I have seen in many other students blogs and assigments conversation about ‘Deadpan’ photography, but haven’t really come across it in the course, except in relation to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s ‘water towers’. Therefore, I thought I’d do a bit of research into this style of photography.
The most popular definition of this genre is that a deadpan photograph is devoid of emotion.
the subject is not posed and should be straight on to the camera
the subject is looking directly at the camera
the photographer is not showing an connection with the image
shoot in flat light
the image is often desaturated.
“It’s a detached art, where the photographer merely captures something as it is, flat and almost uninteresting at first glance” (Depositphotos).
I actually quite like this aesthetic and can see it’s use to record social history and people in their places, but in my own photography, I have always strove to capture emotion and connectedness, which is the complete opposite of this style. Having said that, I would like to include it in my repertoire as it fits well with conceptual art to tie concept to outcomes.
I realise from researching this that my first assignment although based on Sander’s images, are actually not deadpan at all and offer a greater depth of connection between myself and the subject.
“Alec Soth.” Alecsoth.Com, 2020, alecsoth.com/photography/. Accessed 8 July 2020.
Depositphotos. “Deadpan Photography Trend In 2018 – Depositphotos – Medium.” Medium, Medium, 13 Mar. 2018, medium.com/@Depositphotos/deadpan-photography-trend-in-2018-73a26d802cc1. Accessed 8 July 2020.
“Jitka Hanzlová.” Jitkahanzlova.Com, 2020, www.jitkahanzlova.com/menue.htm. Accessed 8 July 2020.
“So What Exactly Is Deadpan Photography?” Student Resources, 29 Aug. 2014, www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/what-is-deadpan-photography/#:~:text=Deadpan%20portraits%20show%20people%20in,colors%20tend%20to%20be%20muted. Accessed 8 July 2020.
“Stephen Shore.” Stephenshore.Net, 2020, stephenshore.net/photographs/uncommon/index.php?page=13&menu=photographs. Accessed 8 July 2020.
stevemiddlehurst. “The Deadpan Aesthetic.” Steve Middlehurst Context and Narrative, Steve Middlehurst Context and Narrative, 24 Feb. 2015, stevemiddlehurstcontextandnarrative.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/the-deadpan-aesthetic/. Accessed 8 July 2020.
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
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,
“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.
This work attempts to capture the changes in a subject’s facial expression on hearing words associated with emotion. The words were drawn at random from a pack of 40 flashcards. The first image was a control ‘blank’ image, the remainder are displayed in the order in which they were taken.
Brief: In response to the work of the artists you’ve read about so far, try to create a photographic portraiture typology which attempts to bring together a collection of types. Think carefully about how you wish to classify these images; don’t make the series too literal and obvious.
Once complete, post these portraits on your blog or in your learning log, with a written statement contextualising the work
As I don’t have access to many people during Lockdown, I think I will have to consider a typology around a single subject.
Subject: Considering the work of Martin Schoeller , I like the idea of photographing the portraits in a consistent manner especially in close up. I could combine this with different facial expressions, much like Heubler‘s work. Therefore, my typology would be more about comparison / difference than similarity.
Environment: A neutral background, close up, shallow depth of field
Process: Schoeller’s idea of a consistency will be used to light the subject, who will be framed close-up in the frame, flat lighting to illuminate all parts of the face. This is in contrast to Yousef Karsh’s lighting which used light and shadow to create depth and mood. A word will be read to the subject and take one image, per word, asking the subject to react however they wish to the word. In his video about identical twins, Schoeller’s technical set up is shown, I will try and do something similar.
Presentation: the images will be presented as a gallery together so that the view can compare the different images together.
I started with a set of 40 flashcards which I found on the internet with the words: star struck, sleepy, surprised, suspicious, unhappy, woozy, worried, ok, grumpy, cold, sad, hungry, embarrased, puzzled, happy, content, scared, in love, excited, rich, hot, cool, shocked, in tears, exhausted, injured, feeling down, angelic, meh, fine, angry, nauseous, furious, annoyed and sick.
These are all emotions with stereotypical faces / reactions attached to them, it would be interesting to see if the subject pulls the faces similar to those drawn on the cards? I feel it would be good to ask a few of these, but also to add some more topical words that new to our vocabulary, such as ‘Brexit’, ‘black lives matter’ etc
I was mostly happy with the technical results of images. I attempted to recreate Schoeller’s framing and lighting, but found that although the camera was set up on a tripod, and wasn’t moved during the session, the orignal focus which was on the eyes, became out of focus as the subject moved in response to prompts. If I did this again, not only would I take less images, but I would attempt to reset the subject back to their blank expression prior to delivering the next prompt.
I would also use strobe lights on a trigger rather than the constant static lighting and this would increase the speed and reduce blurring around the eyes.
I’m not sure that this project really fulfils the brief, because of the use of only one subject. When I am able to access more sitters, it would be good to recreate with further subjects to see if their expressions are similar when prompted by the same words. Testing the theory that expressions are learned behaviour rather than natural reactions.
Heubler was an American artist who moved from painting, sculpting and installation art work to documentary photography to explore social environments and the effect of passing time on objects.
Huebler took 10 portraits of the photographer Bernd Becher (himself a noted typologist) showing a sequence of deliberate poses Becher was asked to perform (priest, criminal, lover, old man, policeman, artist, Bernd Becher, philosopher, spy, nice guy).
A few months after the portraits had been taken, Huebler forwarded them to Becher and asked him to make the correct associations. The two different sequences are then presented to the viewer, the captions determined first by the photographer (Huebler) and second by the subject (Becher).
Heubler never exhibited the images in the original order and with the original classifications, only with Becher’s choice and we never know which ones were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Perhaps that’s the whole point. The viewer will always use their own classifications or typologies to organise a set of images. Especially in a portrait where there is no other information about the person.
I think this emphasises the fact that it is very difficult to imbue meaning and or knowing about a person in and a portrait, especially studio images with little or no extra ‘clues’.
Study Sander’s portraits in very close detail, making notes as you go. Look at how his subjects are positioned in relation to each other or their environment. Are they facing the camera or looking away? What, if any, props does Sander use?
Do these props seem relevant or are they strange? What physical stance does the subject adopt?
August Sander was a German photographer who’s most prominent work was made between the two world wars (1918 – 1939), but continued all of his life. His notable work ‘ People of the 20th Century sought to document the people of Germany during this period. dividing them into seven distinct groups: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’. (Tate, “Five Things to Know: August Sander – List | Tate”).
The exercise above asks us to look at the his images in close detail and note the use of the ‘five elements model‘ described by David Bate. However, it is also worth noting that Sander continued to use a large format camera even after the smaller Leica’s became available, as he felt that they gave a better detail of the faces. Because of the slowness of the image making, this of course may have influenced the poses and facial expressions of the sitter.
in most images the subjects are straight on to the camera with their feet apart.
the sitters are looking directly at the camera
multiple people are lined up in a flat row with their hands by there side. This may because of depth of field being used and / or the use of the large format camera.
the depth of field is shallow enough to allow some blurring of the background, but not so much that you can’t see where the person is. It does give an element of separation. (perhaps f/34 or f/5.6?)
photographs of the trades people utilise props, usually the tools of their trade, where as the middle class portraits tend to have less props and more environmental backgrounds.
Props are either held or shown, rather than being used.
the majority of subjects are photographed full length or cut off at the legs.
the images of the circus workers and artists have more relaxed poses.
I believe Sander is considered important because before this, ordinary everyday people were not photographed in this way and it now leaves us with a wealth of information about how people live, dressed and working in those days. In these days of selfies, people really don’t consider the context of the image!
Baker, Rob. “The Extraordinary Photos of German Photographer August Sander – Flashbak.” Flashbak, 30 Jan. 2019, flashbak.com/the-extraordinary-photos-of-german-photographer-august-sander-410620/. Accessed 6 June 2020.
Tate. “Five Things to Know: August Sander – List | Tate.” Tate, 2017, www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/august-sander-5319/lists/five-things-know-august-sander. Accessed 6 June 2020.
Wikipedia Contributors. “August Sander.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Sander. Accessed 6 June 2020.
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!
Bate also describes the three general cataegoresis of people we encounter in portraits:
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?
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.
The systematic classification of types or study of types.
The doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols, especially in scriptural literature.
Oxford English Dictionary
Typology is an act of attribution as opposed to classification, which is simply a process of definition.
Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Water Towers is an example of the use of typologies in photography. The Becher’s took images of water towers and other architectural buildings across Europe and America and grouped them together according to their function, construction, shape etc. this paragraph from the Tate article, helps explain the concept:
To achieve the ‘perfect chain’ described by the Bechers, each photograph was produced following exactly the same setup, using a large-format camera positioned to capture the form from one of three distinct perspectives (as a detail, in the context of its surroundings, or in its entirety) so as to take up the whole frame of the picture. The flat, neutral quality of the prints was achieved by working in shadowless lighting conditions. Working within these parameters allowed the artists to make consistent groups of ‘types’ irrespective of when the images were taken. An initial classification was made according to the function of the architectural structure being photographed. This was then subdivided according to the materials used in the structure. Finally, the structures were grouped according to shared characteristics. Bernd Becher described in an interview in 1959 how ‘you can lay the photos alongside one another and realise what they have in common, what is specific to the basic form of a blast furnace or a cooling tower and what is individual variation’ (quoted in Lange 2007, p.188).
In modern times, tagging does a similar job. This is something I use when downloading my images to make it easier to search for things later on. I definitely use terms that mean something to me and that I will remember, so I feel that typologies says alot about the photographer that is creating the groupings as well as the photograph.
Yousef Karsh said that he had an endless fascination with his subjects’ ‘inward power’. Einstein is not looking directly at the camera, in fact he appears to be staring into space, that kind of stare when you’re thinking and not really looking at anything, perhaps evoking the cerebral power of his mind. He said he found Einstein “Spoke sadly, yet serenely, as one who had looked into the universe, far past mankind’s small affairs”.
There is a sadness to this images but it also feels very intimate. There is a kindliness to his eyes. The image is cropped in close around him, he is wearing a casual jumper, not a suit or formal wear. His hair is unkempt and his hands are clasped as almost in prayer.
His images often include the subject’s hands, but not always so prominently, it feels likely they are given equal importance to his mind.
Karsh has used high contrasts to add depth and mood to the image. He has used a Rembrandt lighting style which is above the subject, pointed down at 45 degrees – thus creating shadows on the sides of the face away from the light, but casting enough light to give a catchlight in the both eyes. This image also has less bright light behind the subject, in order to separate him from the background.
Einstein is quite often pictured sticking his tongue out or pulling silly faces, so this is one of only a few serious images of him. At his funeral in 1955, J. Robert Oppenheimer summarised his impression of Einstein as a person: “He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness … There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn“. Therefore, this is an unusually serious image of Einstein. It is worth noting that in 1948 the year this image was taken, Einstein received surgery to reinforce an abdominal aortic aneurysm, so he may have been feeling unwell at the time this was taken.
Exercise Details and Research
Exercise 1: Historic portrait
Select one portrait to really study in depth. Write a maximum of 500 words about this portrait, but don’t merely ‘describe’ what you see. The idea behind this exercise is to encourage you to be more reflective in your written work (see Introduction), which means trying to elaborate upon the feelings and emotions evoked whilst viewing an image, perhaps developing a more imaginative investment for the image.
The portrait can be any of your choice, but try to choose a historic practitioner of note. This will make your research much easier, as the practitioner’s works will have been collected internationally by galleries and museums and written about extensively. Read what has already been written about your chosen practitioner’s archive, paying particular attention to what historians and other academics have highlighted in their texts.
use this model to write review:
The Physical Description: Consider the human subject within the photograph, then start with a forensic description, moving towards taking up the position of the sitter. Visualise yourself as the sitter in order to bring out the feelings associated with the photograph.
The Context of Production: Consider the photographs context in terms of when, where, how, by whom and why the photograph was taken.
The Context of Convention: Place the photograph into context in terms of the technologies used, aesthetics employed, photographic conventions used.
The Currency: Consider the photographs currency within its context of reception, who or what was the photograph made for? Who owns it now and where is it kept? Who saw it then and who sees it now?
Whilst researching for this exercise, I came across the work of Yousef Karsh, and in particular this image of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein’s birthday was 14th March, which is also my birthday and also that of my husband and Michael Caine (not a lot of people know that!). Therefore, I felt like had a connection with this image, so have chosen to study it.
Reading Yousef Karsh’s biography, I had quite an emotional response to his life story and found him a fascinating person. A few things I noted of interest:
Karsh attended art classes to study the work of the great masters, especially Rembrandt and Velázquez. he never learned to paint or draw, but learned about lighting, design, and composition.
Karsh said of his mentor Garo: “Understand clearly what you are seeking to achieve,” he would say, “and when it is there, record it. Art is never fortuitous.” When he had made six glass plates of a person, there had been much sharing of truth between the photographer and his subject.
Karsh learned ‘to do his homework’
The picture of Churchill on the new £5 note was taken by Karsh in 1841 in Canada
Karsh’s image was taken on 11th February 1948 at The Institute for Advanced Study:
“At Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, I found Einstein a simple, kindly, almost childlike man, too great for any of the postures of eminence. One did not have to understand his science to feel the power of his mind or the force of his personality. He spoke sadly, yet serenely, as one who had looked into the universe, far past mankind’s small affairs. When I asked him what the world would be like were another atomic bomb to be dropped, he replied wearily, ‘Alas, we will no longer be able to hear the music of Mozart.’”
Canadian photojournalist – Ted Grant – is quoted as saying:
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
This quote came to my mind when looking at this image. It seems like a lot of Karsh’s images, and you can see the influence of Rembrandt in his lighting of the face
This mark up shows the patches of brightest light and darkest shadows, which indicates that it was lit from above at about 45 degrees angle and slightly behind. there is just enough light peaking around his face to create a catchlight in his eye.
The image is also back lit with a less bright light, to add a bit of separation between the subject and the background.
Karsh said of his subjects:
The endless fascination of these people for me lies in what I call their inward power. It is part of the elusive secret that hides in everyone, and it has been my life’s work to try to capture it on film. The mask we present to others and, too often, to ourselves may lift for only a second—to reveal that power in an unconscious gesture, a raised brow, a surprised response, a moment of repose. This is the moment to record.
I also note that the subject’s hand’s play a part in many of his images.
“Famous Patients, Famous Operations, Part 3.” Medscape, www.medscape.com/viewarticle/436253. Accessed 25 May 2020.
“Margaret Bourke-White.” International Center of Photography, 12 June 2019, www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/margaret-bourke-white?all/all/all/all/0. viewed whilst researching for a Historic Portrait to review for Exercise 1. Really like her work but it’s more photojournalistic than portrait.
Mike. “11 Best Portrait Photographers to Inspire You.” FilterGrade, 13 Jan. 2015, filtergrade.com/best-portrait-photographers-to-inspire-you/. looking for renowned portrait photographers – Yousef Karash and Herb Ritts caught my eye.
Photography Tutor Led Session with Andrea Norrington
This was the first time I have joined one of these sessions, and overall it was a positive experience. There were students from a variety of courses and from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa.
Top take aways:
David Bailey quote “when they’re in front of the camera they’re everything to me”
Research should grab you. “always follow the rabbit”, Stephen Hawkins
Beware of the historiography – “who is telling the story”
Annotate your bibliography, even if it’s just to say ‘don’t read this again’!
30 second rule – (see below)
(having written this blog, I’ve moved ‘top take aways’ to the top, so that it is read first)
A copy of the PowerPoint presentation from Andrea’s session can be read here
So why do research?
Watched video “Rankin does Bailey” from a series called ‘7 Images that changed fashion photography”
One comment received re research is people saying that they don’t want their work to copy others. AN says it’s actually quite difficult to copy other’s photos and in fact it’s a really good exercise to try as it teaches you about posing, lighting, etc.
The 30 second Rule:
Immediately after every lecture, meeting or significant experience • Take 30 seconds, no more, no less • To write down the most important points:
1 it’s not note taking
2 it’s hard work
3 detail is a trap
4 you must act quickly
5 you learn to listen better, and ask better questions
A documentary film made by John Maloof who unwittingly bought a box of her negatives at an auction on 2007, whilst trying to find items for a history book he was writing.
Since then he has championed her work and tried to find out about her. The film was fascinating, but what really struck me, there was a lot of conversation about why she didn’t want to share her work whilst she was alive. I’m of the opinion she didn’t want to and what’s more, she probably couldn’t have taken the images she did, had she been known for her work. Being a Nanny probably gave her the best opportunity to acquire the images she did, the lack personal ties and the opportunity to get out with a couple of kids, where no one would look at her twice, gave her the perfect opportunity to continue with what appears to be an obsession to take photos of people and their lives.
The images have a very authentic feel to them and the fact that she was using a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera at waste height, means that many of her portraits give the subject a powerful feel.
Interesting, one of the photographers reviewing Vivian’s work in the film was Mary Ellen Mark.