified. I saw a gentleman, bandaged on his neck and head, blood on his face and shirt, still carrying his newspaper (now covered in blood) as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was amazing. This was the British spirit; the stiff upper lip talked of by Sir Winston Churchill.’
As if we should celebrate the stoicism and spirit of the blitz on this day of death and destruction.
Yet compare this with the outpouring of grief from a Syrian father who’s two children were killed in air raid in Syria, a daily occurrence in Aleppo in 2013. We are desensitised to his suffering and grief because of where we live or is it because we know what religion he follows.
TERAKOPIAN, Edmond. 2015. 10 YEARS ON FROM THE TERRORIST ATTACKS ON LONDON (online) Available at https://photothisandthat.co.uk/tag/terrorist-attack/ (Links to an external site.) [accessed 16 March 2021]
Fig 1. @theawkwardyeti
Fig 2. The Photographic History of the 20th Century (Purnell)
Fig 3. ©Edmond Terakopian 2005
fig. 4 ©Edmond Terakopian 2005
fig 5. ©Muzaffar Salman 2013
Week 7 Module Leader Seminar: Are You Drowning Yet?
The photo of 4 men on a night out in Birmingham became an viral internet sensation with the use of memes and photoshop to give it an unique perspective on how the guys or more importantly how they were dressed, were in some cases ridiculed by others. I would bet a good few of the protagonists and editors were sat at home in their pyjamas or worse but it didn’t stop the almost deluge of memes and edits from appearing. It also brought to the fore the use of Deepfake technology or Synthetic Media as the industry likes to call it. The lads were edited to sing sea shanties from the image.
Fig 1; Birmingham Mail
In South Korea, Newscaster Kim Joo-Ha read out the headlines in a daily broadcast on National TV apart from she didn’t, it was a computer generated copy of her closely mimicking her voice and facial expressions. Deepfake Technology is advancing at an amazing rate with companies already looking at the training videos using copies of people to train their employees around the world in their own language with computer generated people who look like them too. How long before Falmouth create their own computer generated lecturer? (Sorry Steph)
Yet in among all this new technology and Artificial intelligence, the humble photograph survives. The power of the still image can sway opinion, make or break people as Eloise has written about so eloquently.
Fig 2. Douglas Stenhouse.
In my dance photography practise, I have the unique power to create moments in time, never to be repeated, the hand, the fingers, the leg will never be in the exact same position twice. So far, I have resisted the need to turn the foot out or straighten a limb, how long before an editing platform does it for me automatically?
John Berger said
‘One might argue that photography is as close to music as to painting.’
I like this analogy as it tells me that , like music, photography can be built on, reshot or re written, a photographer can, like a composer, put an unique spin on a scene or work originally thought of by another. Perhaps we can’t be original anymore but we can embellish and rethink how we shoot, compose and publish. Exciting times.
BERGER, John. (2013) Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin Classics, p.19
DEBUSSMAN Jr Bernd. 2021. ‘Deepfake is the future of Content Creation’ BBC News 7th March 2021 [online] available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56278411 (Links to an external site.) [accessed 07 March 2021].
Week 5 Peer Led Forum: Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men
The Body and the Land
The first person I asked about imagining the land as feminine was Drew. Being a Transman who had lived in a female role for the majority of his life, I thought he would have an unique perspective on this theory that we as males dominate the landscape. He didn’t see it that way.
‘I don’t think I do actually gender nature… I’m thinking about those stereotypically “feminine” aspects of it, such as particular colours, flowers, smooth rock formations or delicate animals and structures and even then, I don’t get any feeling of gender.’ Drew H.W.
In Bright’s 1985 article she says
‘Merely supplementing the limited canonical notions of landscape photography with an-Other, equally limited and ahistorical, may have the short-term effect of populating the walls of “women’s spaces” with a certain easily identifiable style of work, but as was the case with the first phase of feminist painting in the early 70s, it will only serve to create new sexist stereotypes or entrench old ones more deeply.’
Combining both Steph and Jesse’s lecture videos, I found these two stunning adverts from the tobacco industry. First the male structure of land and power signified in a packet of cigarettes and the strap line ‘Big Flavor’ and the almost patronising image of a female face on Mount Rushmore with the strapline ‘You’ve come a long way baby’
Growing up in the Scottish Borders, it always intrigued me that nearly every small hill has a folly built on it mostly by men to remember themselves or significant others. ‘Baron’s Folly’ was built in 1780 by Baron Robert Rutherford as a summerhouse and it’s claimed also a meeting place for him and his lover of the time. It’s perhaps inevitable that men have dominated the landscape historically simply because of how it was used with landowners like the Baron inheriting vast tracts of it.
Yesterday’s follies are today’s works of art perhaps. Antony Gormley’s Another Place in Crosby, Merseyside. 100 larger than life sculptures of himself stuck in the sand staring out into the Mersey Estuary. All male, complete with ‘details’ as my two young companions in the below photo remarked.
BRIGHT, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985). An Inquiry into the Cultural Meanings of Landscape Photography. Available at: htt (Links to an external site.)Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985) | by exposure magazine | exposure magazine | Medium (Links to an external site.) https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/re-exposure-of-mother-nature-and-marlboro-men-201dc897fc6c [accessed 22 February 2021].
Fig 1. Smoke gets in your eyes: 20th century tobacco advertisements [online]. Available at: https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2014/03/smoke-gets-in-your-eyes-20th-century-tobacco-advertisements.html [accessed 23 February 2021].
Fig 2 Borders Ariel Photography https://borders.co.uk/listing/borders-aerial-photography/
Week 4 Fascinating Look
I don’t care if it hurts
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
So fuckin’ special
I wish I was special
Creep, Radiohead, 1987.
Thom Yorke, guitarist in the band wrote in 1993
“I have a real problem being a man in the ’90s… Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem. To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you’re in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do… It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it’s not brutal in its arrogance. It is one of the things I’m always trying: To assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it.” (Oct 2020)
It’s a sensitive subject, the male gaze, we are not supposed to look or are we? We are bombarded with images every day. I did a random search on my Instagram and some of my interests, dance, fitness and newspaper cartoons were there. The fitness images were predominantly women in tight fitting clothing. Should I feel guilty about how the algorithms chosen by Instagram give me the female form when I search? Most of the fitness images are selfies or self shot, have they then given me permission to gaze?
It’s not new, French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas is known for his ballerina paintings but he was originally well known for his work with ‘the Nude’. Again not exclusively but mainly the female body form.
I have a feeling this might be a lively debate this week.
RADIOHEAD. 1987. Creep (2nd verse).
WHATLEY,J. 2020. Why Radiohead hate their Anthemic song ‘Creep’. (Published 2020). [online] faroutmagazine.co.uk. Available at: https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/why-radiohead-hate-creep-song/ [Accessed 19th February 2021].
Instagram search page @funkyfotoUK
Edgar Degas 1890 .https://edgar-degas.org/
So Where is the Author now?
Boxing Day 1985 saw the relaunch of the iconic Levi 501 jeans with the memorable advert of a handsome guy (Nick Kaman) stripping off in a laundrette on prime time television. The Laundrette was set in 1950s USA, a time when jeans and t shirts were popular with movie stars like James Dean and Elvis. Originally worn by cowboys and manual workers in the Midwest of America, in the UK, Levi 501s were part of the skinhead scene worn with Doc Martin ‘Bovver’ boots and Ben Sherman button down collar shirts. They were synonymous with gangs and the football hooligan culture of the 1970s. Levi Strauss’ relaunch to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘I Heard it on the Grapevine’ made not only the actor/model into a pop star it gave Marvin a top ten hit single in the UK Chart 20 years after its first release. It was also a year after the Miner’s Strike came to a bitter end and Levi jeans sales jumped 800% after it was aired as the new wealth found in some parts of the UK saw the 501 become a stable brand bought from places like Frasers and Selfridges on the high Street.
It also launched a number of parodies including this one (watch to the end) from Carling Black Label lager. the parody in my mind being you would be struggling to look anything like Nick Kaman drinking copious amounts of cheap lager.
The 2015 John Lewis Christmas campaign man in the moon advert I found to be harmless and actually extremely well done. First of all, nobody would believe the old man is real and of course balloons would not reach the moon and that is one heck of a handheld telescope she sent to be able to see into someone’s bedroom. Hence I didn’t find the advert offensive. I did find Alison Pearson’s article of the time deeply so. I guess it’s matter of where your mind is. If anything, a man stripping off to his underpants in a crowded laundrette should have been met with an outcry and probably would have been 30 years later.
Don McCullin’s coverage of The troubles of Northern Ireland included this image of kids escaping CS gas as they attacked British soldiers in Derry in 1971. His images were dark and melancholic as he covered the weekly battles between the people of Bogside and the British Army. The post Punk band Killing Joke used a version of the image complete with their name on their self titled debut album cover. McCullin could not have known in those dark times, the image would be used to sell the music of an English band from Notting Hill a full nine years later and that the troubles would still be ongoing.
Fig 3. Don McCullin (1971) Killing Joke (1980)
McCULLIN, Don, Sleeping with Ghosts; page 108. Jonathon Cape, London. 1994
I am particular drawn to the work of Cold War Steve aka Christopher Stevens and his collages made up from current news photographs and then used as political satire.
It reminds me of the old Rostrum camera work of Terry Gilliam in Monty Python’s Flying Circus when I was younger.
CWS draws his own inspiration from the medieval Dutch artists Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. However he calls himself an artist, not a photographer and his work is based on images gleamed from google and other sources, is this ethical and what would I think if he used one of mine without asking?
In my own work, I am exploring the enormous subject of Gender Dysphoria and Autism by following the journey of Drew, a Transman who is on the Autism Spectrum as he copes with ADHD and AS as well as beginning his hormone treatment. We have collaborated to create images and words that try to explain his wide range of emotions and difficulties living in world that can makes no sense to him at times.
From the outside, he is becoming more masculine in appearance with facial hair and muscle gain, inside he continues to face issues and see day to day living as major challenges. From Drew’s selfies below, I have tried to construct how he sees himself in the glass and to show the multitude of layers and filters behind his every day thought process.
A Question of Authenticity
In 1993, the heads of UK police photography department gathered at the annual Scenes of Crime forensic conference to hear a lecture by renowned Digital photography forerunner John Hensall (1993) to learn if the then newish technology could be an asset to their work. John was an expert in his field having worked for the BBC in their digital creations department and had published many books and articles on the subject.
The heads of departments were enthralled with John’s presentation, (as recalled by Patrick Davies then the head of Greater Manchester Police Photography department), until he mentioned one word; Manipulation. An audible gasp Patrick told me when we spoke later.
That word when dealing with Crown evidence put back the introduction of digital imaging to forensic science for a number of years. It wasn’t until the Home Office introduced the relevant legislation through the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and ACPO (2006) https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/25/contents that the inevitable move to digital imaging began.
Alexander Garner moving the body of the dead soldier is similar to Don McCullin’s confession (2013) to setting up the belongings of a Viet Cong soldier around his dead body to show the young enemy soldier is a human being caught up in the horrors of war. Because we know the image is not truly authentic, does it detract from the powerful representation of death in a pointless conflict?
I would argue manipulation of authenticity in photography has been around for since the beginning. It’s said Abraham Lincoln’s portrait of 1860 was a composite of another politician’s body and Lincoln’s head.
It’s my aim to enhance the authenticity. I use all types of light modifiers to achieve this. Is the use of an external flash a manipulation of reality? When I used to shoot weddings using film, the framing and composition was done in camera. I used a handmade cardboard ring cut with multiple jagged edges to give a dark vignette on a wide open lens. This allowed me to frame the couple and make them the main focus of the image. Is it any more authentic than adding a vignette post shoot?
Photography is even more unique as an art in that nowadays we can imagine the same image as many times as we want. We can change the colour, the contrast, exposure, crop, add layers or filters, we can (re)move someone, straighten a leg or remove blemishes from skin. I have enjoyed the Bernie Saunders memes and composites that have circulated on the internet. Perhaps we forget our images are not always made to inform but also to entertain.
The word Image comes from the Latin word Imitari or “to copy or imitate”, the word imagine comes from the from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture” I embrace enhanced authenticity of images with imagination .
HENSALL, John. 1993 http://www.johnhenshallphotography.com/wiki/index.html. [accessed 31/01/21]
YENTOB, Alan; MORRIS Jacqui &David. 2013 McCullin; Audio Visual Document. BBC production for BBC1 [accessed 01/07/2020]
Fig 1. McCULLIN, Don. 1968 Sleeping with Ghosts 1994 Jonathan Cape, London
Fig 2. Unknown. 2012 ‘12 Historic Photographs That Were Manipulated‘ https://twistedsifter.com/2012/02/famously-doctored-photographs/ [accessed 31/01/21]
Fig 3. STENHOUSE Douglas 1991 and 2021
Fig 4. STENHOUSE Douglas 2018 &2021
‘I’m neither male nor female and yet I am both, in between and on the edges of them.’ Ignacio Rivera (2016)
In the last module, I created a 3d version of this Rubik’s cube to highlight different aspects of my subject Drew as he navigates his way through life as a Transgender man and also being on the Autism Spectrum. Each square represented a different aspect of his journey, he’s a single parent, there’s a symbol on there representing his ADHD and ASD, for his gender or his sexuality. All important facets that make up the person he is.
In my debrief with my tutor, I was asked if a glossary or a guide to the squares and symbolic references would have been better to allow people to understand what each square represented. I had to agree it would.
However, in retrospect and answering the question above, perhaps its better left as it is, allowing the viewer to seek the answers to their own questions. On the subject of sexuality for example, what does pansexual mean? What does it mean if someone identifies as genderqueer?
The squares facing the front are all flags representing different sexual identities. There are many different coloured flags as you can see. Not all of them represent Drew or do they? Has he already understood his sexual identity or is it very much in question? It’s a question Drew and myself have been discussing over the winter months and this part of Drew’s journey will very much be the focus of my research and work for this module.
Starting on his Testosterone injection treatment has focused his mind even more on who he is and raised the question of is his sexuality. What I have learnt through my research is gender and sexual fluidity is a major topic and I hope to bring a better understanding of how it affects his life and the wider trans community through my collaboration with Drew.
RIVERA, Ignacio. 2016. Trans Writers Who are Redefining Masculinity : Available at https://www.pride.com/transgender/2016/1/11/5-trans-writers-who-are-redefining-masculinity [accessed 2nd February 2021]
Christmas Preparation Task
Last module was very much about my research project and the Story of Drew and his transition. Back to my own practise I have taken my time to think about where it is now, where it is going and where it was one year ago. As I lost all my bookings, not some, all overnight, it took a little while but then Shah’s dance quote brought me back to life.
“DANCE – Defeat All Negativity (via) Creative Expression.”
― Shah Asad Rizvi (2019)
The intent of my practise is a very good question. Rocking along in my own world last year with a diary full to bursting with live competition work, the impending pandemic suddenly brought everything to a halt. Rumours of starting again in the summer, autumn, winter were quickly proved to be wrong. I cannot see it returning in the same format and it could be 2022 before we get any live events back on at all. Therefore my intent has to adapt to the new circumstances. The studio work I have had until the latest lockdown has been very successful and I will continue to work with Strobe lighting and experimenting with shape and form to compliment the shape and form of the dancer.
Using the grey background allows me to concentrate on the dancer, the images produced have no hiding place, no excuses if I miss a shot. The only difference is I can repeat the pose, something I could never do when shooting live.
This summer, lockdown permitting, my intent is to to use more fantasy and props to make the studio experience something more dreamy. I have ideas to create famous movie scenes using dancers as the subject, to put dancers in situations of work but in ballet shoes or tutus. To create sequences of shots always remembering the dancer is the primary subject of the process, not an accessory. Some ideas already started are the Joker’s stairs scene and the fight/dance scene at the start of of House of the Flying Daggers
The main focus in all my shoots is the dancer. There are some who see the dancers as part of the overall image such as The Ballerina Project or Jonathan at Entertainment Photography Services and his use of the American landscape with the dancer somewhere within.
Myself, I enthuse over the work of ex dancer turned photographer Rachel Neville. New York based Rachel emphasises the technique and form of her subject first and it shows in her work. Dancers practise day in day out to learn and hold a position in a certain way. corrections can be the position of a finger or thumb, a slight twist of the hips or ankle. It is also the collaboration of work between the art of dance and the art of image creating that I adore. To create an image where it wows other dance professionals rather than other image makers is a job well done.
Rachel also offers a Social Media course for dancers to use her images to promote themselves.
Moving forward I admire the work of portrait photographer Haseo Hasegawa https://www.hasegawahaseo.com/ and his unique use of colour and nature. I intend to include much more colour and fantasy situations in my dance work. Should be a lot of fun.
Rizvi, Shah Azad. 2019. Divan of Shah. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48696047-divan-of-shah [accessed 23 June 2020].
Figure 1: Jonathan GIVENS. n.d. Unknown. Entertainment Photo Services [online]. Available at: http://www.epsportraits/#slide-7 [accessed 22 January 2021].
Figure 2: Rachel NEVILLE. n.d. Unknown. Rachel Neville Photography [online]. Available at:://www.instagram.com/rachel__neville/?hl=enlide-7 [accessed 22 January 2021].
Figure 3: Haseo Haregawa. Haseo Haregawa Photography [online]. Available at:https://www.instagram.com/haseo_hasegawa/?hl=en [accessed 22 January 2021].