Saturday, 3 July 2010

Further Reading –Ian Jeffrey - How to Read a Photograph

I have started this large thick book with some trepidation as it appeared to start with to be a technical tome of a book. However it is a very accessible and practical book. I’m only a small part way through the book however and I have found it to take quite a European stance on photography almost ignoring the early photography being pioneered in American . The style of the book makes it easy to read and which so far has been educational and refreshing.

Some of the photographers so far that I have read about are

  • David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson

These two Scottish Edinburgh based photographers were quite a surprised to me; I had never heard of these photographers before and these two very early pioneers impressed me.

I found their portraits to carry a massive range of contrast and highlights in the colours of their dark monochrome images. The formal posed portraits of both the Edinburgh notables and the fisher folk of Newhaven all carry an intensity within the image, that I feel at times that I am looking at a portrait painted by Rembrandt.

  • Wilhelm Von Thoma

What impressed me the most about the work of this German photographer is the range of styles he covered. He moved from formal portraiture, recording for posterity people, to taking war photographs which are open to interpretive analysis.

At the start of the Great War he was recording the formal posed groupings of aristocratic German Pilots and he slowly moved through photographs capturing and recording people and their moments in time , through informal loosely posed portraits to recording the brutality of war both on the landscape and more importantly on people fighting in the war. Unlike the posed formal portraits from the American Civil war and Roger Fentons Crimean war photographs, which records the landscape after the battle (but which I feel ignores the brutality of the battle) ; Von Thoma shows what the war was doing to soldiers, pilots and the landscape, both at the front line and further behind. This style of war photography would really not be seen again until Robert Haeberle and Don McCullins’ photographs from the Vietnam war.

I feel that Von Thoma in his relaxed portraits and front line war images was moving away from a method of just recording that moment in time and opening the photograph up for interpretation for the viewer

  • August Sander

On first viewing of Sanders "Herdsman" you may think that this photograph was taken at the latter end of the 20th Century. In fact this modern, interpretive informal portrait was taken in 1913. The posing, colour, contrasts and definition of the image show that Sander had taken his time in creating this photograph. This photograph was just one of the many eye catching photographs that Sander took for his book “Face of our time” which established Sanders’ reputation. The book with its empathic one to one relationships with the viewer caught the attention of the National Socialist authorities seized the books and destroyed the printing plates; they may have interpreted Sanders photographs and book as a satire of their policies. His later work may have been influenced by Beckman and Raderschiedt as his portraiture is in the modernist style of the times and is both impassive and poignant in detail.

  • Alexander Rodchenko

Rodchenko was already an establish artist when he took up photography, he was quick to experiment with differing styles and his influence on photography itself is mainly due to his influence on the elements of design. As an illustrator he was already experimenting with photomontage and the skills he learned producing adverts and posters and he used these skills when composing his photographs. He quickly demonstrated his ideas and his Constructionist style of photography in images such as the “Workers Facility Student” where this portraits shows the head and neck of a smiling young man on a divided black and white background. The student portrayed has his had perched on the back of his head and its multiple sided shape frames his face. The students smile frames his mouth repeating the shape of the hat and it subdivides his face. His “Pioneer Girl” its point of view upwards towards the subject is in the European neoclassical style and shows a symmetrical figure almost like a statue. Rodchenko used these elements of design frequently; the repetition of shape, pattern or form and differing angles for point of view. I feel that he was trying to move away from the formal way of taking photographs and experiment with ideas and expressions within his photography.

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