Artist Talk with Anna Fox

Anna Fox

Anna Fox is a British photographer and a professor of photography at UCA, Farnham. On May 16th she gave a talk on zoom to the OCA students.  

Anna Fox (b.1961) is one of the most acclaimed British photographers of the last thirty years and is Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts. Working in colour, Fox first gained attention for Work Stations: Office Life in London (1988), a study of office culture in Thatcher’s Britain. She is best known for Zwarte Piet (1993-8), a series of portraits taken over a five-year period that explore Dutch black-face’ folk traditions associated with Christmas. Her collaborative projects Country Girls (1996 – 2001) and Pictures of Linda (1983 – 2015) challenge our views about rural life in England while her more intimate works My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words (1999) and Cockroach Diary (1996 – 99) expose the dysfunctional relationships at work in the family home in a raw and often surprising manner. Anna Fox Photographs 1983 – 2007, was published by Photoworks in 2007. Fox’s solo shows have been seen at Photographer’s Gallery, London, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago amongst others and her work has been included in international group shows including Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant Garde at Tate Liverpool and How We Are: Photographing Britain at Tate Britain. She was shortlisted for the 2010 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. Fox is currently working on the research project Fast Forward; women in photography for which she has been awarded a Leverhulme International Networks Grant.

from the post invitation to watch the webinar by Johnathan 515050

Originally recorded on 15.5.20, I watched the recording of this talk. It as 3.5 hours long, so was a good way to watch it, as it gave the opportunity to stop and start it and look up some of the work she mentioned as it went along. The recording was made with strict instructions it was for the use of OCA students only and therefore, there is no link to share.

The talk was about the idea that Fiction influences photography and helps us understand how to construct a story both within individual images and series.

Anna was very engaging and easy to listen to and the subject matter and photographers she presented have given me plenty to research.

The first section of the talk, concentrated on Anna’s work with Fast Forward: women in photography. Which is a project promoting the work of women photographers and challenging the history of photography and putting women back into it where they have been left out.

A discussion about why women don’t network as well as men was interesting. Anna felt that men are just better at promoting each other and consequently help each other to become prominent together. Because women are dealing with inner doubt, they tend to protect themselves from others rather than work with them. There is not scientific research to back up this theory as yet, but it would be good to see if it’s true.

Photographers to research:

  • Neeta Madahar – the Flora series
  • Hannah Starkey
  • Tom Hunter
  • Sophie Cow
  • Sophie Ristelhueber – Every One
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia (b.1951 – American)
  • Allison Goldfrapp – country girls

Top Take Aways:

  • shouldn’t be text added to an image or an image added to text, it’s one work
  • what you fictionalise is part of the story
  • there’s a level of fiction in every story
  • understand the process behind making work, wherever you can.
  • you are the author of the story
  • Read fiction to help you understand the structure of stories.
  • collect text at the same time as as taking the pictures, but don’t collect it to fit images.
  • you can use text to create a story with unrelated images,

References:

“About | Fast Forward.” Fastforward.Photography, 2015, fastforward.photography/about/. Accessed 16 June 2020.

‌“Anna Fox.” Annafox.Co.Uk, 2020, annafox.co.uk/. Accessed 16 June 2020.

‘Five Element Model’

The ‘five element model’ as described by David Bate in ‘Photography: The Key Concepts’, are:

The Face: This can be used to illustrate the feelings of the sitter, given that facial expression can signify a repertoire of different states and moods including happiness, sadness, anger or frustration. It should be noted however that the expressions worn by the face are not necessarily indicative of a fixed state of being.

The Pose: Can be described as a visual argument in itself, or a form of rhetoric. The various body language conveyed by a sitter can be read in combination and can connote all kinds of perceived characteristics. Just as the expression of the face is the rhetoric of mood, so the pose contributes to the signification of character, attitude and social position.

The Clothing: Can be used to indicate a great deal about a sitter’s social identity and how they relate to that identity in their pose. Uniform’s for instance can not only differentiate a factory worker from a police officer, but can also specifically identify rank and the different regiments within the armed services.

The Location / Background: social science, background setting (or lack of it) of the person in the picture.

The Prop: Can significantly alter the meaning given to the identity of the
portrayed figure.

Much of these elements are instinctive when taking portraits of people, but when you are actually cognoscente of them, it can help you really consider what the image is saying about the person.

This is something I have learnt from making mistakes in the past. I am a master at removing elements from images, that I didn’t see when I took the photo because I was concentrating on the face!

Recognition

Bate also describes the three general cataegoresis of people we encounter in portraits:

  • Familiar – friends, family, ourselves, relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, colleagues, etc
  • Unfamiliar – strangers, foreigners, etc
  • Social representations – people who are known to us, but who we do not actually know, i.e. celebrities, politicians royalty etc.

He describes Freud’s theories on the pleasure derived from recognising something familiar which is akin to the current theories on habits described in Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habits’. i.e. we repeat things over and over again and once it is ‘hardwired’ in, our brains create a shortcut to that same outcome, which is why we do things without even thinking about them.

Therefore we look for familiar elements in photos to aid our recognition of the subject. People familiar to us will often be depicted in domestic settings, whereas and those that social representations would be in settings that place them in the place they are know to us. i.e. parliament. Once an association is made with a familiar face, it can then be used effectively for advertising because the association that you have already made with the face can be projected on to the item to be advertised, or vice versa.

The unfamiliar face is therefore the most difficult for us to recognise, in a studio photo with no background and mood lighting, it would be very difficult for us to ascertain a true reading of the person in the image, other than by what the photographer has included, ie. the five elements above.

NB: this is an interesting point to note for the first assignment! What should I include in an image of 5 strangers?

References:

Bate, David. Photography : The Key Concepts. 2nd ed., London, Uk ; New York, Ny, Usa, Bloomsbury Academic, An Imprint Of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016. ’five elements model’ August Sander. (4: Seeing Portraits)

Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit : Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014.

Grayson Perry

Although I’d vaguely heard of Grayson Perry before, I was very interested by his work on identity. In fact, I found him to a very interesting man and intrigued by his view of the world.

Grayson Perry: Turner Prize winner on transvestism, Trump and Brexit

In this video, Perry describes ‘Identity’ as complex. He identifies as a man that likes to wear dresses, rather than a man who is dressing like a woman because that’s what he’d like to be.

I was also interested by the fact that he said that pots and crafts were largely ignored by the ‘art’ world and that he found their thinking interesting and wanted to challenge that.

The Pool meets Grayson Perry: The Directors Cut

In this video Grayson Perry talks about the documentary he made on masculinity. I haven’t seen the documentary, but am absolutely fascinated by the thought process going on to make it. His comments at the end about creative people having an idea and then coming upon what he calls ‘the most difficult bit’, the journey to creating your vision which takes time and compromise and reworking, I related to in my work to date. It’s good hear that other artists, even ones who are world renowned, still have go through this journey to make their art.

This echos the course text (p23) which describes the ‘research and development’ stage of the artistic process. This the time when the artist collects as much information about their subject as they can and uses it alongside their vision and inspiration to create a final piece that the subject will recognise themselves within.

As a result the finished work is not merely a physical portrait of the subject, but should seem more “realistic and honest that the polished veneers we are used to seeing on social media”. This is reminiscent of the work I did for Assignment 3, of Context and Narrative, in which I used shoes as a surrogate for myself to create a set of Instagram pictures, to show that a picture of my face tells you very little, but images of my shoes. there uses and locations worn, said much much more about me.

He also speaks about how he has embraced the media to support his art. This is very enlightening, as an introvert, I’d say, sometimes I hide behind my art rather than using it to explore those unconscious issues that I could bring to the fore.

In another video, I watched, Perry referenced Julian Baggini and British Philosopher who said

“I is a verb, masquearding as a noun”

Julian Baggini

Julian Baggini – THE DIVERSITY OF IDENTITY

Night Moves: A Dark Look through the Lens

15th February 2020 – attended Jerry Webb’s workshop:

A different look at photography. This workshop will take a darker look at life using techniques and ideas that reflect that and provide you with drama and tension in your photographs. How to work in low-light, bright light, twilight and darkness, using a number of different techniques including motion blur, contrasting exposures plus a host of ideas that give you moody, atmospheric and sometimes tension creating images. We will be using varied environments, from wide open spaces, to streets, dark corners and car parks. You will be shown camera set-up and some processing procedures, ultimately demonstrating how you can take dark or moody photographs.

The afternoon will be followed with a photo-walk where you will be tested on these skills, given simple tasks and followed afterwards by an informal review of your work either online or via email.

In the midst of storm Dennis, I expected this workshop to be a complete washout, but it turned out to be really interesting. What’s more I came to the realisation that a lot of my images err on the side of the dark / film noir style. Assignment 4 of Expressing your vision, and Assignment 5 of Context and Narrative to name but two.

Jerry introduced us to a number of different photographers, some of which I have come across before such as Brassai, Cindy sherman, Erik Johansson, as well as fair few I hadn’t.

Film Noir or Dark images were described as having the some or all of the following characteristics:

  • shadow
  • concealment / hidden
  • tension
  • drama
  • enclosed spaces
  • veils
  • cropping faces
  • hidden context, (can’t see what someone is doing)
  • hidden eyes or mouths
  • silhouette
  • moody and atmospheric
  • masks
  • empty spaces
  • blur

People in these kind of images are often, alone, vulnerable, either a victim or perpetrator.

Create drama, by taking images from angles other than eye level, i.e. either looking down, or up. Keep subject simple, lots of contrast and only one light source.

List of Photographers to invesitgate

  • Donald Cameron
  • Bruce Davidson
  • Mark Morrisoe
  • Dennis Oppenheirm
  • Patsy Smith
  • Lindsey Addario
  • Daido Moiyama
  • Trent Park
  • Ben Clera
  • Tsim Sha
  • Wing Shya

“darkness is always visible”

Don McCullin

Following the workshop we undertook a photowalk, with a view to creating ‘dark’ images with the following headings:

  • confusion
  • surreal or double exposure
  • something concealed
  • light in a dark place
  • empty space
  • blur or distortion

As it was incredibly wet we only spent about an hour doing this, but below are some of the images, I’ve taken: