Monday, 30 January 2012

inspired by... diane arbus

30th January 2012 (b/w photo taken in the mid 2000s) © Lise Utne
(by Lise Utne)

"The two Emmas" (left) is representative of a photographic style I pursued for a while. Black and white film was freely available for what seemed a reasonable price, or at least worth the sacrifice: I still have a couple of 20-packs in the fridge. I paid to have the films developed, because it was more practical and slightly more reliable than doing it myself. I've only printed copies of a few (in my makeshift darkroom, enlarger on top of the tumble drier). There is a large stack of negatives on my bookshelf that I would love to see if I can make something of. I need a scanner. Preferably a good one.

But my point here is the photographic style. To a great extent, I've been influenced by "the usual suspects". Living in the US for a year around the turn of the millennium, with time on my hand in a college town with a well-stocked public library and several second-hand bookstores within reach, I took a deep dive into a world of top-class photography. Diane Arbus's books were among my favourites.

The received opinion seems to be that Arbus photographed "freaks", and she herself suggested that people who might be described that way were somehow nobler than the rest. I never consider anyone I photograph a "freak". On the contrary, I consider all people equals. I like to think that I approach my photographic subjects with an attitude of deep respect and a feeling of mystery. To a certain extent, I think Arbus did the same, except from a different angle -- it seems that she wanted to show us that we are all "freaks", especially those of us who consider ourselves normal:

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
"Everybody has a thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that's what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It's just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we are given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can't help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I've always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it. // What I'm trying to describe is that it's impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else's. And that's what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else's tragedy is not the same as your own." (Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph. Edited and designed by Doon Arbus and Marvin Israel. New York: Aperture, 1972. Pp. 1-2.)

3rd February 2012 (b/w shot: mid 2000s) © Lise Utne 
I admire Arbus's photographic style. Sometimes, using certain angles and light conditions and surroundings, portraits can result that are quite striking. Portraits that suggest quite insistingly by showing what people look like that people are more than surface. Portraits that are the antithesis of the slick "look" we are constantly bombarded with, seemingly trying to convince us that we should all strive to look the same and have the same ideals and priorities. So I admire Arbus both for her photographic style and for the fact that she chose to photograph people from different walks of life. People with different appearances and lifestyles.

I still think Diane Arbus was on to something.

(Blog post last revised 3rd February 2012.)

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Loads of crap (or how Martin Parr pressed my Flash button)

Up until a year ago I haven't heard much of Martin Parr. Sure, his name popped out here-there, but so have other names: too many for me to follow at the time. I took some photography courses, and then I found out more about him: that his photos are basically crap, that the new Magnum is crap (Cartier-Bresson never liked his pictures), and that generally the use of direct flash is crap. So much crap slaying suddenly got my juices flowing and -- since I'm a Libran -- decided to get on the crap's side, just to counter-balance what was going on.

Supporting memories came in to cement my snap decision: the wonderful use of flash by photographers I've met on the internet (flickr, back then also jpg), the "Martin Parr WE ♥ U" flickr group that I've seen some of Simon Kossoff's pictures posted to. I mean, if Simon Kossoff ♥ Martin Parr, then the crap lies somewhere else. Etc.
So, for my next homework, decided to make use of the 'flash' button on my camera, and serve the teacher with the end results. Here are two pictures made back then.
Two very different pictures, in the end. One passed as 'good', the other was 'crap'. You figure which, what. In any case, that proved that crap lies not in every flash. (And equally -- that Martin Parr lies not in every flash, either.)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

'we all need that echo of familiarity to help us have the confidence to make a body of work' (martin parr)

'We want to emulate the impact that these images had on us, and this can be as restricting as it can be liberating', concludes Martin Parr in his blog entry 'Photographic Clichés' posted in April 2011. He claims in effect that practitioners of serious photography (my term, not his) are not necessarily as original in their choices of subject matter as they would like to think:

'The Fine Art and Documentary photographers take great pride in thinking themselves superior to the other main genres of photography, such as the family snap shooter or the amateur photographer, as personified by camera club imagery. However, after 30 / 40 years of viewing our work, I have come to the conclusion that we too are fairly predictable in what we photograph.'

Parr lists 13 'basic genres':

1. The above ground landscape with people (which he traces back to Gursky)
2. The bent lamppost (traced back to Stephen Shore 'and others')
3. The diary (traced back to Nan Goldin, predated by Larry Clark and Ed van der Elsken)
4. The nostalgic gaze (buildings, establishments and institutions on the eve of their closure)
5. The quirky and visually strong setting ('In terms of documentary we are much more likely to see a project done on a circus than say, a petrol station.')
6. The Street (including, in the UK, the beach, but decreasingly so: see Parr's blog post for elaboration)
7. The black and white grainy photo (traced back to Daido Moriyama, who 'combined the imagery of Andy Warhol and William Klein')
8. The New Rich (Tina Barney, rich Yale kids photographing their families; 'nearly always shot in large format, and often involve taking clothes off too')
9. I am a poet (traced back to Bill Eggleston and Rinko Kawauchi)
10. The modern typology (the Bechers, the Dusseldorf school)
11. The Staged photo (Gregory Crewdson)
12. The Formal portrait (Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Ruff)
13. The long landscape

'I could go on [...] I think the point I am making is that we need to consider our subject matter more carefully. When I am looking through student folios I often say these things, and usually people look at me as if to say "how dare you question what I am shooting." [...]'

And here's another chance to read Martin Parr's original blog entry.

Monday, 23 January 2012

inspired by... martin parr

5th July 2006 © Lise Utne
I took a series of photos of this scene. Racing through my head were all the Martin Parr photographs I'd ever seen.

Martin Parr may disagree strongly that there's anything about this photograph that has anything at all in common with his approach to photography. The colours are duller, and no flash was fired -- for a start.

Nevertheless, there he was in my head: Martin Parr. Hovering over this scene, remote-controlling my trigger finger. 

A complicating factor is that I asked my (then ten-and-a-half-year-old) son to take some of the photos. Maybe he took this one? I can't say for sure that he didn't. And I have no idea whether he had seen any of Martin Parr's works at the time. 

But Martin Parr was definitely there. At least as an inspiring factor in seeing the value of this scenario, and thus in my decision to shoot it.

inspired by... online photo forum contacts

5th December 2011 © Lise Utne
The detached viewpoint, the subject matter, and above all the use of light and colour are most definitely inspired by an approach I've observed in other photographers' work.

Some of my photo contacts at and spring immediately to mind. (None mentioned, none forgotten.)

The works of such photo contacts have been (and continue to be) an important source of inspiration.