Research – Using Appropriated Material

In my tutorial with David Moore we identified that my use of street photography in relation to my ASL idea wasn’t really very effective. I was trying to combine a physical encounter with a digital one and make a statement about the difference, however the actual effect was just to blur the boundaries between, making it unclear what I was actually trying to focus on. David Moore suggested that I keep the practice of my project entirely digital and concentrate on continuing to make content and try different approaches to see which would be the most effective. What struck me about this advice was his use of the term ‘make’, this would suggest instead of observing and photographing content, I should be really working with content and trying to create something new that hasn’t really been seen before. When brainstorming a few ideas I remembered reading about Mishka Henner in Jonathan Shaw’s New Fotoscapes, who worked with appropriated and found material in contempt of the image saturation we see in current society. In addition to this I recently attended The State of Photography Symposium and was really interested in the project ‘War Primer 2’ by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin which used a combination of archival imagery and sourced imagery from the Internet to make a statement about the similarities and difference in warfare through the years. Working with appropriated material could easily be characterised as ‘making’ because it is essentially a process of reshaping and moulding the content to make a new statement. It could also be considered as extending the current capacity of the original content and using it to make a greater impact than it was previously doing. With this in mind it would appear that using appropriated material could be an interesting and effective method in exploring my ASL concept.

 

Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner is a photographer who seeks out a new approach to producing content, predominately using material that can be sourced either in a physical archive or from the Internet. Henner, like other artists, exercises his freedom of speech as an artist by using this found material in a different way to make a new statement. In his project ‘Photography Is’, Henner investigates the meaning of photography and demonstrates how ambiguous the term appears to be in the age of digital technology. Similar to the work of David Rule, he explores how the practice of photography can be represented through text without the use of any imagery.

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The use of text to represent what is essentially a very pictorial concept is extremely effective, we stop thinking about the superficial aesthetic we are offered and instead we have to delve deeper into the content to find the meaning and gain an interpretation. The use of small circular breakers instead of large spacing or line breakers is extremely effective and whilst making it easier to distinguish each statement, it actually makes quite an intimidating block of text which the viewer is forced to get closers and consider each statement as one individual. The design of this project is extremely effective at encouraging a closer engagement and interaction, it’s given me a lot of ideas in relation to my project and how I can display the content I produce.

Henner has also worked with appropriated photography as well as text, including Robert Frank’s images from his series ‘The Americans’. The images were manipulated to create a very minimalistic representation of the original content, completely changing the meaning.

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Comically titled ‘Less Americains’, Henner works to reflect that just like American culture and society, the process of photography has completed changed since the original project. Therefore this series could be perceived an evolution of the original imagery to suit the changing culture. This process of change and transition is really interesting and I think provides an effective and engaging viewing experience, although there is some familiarity with these renowned imagery, there is still a sense of mystery that I would love to achieve with my work. Henner features a brief statement of ideas surrounding the project on his website, a resource which is extremely valuable in the interpretation of the work. The images still remain ambiguous enough to allow the viewer to take their own meaning, however the support from the text allows the viewer to engage with the project in the appropriate conceptual sense. Although it has been said that a photograph should speak for itself, I believe that discussion and some textual support can be extremely effective in the interpretation process. Reacting to the superficial value of the image is a very short-term process and supporting text helps to continue these ideas and encourages an audience to pursue the ideas further. I will definitely be considering how I can provide some textual support in the exhibition to allow the viewer to engage with my work in the same sense in which I have done with Mishka Henner’s project.

 

Broomberg and Chanarin

I attended the State of Photography Symposium in the Birmingham Library in January originally to find more about the artists Broomberg and Chanarin in relation to my symposium as their work ‘The Day Nobody Died’ was a case study in my research paper. However at the symposium they were talking about their most recent work ‘War Primer 2’, which is a modified version of the original War Primer by Bertolt Brecht. Brecht paired poetry with imagery to try and describe the World Wars that had ravaged society. Broomberg and Chanarin took the book and the original imagery, coupling it with likenesses and contrasts from current day war imagery to make a reworked, revised version.

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This book is incredibly effective and it really works to make a statement about war, although the technology has progressed and there are new methods in warfare, the nature of war is still very much the same and there are the same issues to conflict as there was before. In some cases however the book works to highlight new differences such as the Abu Gharib prison case which only came to light because of social media and the Twin Towers attack which brought the concept of terrorism into the public eye. This work, although simple, is highly effective and really works to make a serious statement about society and the faults associated with people in conflict. Broomberg and Chanarin did discuss quite a serious issue with using found photography in the digital age in relation to their work which could put me at risk when producing my own work. They exercised their artist freedom by using (and not paying for) the Abu Gharib images, which are all technically owned by AP photographic, who bought the rights from the various social media users as soon as the event happened.  A technicality such as this could put me at risk if I am going to be using appropriated material, I need to be careful when gathering material to find the source and make sure there is no licensing on the imagery. Or I need to be prepared to pay any cost to use the material if it comes to it, it wouldn’t matter as much if I wasn’t planning to exhibit this work however as I am going to exhibit my work under my own name, this could be a problem.

 

Doug Rickard 

Predating Mishka Henner, Doug Rickard used appropriated material to provide a new perspective of street photography with his project ‘A New American Picture’. When approaching and viewing this book the viewer is under the impression that this title is nothing other than conventional, typical street photography of America, practised by individuals such as Walter Evans, Robert Frank in black and white and William Eggleston with the emergence of colour photography. However the true concept behind this book is that Rickard collected appropriated material, screenshots from the streets using the Google Street View.

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Whereas the viewer expects and trusts the photographer to have visited these environments and make an accurate representation, what Rickard has actually done is to bypass travelling and experiencing the environment to be able to get a convenient shot. These images are later rephotographed and taken out of the technological context, presented as a book for the final outcome, referencing the books of renowned street photographers. The locations are carefully chosen, based on the concept of economic depression; areas that are abandoned, desolate and neglected. Whereas the first street photography was to explore and record the cultural environment that was America, Rickard sought to investigate the then current state of the American environment. A society that has perhaps moved past the idyllic notion of the American Dream and come to terms with the real challenges of economic and cultural strain. Rickard’s images very much focus on the place, the location, as the people represent a temporal existence. These places have seen both the economic boom and the aftermath of the depression, and are now  being rebuilt or left to waste away. The use of appropriated material exaggerates the age of convenience, Rickard could be criticised for not providing an accurate representation of these locations, as without having been there to photograph them at that exact moment, he couldn’t know what was appropriate to frame. Using Google Street View has caused Rickard to take the outsider stance, where there is no context, only a simple search to find the desired results. However whilst this is a superficially a flawed practice, Rickard is making a statement about the culture of convenience created, which has ultimately left these places to deteriorate. There is a muted notion of seeing content through a screen which enables the viewer to break off easily and forget, something that can’t be avoided when you are physically present. Any gesture of help made online could be considered as empty, comparative to what could be achieved through physical action. It is clear that in this case, appropriated photography was important to use in order to make the relevant statement, this idea of seeing the American environment in a different way is realised through the process of this ‘screen photography’. I need to also consider what appropriated material would do for my project and whether it would be right decision for my creative process.

Alfredo Jaar

Another artist working with appropriation is Alfredo Jaar, whose work ‘Untitled (newsweek) used a variation of magazine covers to make a statement about the news headlines made by Western corporations, how horrors in less economically developed countries can be condensed to a sentence. Alfredo concentrates this series on contrasting the covers of Western corporations with a timeline of the conflict in Rwanda, demonstrating the time it took for these magazines to recognise and dedicate just a cover to the conflict that was happening.

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In an exhibition space these images are displayed as prints with the relevant captions below, describing what was happening in Rwanda at the time these covers were released. In an online space however Jaar has created a web-based response where the viewer reads the description of the conflict and then is presented with the coinciding Western cover. It is clear why the appropriation of the covers was the right choice for Alfredo Jaar’s concept, because it would be untrue to the timeline he is exploring if he was to recreate the covers, the element of true history is lost. However it is his use of the this found material and the way he has adapted his project to suit both an exhibition environment and an online space which is really interesting to me. Although the fundamental dynamic of the project is still the same, it has definitely changed in aesthetic in the transition from exhibition to this online space. Prompting me to consider whether I need to to continue reworking my project after I have decided on my outcome for the exhibition to make it more effective in an online space.

 

Reflection:

Using appropriated or found photography has proved to be an extremely effective practice when approaching digital subject matter. Whether it is in contempt of the image saturation like Henner, or whether you use both old and new material to make a comparison like Broomberg and Chanarin, it is evident that it you use the material effectively then the work can be brilliant. One thing I’ve noticed about both Henner and Broomberg and Chanarin is that the output of working with found photography is very different, because they have different purposes. I need to consider what I really want to say when I am using found material before making experimentations because the process of working with this found imagery really affects the result. In the case of Broomberg and Chanarin they had to follow the aesthetic and structure of the previous War Primer book in order to let the viewer make the comparisons between the imagery without questioning the actual artefact that much. With Henner’s work he aimed to remove nearly all familiarity in the images to test whether the audience would feel a connection with them anymore; this reflects the way America has changed since the original images were taken. Another thing to remember when producing the work is my vulnerability to copyright and licensing and that I might not be able to legally use everything I come across without paying for the use. This would possibly restrict the way I could use the image and whether I could actually use it at all for my concept. If I am planning to source images I need to find a way to use them without getting into trouble, for example if I source imagery from social media, I need to read the terms and conditions. Doug Rickard and Alfredo Jaar have demonstrated that found photography is often the only method that is suitable for the concept you are investigating, however especially in Jaar’s case he has introduced the idea that I need to adapt my project to suit the different spaces in which I want to engage people.

One aspect I have realised when researching about found photography, is that it really relates back to the project I started in the Phonar module, where I collected the inconsequential data of an individual online with the view of creating a reverse-engineered portrait. The process of gathering portraiture online, especially using social media or web databases like Wikipedia relates to the ideas I established in Phonar which I wanted to pursue further. The idea of using imagery, particularly images of people in a different way is expanding the concept of the Post Photographic Portrait further and developing it into a full body of work. After researching artists and evaluating the relevance of this method in relation to my own concept and ideas I have previously engaged with, I have made the decision to use found photography in my own work. It appears to be a highly appropriate approach for my Final Major Project, and will open my practice up to new areas whilst developing on ideas I have previously established and researched.

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