Informing Contexts; Reflections on Week 6 ‘A Sea of images’, 3rd March to 9th March, 2018

I’ve been asked this week to consider my practice within the context of other visual practices and any ideological adherence.

I’d say that if I do follow an ideology it is one derived from realism. Specifically I try to avoid my images appearing artificial, i.e. real as opposed to set-up. That doesn’t mean I’m following the  bourgeois realist doctrines of 19th century Russian literature, but it does mean that the images of human life portrayed in my  project only have relevance if the viewer perceives then as ‘real’. Barthes had I think mixed views on this. On one hand while he was happy to work with the concept of what he termed ‘signification’ in his chapter ‘on Myth today’. But he then later wrote that the mythological message should change the object itself to become a new, Marxian, message.

While I don’t support the 1928 view of the soviet photographer Rodchneko that the snapshot photograph is ‘factography’, I do like the capturing someone with a natural look on their face. David Bates talks about the influence Atget’s photographs of old Paris had, via Berenice Abbott and Walter Benjamin, as changing the way photographic documents people and place. My own view is simply that my images should convey a reasonably degree of authenticity to my viewer for my message to be communicated and possibly accepted.

Having said this I’m increasingly influenced by contemporary painted portraiture. For instance I greatly respect the work of the london-based artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg, who seems to be able to inject realism into a dramatically different views of a subject. One potential future project is for me to try and interpret one particular look of his photographically.

T ai Shan Schierenberg  –  Self portrait as Janus , from his Alter ego series (2008)

Tai Shan Schierenberg Self portrait as Janus, from his Alter ego series (2008)

T ai Shan Schierenberg  –  The Apostles , from his Winterreise series (2014)

Tai Shan Schierenberg The Apostles, from his Winterreise series (2014)

Philip Gettler wrote an interesting essay on photorealism in painting where he made the remark, “how to paint from a photograph was one thing, but to establish a photographic vocabulary within the realm of painting quite another”. I guess that the inverse case is even more of a challenge, particularly if not using the paint simulation tricks available through the application of advanced post-processing software.

From a theoretical point I guess I’ve been most influenced by more technically focussed authors such as Michael Freeman, David duChemin and Chris Knight. Whether my practice has been sufficiently influenced you could argue, but it has certainly had some influence on my composition and lighting. More recently this module has introduced me to the commentary of John Berger and Roswell Angier, so like many things my practice is in a state of flux.

Looking is an act of vision, seeing is an act of perception and recognition. It is only recently that I’m spending more time seeing more than looking. I certainly wish to avoid the type of pictorial bias described by Grundberg, I also don’t for a moment think it’s only a bias seen in the US’s National Geographic magazine. The nature of the bias varies, but I feel there’s always a degree of cultural leaning/bias in all major country’s public photographic lexicon.



Barthes, R. (1957) Myth Today, In Mythologies, translated from the French by Richard Howard (2012) New York, Hill & Wang.

Barthes R., (1977) Image, Music, Text, translated from the French by Stephen Heath (1977) London, Fontana Press.

Anchor, R (1983) Realism and Idealogy: The question of Order, History and Theory  Vol. 22, No. 2 (May), pp. 107-119 London, Wiley

Bates, D (2015) Art Photography pp. 58-66 London, Tate Publishing.

Gettler, P (2009) Keeping it Real; Photo-Realism. In Photography after Frank, pp40-44, New York, Aperture Foundation.

Schierenberg, TS, Personal Website – many examples of his work, see (last accessed 22nd April, 2018)

Freeman, M (2013) The Photographer’s Eye: a Graphic Guide, Lewes, Ilex

duChemin, D (2016) Within the Frame: The journey of Photographic Vision, San Franscisco,  Pearson-New Riders

Knight, C (2017) The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting light and Shadow, San Rafael CA, Rockynook

Berger, J (1967) Understanding a Photograph London, Penguin Classics (2013 reprint)

Angier, R Train Your Gaze (2nd edition, 2007) London, Bloomsbury (2015 reprint)

Grundberg, A (18th September, 1988) PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; A Quintessentially American View of the World New York, New York Times (provided as a pdf)