Deadpan Photography

Research

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.

I have already come across a few photographers, such Rineke Dijkstra, August Sander and the Bechers who are famous for this kind of work. However, a few others have cropped up in research such as Alec Soth, Stephen Shore and Jitka Hanzlova.

There are some rules to making ‘deadpan’ images:

  • the subject should be in the middle of the photo,
  • 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.

Works Cited

“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.

Douglas Heubler

Variable Piece #101, 1972

Douglas Huebler entitled Variable Piece #101, 1972

This work by Douglas Heubler (1924 – 1997) – a pioneer of conceptual art.

Conceptual art, also referred to as conceptualism, is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_art

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’.

References

Project 2 – Typologies

Typology

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.