Part 5 Project 2 – Photography as information 2

Again, still waiting for Flusser’s book to arrive but subject to actually reading it I think his observation and comparison with writing is correct.  This is something that applies to any visual art, as Berger observes.  The final sentence of the paragraph cited in the course material, but which is not quoted, is, I think, particularly pertinent:

“The painting maintains its own authority.”

The image stands for itself and on its own terms, despite the passage of time, and does not need words to validate or justify it.  This seems to chime with what Benjamin has to say about stories.

That does not mean though that an image is immutable, that it is not capable of rereading or reinterpretation over time, as we saw in Barrett’s article.  That would, for me at least, reinforce the argument that photographs are like stories. But, like stories, they can be retold in different times and places to produce different outcomes or messages.  They can also be reordered and looked at in different sequences to produce something new.

As an aside, I was intrigued by Frank’s work being referred to in the context of time being closed in a circle.  I had not previously thought of this so have gone back to his book and a couple of thoughts now occur to me.  One is that I already knew that there were a number of recurring themes or subjects in the book, such as cars, American flags, and social separation or differences.  What I had not noticed before is the way they recur in a sort of cyclical way, though I would say it is more of an irregular spiral than a circle.  More importantly though, from a temporal point of view, is that none of the pictures are dated in their captions.  In a way they have been placed out of linear time and have become, in a way, timeless.  It strikes me that many of his photos might well appear very similar if they were taken today, despite all the so-called advances in American society (which is not a sense I get from, for example, William Klein, whose work, strangely, looks more dated now).


Berger, J, (1972).  Ways of Seeing.  London:  Penguin.

Frank, R (2016).  The Americans.  Göttingen: Steidl

Klein, W, (2016).  Life is Good & Good for You in New York.  New York:Errata Editions


Exercise 5.3

I have looked again at HCB’s iconic photo in my copy of The Decisive Moment, which is helpfully in quite a large format and therefore easier to “read” than on a computer screen. Is there a single pivotal point?  For me, no, but there a limited number that continually draw my eye back in: the leaping man; the near contact of his heel with its reflection in the water; the ripples indicating the mover of the ladder like structure from which the man has just leapt; the “c” shape towards the bottom of the frame that seems to point to the man’s reflection, which in turn draws attention back to the man himself.

Each, I think contains information that relates to the story, or stories, that the image is purporting to tell, different parts of the story that go to make up the whole.  Leaving aside my scepticism about the way HCB says this image was made and my concerns about the Decisive Moment, it is as a story that I read this picture.  Although it freezes one particular instant in time, the moment just before the leaping man comes back to earth, there is clearly a suggestion of a narrative.  The ripples in the water show that the ladder has just moved, presumably as the man leapt off it, so we know that he has moved across the view from left to right.  The sequence of events is about to continue in that direction and out of the frame with the moment when his foot reconnects first with the water and then, presumably, more solid ground beneath.  It looks as if he is going to get a wet foot!  How many more times is he going to have to stride out again before reaching dry ground?  Is his other foot going to get as wet?

What this little story does not do is explain or even hint at what this man is doing here in the first place.  It raises plenty of questions.  Why is he in what looks like a building site when he does not appear to be dressed as a worker?  Why is he trying to leap across a puddle that is apparently too big to be cleared?  Why did he not go round the edge, which would presumably have been possible as there is what appears to be a workman in the background by the railings suggesting there was some dry ground?  Has HCB been telling porkie pies for the sake of an intriguing and arresting image?  In the light of the implicit unlikelihood and incomprehensibility of this scene in the absence of answers to the questions that would take us outside the frozen moment and fill out the ‘true’ story, is there in fact a story here at all?  Is it just a closed loop, a sort of visual Groundhog Day that recurs eternally without any real start or end?

I suppose my overall response to this photo is that while I am intrigued by it and find it both refreshing and interesting to look at it again, fundamentally I do not believe it or trust it as any sort of truth.  However, as is the case with many of my favourite paintings and other photos, generally it is neither the presence nor absence of a believable story that interests me but the image itself and what it contains on its own terms, as little more than a fragment in time.

Initially when I read this exercise I was unsure how Kawauchi and Sugimoto might fit into this discussion of this specific HCB photo.  I am still not completely sure but my thinking is taking me in the direction of a comment made by Sugimoto in the YouTube video in connection with his Theatres series:

“Too much information ends up as nothingness.”

Sugimoto’s pictures tell a story, from the dimming of the theatre lights to the rolling of the final credits, but he captures so much information, the entire film, that all that is left and visible is a blank, white screen.  To that extent it could be said the photo no longer tells a story – the telling of the story, the film, overwhelms the visual medium of the photograph.  In a sense therefore time stands moment becomes eternal.  I hope it is not stretching a point too far but I am thinking that this is not a million miles away from the effect of HCB’s image, which itself contains so much information, at least in the form of questions, that it too ceases to act as a story and becomes an endlessly recurring moment frozen in time.

What of Kawauchi?  I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the range of her work (to address this lack I have a book on order!) so do not feel confident commenting on anything other than the flower picture from Illuminance.  I think what this has in common with Behind Gare St Lazare is the existence of at least one pivotal point, to which the eye returns, specifically the intriguing shape, almost a ghost, of the flower.  Sugimoto also obviously has pivotal points, not least the blank expanse of the screen that dominates each scene, and the surrounding theatre itself which he describes as a case containing the nothingness.  In both cases it seems to me these points contain all of the information that is really needed in order to be able to comprehend the picture.

I do not though get any sense of narrative or a story in the flower photo.  I do not though think that this is what this work is about.  Rather it is about the fundamental nature of the flower; paradoxically in the context of an eternal, recurrent image of it, of its fragility and transience, and the photographer’s intimate relationship with it.  As with Sugimoto there is too much information for there to be an easily discernible story, too much information in the form of light that effectively washes out most of the detail of the flower.

Paradoxically I think that at the same time there is also too little other information, in the sense of the context in which the flower has been placed, to tell us anything else, which reinforces for me the sense that this is little more than a fleeting moment in time frozen and preserved by the camera.

And finally, what of my own work?  The one image that immediately comes to mind as it was itself partly inspired by Sugimoto and I can now see has some elements in common with Kawauchi, is this one from the last assignment:

There are a few pivotal points for me in the form of the legible art of the subtitle, the swirling pale mass in the middle of the scene, and what appears to be an arm and hand at the bottom of that mass.  The information contained within these points though varies.  The subtitle is the most explicit and points towards a story, explains what is happening here, though it gives little hint of the context of the film as a whole.  The others alone though I feel have more in common with Kawauchi’s flower and chime with Sugimoto’s comment:  there is too much information to be able to tell clearly what is going on.  No doubt if the exposure of this shot had gone on for longer than 30 seconds it would have produced even more “nothingness”.


Cartier-Bresson, H, (2014).  The Decisive Moment.  Göttingen: Steidl.

Part 5 Project 2 – Photography as information

I had already come across the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi. mentioned in this part of the course book, by chance when looking through the Aperture Foundation website and noticing her book Ametsuchi.  (I do not have a copy but think I might have to get one! – Since originally posting this I have acquired a book of Kawauchi-san’s work and have written a separate post on it)  I had though not seen this earlier work before reading the Guardian article:

It might be said that from a technical point of view this is not a great picture – overexposed and out of focus – but that would be to miss the point of her work and what this photo actually successfully conveys, all the more so because it is “improbable” as Flusser would say.  What kind of information is included in it?  It is clearly a picture of a flower – I am not much of a horticulturist but assume this is a rose.  In this respect I do not feel this image conveys any less information about it as a rose than a conventionally exposed photograph might convey.  Yes, it would no doubt convey more precise information about the details of the bloom but I doubt it would tell us more about the photographer’s observation of it and relationship to it.  I think Andrew O’Hagan gets it right when he talks of a sense of intimacy.  Coming back again to the  Flusser quotation, she has looked at the flower in a new way and has presented an image that is new, that has not been seen before.  Certainly I have never looked at a flower in the same way before and found quite as engaging and intriguing as this one.

It might be said that Kawauchi is not just presenting straightforward visual information but is conveying something much more to do with the process of looking and her emotional response to what she sees, things that are much less physical or tangible.  To that extent i see this as a much richer experience, and a more interesting and satisfying one, than if this had shown a flower in sharp, clear focus.

I think that before considering more about “information” and reflecting on the remainder of this part of the course material, I am going to have to read Flusser’s book properly and post again – a copy is ordered and on its way! (It is available in the UCA on-line library but I do not really enjoy reading books like this on-screen and find it easier to make notes, and use Post-Its with the physical volume.)  In the meantime though I will start to think about Exercise 5.3.

Exercise 5.2

This exercise has given me some pause for thought.  When I first read the brief I thought this would be easy.  Then I read Victor Burgin’s article and had to think again, though I must say that I find the distinction drawn in the course material between homage and appropriation to be perhaps a somewhat fine one and one that could shift depending on the intentions of the artist who is making the homage.  Nevertheless, bearing that distinction in mind, it might be said that my take on the Gainsborough in the previous post was an appropriation in the sense that I was, at some level, recontextualising in an ironic way.  The other two pictures though were, I would say, true homages as the connections with the earlier works were much more explicit and straightforward, and I was not trying to put across any sort of message that might be said to be different from the intentions of Black or Sugimoto.

I had originally thought I would do a straightforward homage, and indeed considered my Tory Island seascape as I had this exercise in mind when I took it.  However, the exercise itself speaks of neither homage nor appropriation but of a response.  That seems to me to cover a very wide range of possibilities and that a simple homage is not necessarily the way forward.  The brief itself seems to invite something less straightforward, less literal.  That sort of more thoughtful, questioning approach seems to be at the heart of Burgin’s Hopper series.  He does not simply reproduce but picks the original painting apart, analyses it, looks at it, and the assumptions, attitudes and mores that underly it.

Burgin however had the luxury of a whole series of pictures in which to respond to Hopper’s painting.  I have, under the terms of this brief, just one image.  That is a limitation but sometimes such limits can be liberating.  In this case I think it just means that I have to be much more concentrated and incisive and focus more sharply on what it is that I am responding to.  Whose work though am I going to respond to?  This is itself, choosing one photo from the whole corpus of work out there, is a major challenge for me.  Do I go for someone whose work is very familiar to me, or go for someone less familiar, or even chose something at random?  On reflection I think I have to go down the first route for without a degree of familiarity I think I am going to find it harder to respond in the sort of way that I would want.  I also have to bear in mind the practicalities of being able to create a suitable image.

As a starting point, to see if it gives me any clues, I have had a look at the work of the two artists mentioned in the brief, John Davies and Chris Steele Perkins.  I am admirer of the latter’s work but there is nothing there that immediately appeals to me for the purposes of this exercise. I looked at John Davies in connection with Exercise 4.5 but while I find his work interesting, particularly the industrial landscapes, there is nothing here that resonates with me immediately or urges me to respond to either.  However, looking at Davies’s work reminded me of Fay Godwin, of whom I have written in a much earlier post.  What particularly came back to mind is the work that she did on the effect of man on landscape, more specifically man’s efforts to control landscape.  Looking through the book Landmarks again one picture that particularly resonated with me is this one:

The Duke of Westminster’s Estate, Forest of Bowland, 1989

I looked at Godwin’s work in this regard in my post on Project 2 Lens Work and used it to reinterpret one of my own easier photographs.  That particular image was concerned with exclusion.  This is a subject that is increasingly on my mind as I walk the area around my village and elsewhere in the county and come across barriers, physical or just signs, telling me to back off, stay out, not to enter.  It seems that more and more we are being told that we have to stay out of or away from certain places and spaces.  I understand that in urban areas, not least parts of central London, this is becoming much more of an issue as more and more spaces that previously had been public now fall under the sway and control of private developers and activities within them are now policed by private security.  In rural areas it seems always to have been an issue, and remains so today, 85 years on from the Kinder Scout trespass.  (If only we had a right to roam as they do in Scotland!) It is this sense of control and exclusion, that is neatly summed up in Fay Godwin’s image that I wanted to respond to.

What I have chosen to concentrate on in my own image is just the signs and the fence, rather than the wider context, as the words seem to me to do all the work necessary.

Cadehill/Apperley, 08/10/17

By way of background, this relates to an area of open grassland, about an acre, in the heart of the part of the village where I live.  At first glance, the rather admonitory signs apart, it looks like a village green.  It is however not public.  Sadly there are parallels with Fay Godwin’s image.  I doubt that the Duke ever visited this particular corner of his considerable estates.  I do not know the area at all but just from what I can see in her photo it does not look to be particularly useful or productive land.  Indeed, given what looks like sedge it is presumably somewhat wet and boggy.  No heather, so presumably no grouse.  I therefore cannot imagine that it is much used or frequented.  Similarly, the acre I have in mind does not appear to be much used either, despite its position and despite the fact it is quite a nice meadow.  I go past this patch of ground regularly, a few times every week, and I must say that I cannot remember ever seeing anyone in this field more than only a handful times in the last ten years or so.  (I do not want to sound judgmental – it is not for me to judge – but it does sadden me that there are spaces such as this that do not appear to be much used but from which wider access is still excluded.)

Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? All three, I suspect, have a role to play.  Indeed, thinking carefully about this, I doubt that any photograph, or other work of art, can be looked at and interpreted without taking all three into consideration.

Internal context – the title gives some indication of what is being looked at (though that does presuppose a certain amount of prior knowledge), and what is shown perhaps speaks for itself as an image.  Knowing when the shot was taken, and that it was taken by me, do not though in themselves tell a viewer much, if anything.  They are though important in connection with the external context, which follows.

External context – my image appears so far only here, in this blog post.  This WordPress site is expressly a learning blog.  The image is therefore very clearly presented as an academic exercise, a response to a particular brief.

Original context – this is partly there in the external context but otherwise is only explicit in this blog post itself.  With a knowledge of the work of Fay Godwin an otherwise uninformed viewer might identify that in my picture I am attempting to address the same sort of issues as Godwin did.  What else otherwise is the purpose or intention in what might be regarded as a fairly straightforward image?  I guess that even without knowing Godwin’s work an attentive and receptive viewer would get the point anyway.

So, yes, on reflection I do think that all three provide the context in this case.  Indeed, I think I can now see that you cannot divorce the three and look at an image from the point of view of only one or two of them and still get the “truth” of it.  No work is made in a vacuum, or displayed in one, nor without some element of intention and thought process behind it.


Godwin, F, (2001). Landmarks.  Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing