Behind the scenes, Book Making, Inspiration, Theory

Sequencing and the Unconscious

I made a maquette recently from pictures I brought back from a cycle trip in Morocco. In many ways it was just a cycle trip, yet I was serious about the pictures I made and I had an idea of an over-arching theme that I wanted to explore through its course. This post is first and foremost a response to a question about sequencing during the editing process – something I found a joy despite having very little experience of the process. The dummy is shown in the video above.

By making pictures in an arbitrary location, Morocco in this case, using a bicycle as the vehicle for changing the objects and backgrounds, one can spend a period of time recording what the eye sees and the mind thinks. The reason for a particular picture can be re-interpreted after the event and when joined with others, can be re-organized into sequences which the photographer thinks visually appealing or, more ambitiously, aspires to communicate something other than what is present in front of the lens. This is now a collaboration between our two selves: on the one hand the person we are now (the editor) and the person we were then – when we looked through the camera viewfinder and clicked the shutter. Philosophically speaking, these are two different people.

This is the interesting and rewarding aspect of sequencing a book. One might follow a figure in a landscape with a detail of a translucent plastic bag, but the bag might loosely reference the shape of the person, and somehow become an allegory of a life. One might link the deep lines of a weathered face with the shafts of light raking across the surface of a cracked pool table – the fissure echoing the remains of a snake, tattooed into the tarmac of an undisclosed location. A light bulb might paradoxically reference both modernity and poverty, then, on the next page, celebrity and power might be obliquely alluded to with a specular reflection from the surface of a framed and mounted portrait.

Meanwhile, one may have an overarching theme, through which the disparate aspects of the book might emerge. I was just about to get married, so this was always in the back of my mind, a kind of backdrop onto which everything else was projected and which (for me) changed the meaning of things. The metronomic motion of legs and wheels helped to release my mind from habitual concerns to deeper thoughts of love and commitment. This is the realm of the symbol and the metaphor, where nothing is arbitrary and everything has a significance and meaning, but it is skewed by the mind: the ‘backdrop’ always ‘intervenes’ and changes what is in front of the eye.

the-unseen-eye-w-m-hunt

In the preface of his fascinating book ‘The Unseen Eye’, W.M Hunt describes his images of people whose eyes ‘are somehow obscured, veiled, hidden, blocked, averted or closed,’ as somehow portraits of himself. They are all, he says, ‘in their unique way, manifestations of my unconscious.’

Similarly, the lone figures with their backs to the viewer in the maquette I made are all pictures of me, walking away into my new life.

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Exhibitions, Inspiration, Photography and current affaires, Photojournalism, Stories, Theory

Incoming

Incoming from Daniel Norwood on Vimeo.

Incoming is a multi-media instillation on show at the Barbican Gallery in London by the artist Richard Mosse in collaboration with the cinematographer Trevor Tweeten and the composer Ben Frost. Its theme is the migration crisis of refugees into Europe, and branches off into independent but related scenarios such as the demolished ‘Jungle’ Camp in Calais and naval operations in the Mediterranean.

Mosse uses a military grade thermal imaging camera to represent migrants as monochromatic, anonymous figures irradiating heat signatures in varying tonalities, depending on their circumstance and predicament. The thermal rays bounce off a metallic blanket like light, and the tips of fingers and the ends of noses fade against warm palms and faces. The vision of this highly sophisticated camera in this context is resolutely other: a piercing dystopian eye which sees like an alien and renders those within its gaze as heat maps, rather than identifiable individuals.

As a linear progression from his previous work Enclave, where the artist used discontinued military grade infra-red film to reveal Congolese fighters in deep jungle, Incoming utilizes the technology of surveillance as a medium of artful reflection, rather than for, as in this case, its intended purpose – as a tool for battlefield awareness or the long range enforcement of border crossings and other state sponsored surveillance. Where Incoming departs from Enclave, and expands the critique on the use of such systems, is in the insidious rendering of all human life as equally vulnerable to the camera’s technology.

The ethical use of this medium is born out of the artist’s desire to diverge from the common use of images in the mass media, and showcase the awesome (it provokes awe) properties of the camera itself. In simple terms, this means that the gallery visitor can see what the soldier or law enforcement officer sees. More importantly however, it highlights the complicity of this ‘seeing’ in the context of the gallery space, and casts the unwitting witness as complicit in this crisis. The result is that one emerges into the daylight equally moved and troubled by the experience. Yes, the refugee ‘other’ is represented as stark, featureless biological traces, but so too are the aid workers, doctors, police officers and military personnel. Indeed, anyone who strays into the dehumanising vision of the all-seeing-eye is deprived of humanity.

the-society-of-the-spectacle

The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

 

 

In this way, the gallery visitor, by association, is implicated in the work, and this fact could be used to respond to criticism of Mosse’s approach as mere gimmickry. The discrepancy of power relations between migrants and governments create an unnerving undercurrent, raising questions about the ethical use of surveillance techniques against people who are essentially rendered (in their essence) the same as us – just another heat source. This could be seen as helping to break down barriers of representation, rather than re-enforcing usual stereotypical narratives. However, it is complicated by the inherent sense of voyeurism – the overall production values borrow from the language of entertainment – the lingering close up and the stylized slo-mo being two obvious examples.

In short, Incoming refers as much to the new frontiers of military hardware available to the State as to the vulnerable refugees that this project seeks to represent.

The powerful and emotive Incoming is a free exhibition on at the Barbican until April 23rd.

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Exhibitions, Inspiration, Landscape, Photojournalism

Beyond the Devil’s Rope

A review of the new work ‘Mountains of Majeed’ by photographer Edmund Clark

Edmund Clark has been photographing behind the scenes of the West’s ‘War on Terror’ since the late 2000’s. His breakthrough investigation of Guantanamo Bay ‘If the Light Goes Out’ drew attention to the plight of detainees and the daily routine of unconvicted terrorist suspects. With his new project, Clark continues to mine this rich seem, highlighting the discrepancies which exist between two polarized ideologies. ‘Mountains of Majeed’, is very clearly grounded in space and time – in Bagram Air Base in northern Afghanistan – but on closer consideration becomes a subtle allegory on the nature of experience.

© Edmund Clark

The photographs draw attention to the incidental spaces created between the buildings, boundaries and machines of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, creating a link between these highly ordered features and those which exist beyond the confines of the perimeter walls. The eponymous mountains of the title appear in each photograph like a vague recollection, their ethereal existence acting like a theatrical backdrop and counterpoint to the tangible solidity of the centre stage. The nature of warfare, analogous to rehearsed performance, is further enhanced by other details – a huge stars and stripes flag draped across the roof of a car port evokes the exuberant patriotism of a stage-show and a painting, intricately rendered, could be the set piece from a blockbuster movie.

Bagram-Day-1_0059-book

© Edmund Clark

Reality is further questioned by the use of other, more formal representations – this time of the landscape surrounding the Camp found as a mural in the military canteen. These idyllic paintings of the Hindu Kush by an anonymous artist known only as Majeed, contrast cleverly with their surroundings. The appropriation of this artist’s work acts as a cipher between diametrically opposed states. On the one hand is the geographical space between the soldiers inside the camp and the mountains receding into ultra violet light, and on the other the technological and existential distance between the two sides of the conflict.

© Majeed

This disparity is further enhanced with the knowledge that Clark used a state of the art high-resolution digital camera – further accentuating the difference between his Hasselblad and Majeed’s hog hair brush. The mechanism used to capture the image is sometimes a moot point, yet in this context it seems to reinforce the concept, providing a further critique on the gulf between ‘friend’ and ‘foe’. By adopting the technology of the foreign power, Clark acknowledges his place as an artist embedded within the machine of war.

Throughout the mountains remain alluring and intangible. Despite the project’s title, the clearest representation of this place is mediated through Majeed’s hand. This then becomes the most powerful narrative force within the work. The mountains become an enigmatic ‘terra incognita’ rich in human history and geological time but remain tantalizingly, for western eyes at least, beyond the devil’s rope.

The ‘devil’s rope’ is a term first used by native American Indians to describe the barbed wire ranchers used to enclose their newly acquired land. A BBC R4 program on the subject can be found here.

‘The Mountains of Majeed’ by Edmund Clark is on show at Flowers Gallery until 4th April 2015.

See more of Clark’s compelling work here.

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Uncategorized

Newspaper Update…

Following some much appreciated exposure from a kind gentleman on the BBC photojournalism blog today, I would like to point people in the direction of the friendly folk at Newspaper Club where people can get hold of a copy of the paper I made, which is mentioned in the feature.

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Alternatively, please contact me direct if you would like a new version, with some new pictures as featured on my site.

Please also spare a thought for the many kind and generous people I met in my travels, some of whose families have been rooted in the area long before the airport existed. Hopefully they won’t have to wait too much longer for a lasting decision so they can get on with their lives.

Thanks for looking, and do please drop me a line if you have any questions.

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Exhibitions, Inspiration, Theory

The Space Inbetween

‘Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theatre.’

– Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

NPG Gallery Record - Exhibition Image – Digital Copy

©Spencer Murphy

Some photographs have a disconcerting ability to confer a sense of hidden space between the viewer and the subject that is at once familiar and comforting, but also intangible and disrupting.

In Spencer Murphy’s award winning image of Katie Walsh, it’s not immediately obvious who this woman is or why we are looking at her. Her expression is quizical and uncertain – as if she has had to be cajoled into this quiet, mute performance – and we wonder what we are looking at; wonder how this picture came about.  Her beauty is both extraordinary and banal, but since it cannot be both, a drama is created in the space where these two binary forces meet. The mud splatters connote the rawness of nature and we might guess at her profession, if it has eluded us thus far. This information itself creates a tension between her outward expression of femininity and our imagined projection of equine energy required in her chosen discipline.

Murphy photographed several jockeys for his commission to promote the broadcaster Channel 4’s racing season, but the meticulousness of his approach coupled with the tension between the camera and his subject, is only fully realised in the portrait of Katie.

Ultimately, photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks. – Roland Barthes

This is the last weekend of the show down at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I urge you to get down and see it.

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Behind the scenes, Environment, Photojournalism

Empty Chairs

The differences is clear: a community with a history of fighting for survival and one where apathy, so far, reigns.

A strategy meeting organized by the Villages community and attended by the local MP

A Heathrow Airports Limited organized meeting to engage with the public in Windsor

The two meetings I’ve attended in the last few months have been vastly different in terms of engagement with the local communities. The first – part of the traveling itinerary of the airport’s community relations department – was poorly attended, while the most recent had a real sense of spirit and fight.

Central to the theme of the night at the latter was the need to spread the word to those not present, and strategies which might be deployed to that end. A particularly creative one mentioned was a set of speakers mounted on a van which roamed around the leafier districts of southwest London blasting out the recorded sound of an aircraft landing on a potential, future runway.

I’ve always thought of this project as being connected in a larger context to man-made global warming. To that end, I’ve been on the look out for artists looking at the subject from many different points of view and perspectives. In other words, strategies for engaging with those empty chairs.

A colleague recently introduced me to the work of the artist Chris Jordan who uses statistics as a starting point to create highly detailed images of objects collected and photographed to form enormous canvasses. A number of the pieces retain their enigmatic impact through abstraction, others reveal their message on a macro level. Each image deals with excess, and of particular interest to this author, excesses within culture which go unnoticed but have an exponentially large impact on the wider world.

Much of the science behind global warming suggests fossil fuels need to remain in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic changes to the climate. A rise from 480,000 to 740,000 flights a year with the proposed expansion does not seem to tally with this heightened awareness of our collective global impact.

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Inspiration, Photography and current affaires, Photojournalism

Airport politics and a shimmer of possibility

Capitalism is always in crisis, which it solves through expansion – Frederic Jameson, Globalization and Totality, talk UC, Davis, March 3 2008.

The North West option - one of three proposals put before the commission. The new runway is shown above the existing two.

The North West option – one of three proposals put before the commission. The new runway is shown above the existing two.

Over the past summer I, somewhat idiosyncratically, tramped and traipsed around Heathrow photographing the areas earmarked for airport expansion. I was taken with the idea that communities have been living under the threat of demolition, and in particular a map I spotted online showing an area marked in red overlaying an otherwise ubiquitous section of an old map.

Cassini Historical Heathrow Maps show the development of London Heathrow airport’s footprint, from Heath Row to LHR.

The fact that that these proposals are constantly in the news does not in itself mean that the project is particularly timely. Locals have been fighting off proposal after proposal for around 60 years, and have become adept at the jousting game between advocates of the plan (business) and its many and varied opponents. This time, though, an independent Commissioner, Sir Howard Davies, is deciding, once and for all, whether Heathrow should expand and if so, where. You can download the full 52 page PDF here.

The reason I chose the subject was – as Tom Hunter suggested in the British Journal of Photography (Nov,2010) – to ‘think global while acting local’. It seems to me that, along this frequently ugly, bruised and blemished tract of land lies a hidden narrative affecting far flung corners of the globe. Heathrow Airport Limited, the owners of Heathrow airport are keen to emphasize the benefits of two miles of extra concrete – unlike for example 70 miles of new High Speed rail – allowing a truely global solution to the countries economic needs. Equally powerful though is the idea that expansion and unrestrained growth are socially and ethically contemptible economic models.

Below are a couple of pictures from the project which featured in a self published newspaper.

©djnorwood2013

© djnorwood 2013

I recently found the quote at the head of this post in a monograph of the work of Paul Graham, whose work I consistently find insightful and inspiring. The pictures above weren’t originally paired together, but revisiting the work I thought there were similarities of intent. More than any other photographer, it seems, he has used his work to address political and social issues while leaving space for more nuanced narratives to blend and merge with larger themes. There is something quite reassuring and life affirming about being shown such intimate moments playing out in the public domain – fleeting moments which the camera immortalizes, that deliver their message quietly, without the need for drama.

© Paul Graham

© Paul Graham

The Heathrow Villages may not be the disenfranchised margins of modern America, as depicted in Graham’s images, but they are nevertheless maligned hinterlands, which are slowly being swallowed by the vortex created by the airport nearby.

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