WIP – Final Selection

In reviewing my work this module and selecting my final 20 images for my Work In Progress portfolio, I have tried to keep in mind the aims of my project; to show an authentic view of female surfers in the UK – that they are not all the kind of women that fit the surfer-model formula shown in brand advertising. I have also tried to provide an authentic look at what it is like to surf in the UK; contending with the cold air and sea temperatures, the wind, the requirements for thick wetsuits, along with wetsuit boots, hoods, and gloves, as well as showing that surfing in the UK is far from the tropical paradise in advertising, but that UK surfing involves getting ready in car parks, and walks through streets to reach the beach.

I have also tried to keep in mind my desire to use a combination of portraits, environmental portraits, action images, and still life images, to provide a more rounded view of female surfers and UK surfing, as I feel that is not something using only one form of photograph subject/style would deliver.

I chose to include four images of five women I photographed this module; three colour images of their surfing life/process/conditions/actually surfing, and one of each of them in a more formal portrait style photograph in black and white. As I found looking at the work of other surf photographers the black & white images provide a timeless aspect to the photographs. Additionally they connect to the origins of the documentation of surfing; from the early drawings of native Hawaiians surfing made by the ship’s artist on the HMS Discovery in the 1700’s (Mansfield 2011), to the images of the pioneers of modern day surfing from the 1920 and 1930s (Heimann 2004). I wanted to include these black & white images as a reference to where these women are in relation to the history of surfing and use the timeless aesthetic to reference the longevity of the sport of surfing as well as the history of women in surfing.

I hope that the execution of my aims has been successful, and does show an authentic view of female UK surfers through the combination of different photographic styles (portraits / still-life images etc.). I feel there is still a risk that the project is merely inviting further judgement on what women look like. But I hope that by including images of them surfing, and images that focus on, for example, wetsuit boots or gloves, the message conveyed is about who female surfers are and what UK surfing is, rather than just what female surfers look like.

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HEIMANN, J. 2004. Surfing Vintage Surfing Graphics. Köln: Taschen GmbH

MANSFIELD, R. 2011. The Surfing Tribe A History of Surfing in Britain. Newquay, UK: Orca Publications

Week 10 - Enter the Academy

I have previously written about considering an exhibition for my project as I felt this could be a useful way of sharing the work with people that may not otherwise see it via an alternative method, e.g. photobook. However in reading the introduction of Emma Barker’s “Contemporary Cultures of Display”[i] I realise I should also consider how the act of exhibiting the work could affect the reading of the work. Barker writes that galleries and museums are not the “neutral containers, offering a transparent, unmediated experience of art” (Barker 1991) that they are thought to be, or claim to be. But instead the act of displaying works by a gallery/museum bestows on the works a status, a message that those works are worthy of being displayed. The inference being that other works, not being displayed, are not worthy of being included in the gallery/museum.

Barker also discusses Malraux’s concept of a museum without walls, “art for the masses” (Barker 1991). Malraux felt that photography, as an artistic tool for a museum without walls, decontextualizes objects by taking away “their original significance” and “their material specificity” (Barker 1991) (in terms of scale, size, texture, of an object etc.). Galleries/museums elevate objects to the status of ‘art’, but the museum without walls allows objects to have the same status.

I feel in today’s society this could well be applied to social media, as a form of a museum, or a gallery, without physical walls. Social media platforms like Instagram allow every image shared to have the same status and give them all the potential to be thought of as ‘art’, or all could be thought of as ‘not art’. The playing field is levelled to screen size, there aren’t the same restrictions to view the work as there are with physical exhibitions, and as Instagram is free users (viewers) aren’t required to pay to view the images as they would for a paid exhibition. Of course there are some restrictions, for example access to Instagram is not globally equal due to various economic, world finance, and technological reasons. But in comparison to a photograph displayed on a physical gallery wall there is more potential for a photograph to more widely viewed via social media.

It could also be argued that in today’s mass media society platforms like Instagram make it harder for images to be seen, or distinguished from, the sea of images. But my point here is that this form or wall-less gallery allows for the potential for images to be globally shared, and for them to be viewed without the ‘status’ and underlying messages of prestige (or pretention?) that follow traditional gallery wall exhibitions.  

Exhibitions curated by a person, or team of people, display works with an agenda to communicate a pre-determined message. A multi-artist exhibition to show a particular theme or a solo exhibition to celebrate the artist. Either way exhibitions have an intended reading that viewers will most likely be aware of before viewing the works. Viewing an exhibition isn’t necessarily viewing the works as intended by the artist, but viewing the intention of the curator(s).

Viewing photographs on social media platforms, allows for images to be read without the intention of a gallery curator behind them, (if displayed on the account of the artists rather than a gallery's social media account). However is this a good or a bad thing for the artist? Whether viewers will read the photographs with any of the intended meaning of the artist will still depend on how it is shared; the text accompanying the image, or lack of text, as well as who sees it and their own individual knowledge and experiences will still play a part in how someone interprets an image (as discussed in previous weeks CRJ posts). There is also the risk that without the gallery display status, people will dismiss images on social media as just another photo, and they won’t really look at the image for any length of time, or really consider what it is they are looking at.

The status of a gallery display implies that a photograph is ‘art’, and this labelling sets the photograph aside from other images. As Barker (1991) writes, the status of ‘art’ being assigned to a object sets it “apart from the more mundane concerns of society” (Barker 1991). Art is seen as something creative, something different from the monotony of everyday life. However as I am trying to show the authentic realities of life for female surfers in the UK, if I were to exhibit them would that imply the images are ‘art’ and therefore not of the real-world? Would it be presumed that the images aren’t showing something authentic, but are staged images to create ‘art’, and therefore counteract that aim of the project? Perhaps a solution here would be to exhibit in a non-traditional gallery setting. I don’t think display of images automatically equals viewing those images as ‘art’, but I think displaying them in an art gallery would imply they are ‘art’, and not necessarily images that document a reality.

On the other hand, as Barker also pointed out, the physical display of images may well encourage viewers to “stop and contemplate” (Barker 1991) what they are looking at. By changing the method of viewing images from quickly scrolling through social media, to slowing down the process by showing them in real life, this may facilitate people really considering what the images are showing, and not just dismissing them as more social media images. This could help people to really consider the realities of female surfers against what is portrayed in the media and advertising.    

Just another social media image or something to stop and contemplate?    Kirsty   - March 2017, Sophie Bradley

Just another social media image or something to stop and contemplate?

Kirsty - March 2017, Sophie Bradley

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[i] Barker, Emma. 1991. 'Introduction' in Contemporary Cultures of Display New Haven/London: Yale University Press/The Open University

 

 

Week 9 - Defining Work

In a 2010 interview[i] regarding their exhibition “Pretty Much Everything - photographs 1985-2010”, held at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin describe their work as always being in-between genres. Always sitting somewhere between straight portraiture, art, and fashion photography, but in each case always being about the subject of the photograph. I feel that their work is quite conceptual, planned, with the finished result in mind. Whereas Peter Fraser, in an interview with the Tate[ii] regarding an exhibition of his work at Tate St Ives, discusses a more emotional unplanned way of making photographs. He allows himself to come across something he hasn’t seen before, and when something sparks in his subconscious he makes the photograph. Fraser takes photographs of the small things in life, wanting to show that which often goes unnoticed, but nevertheless make up the bigger picture. Van Lamsweerde and Matadin appear to focus more on a bigger picture, rather then the minutiae of life. Their images are more stylised whereas Frasers are unplanned and more organic in feeling.

Joanna - Hervé Leger Campaign, 1995 © Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin  Available at: http://photography-now.com/exhibition/67889

Joanna - Hervé Leger Campaign, 1995 © Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

Available at: http://photography-now.com/exhibition/67889

Bike Chain, Material 2002, Peter Fraser  Available at: http://www.peterfraser.net/projects/material-2002/

Bike Chain, Material 2002, Peter Fraser

Available at: http://www.peterfraser.net/projects/material-2002/

Looking at these photographers has made me think about where my work sits in the sphere of big picture/small details, and planned/chance photography. Truthfully I feel like it sits somewhere in the middle of all the aforementioned styles & choices. With my project I am trying to capture an overall view of who female UK surfers are, and what UK surfing is like. However rather than just including images of the women surfing I am also looking at the smaller details that make up UK surfing. For example looking at some of the equipment required for cold UK surfing; neoprene wetsuit hoods, boots, and gloves, thick towel robes to change in after surfing, warm layers to change into afterwards etc. I plan meeting up with the surfers I photograph in advance, so from that aspect I plan the photograph shoots, and sometimes I have an idea of what I’m looking to capture, but I don’t often direct the surfers to pose for the camera. I let them prepare as they would normally and I photograph what feels right at the time, akin to Frasers way of working. For some shots I may ask them to look directly at me, or away from me, but that is the limit of direction I give them.

I had previously thought that this was the best way to authentically capture and represent the women in my photographs. This week, however, has me wondering whether this approach may appear to viewers as too haphazard, and lacking in coherency. I need to be careful that the different images still form a logical narrative to convey the desired message. For me both Van Lamsweerde and Matadin’s work, and Fraser’s work, are somewhat connected but also quite disjointed between their individual images. I want my viewers to be able to look at each image individually, but also as a part of the collective. So I need to try to select the photographs that best convey this, and take this aim forward to next module as well.  

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[i] VAN LAMSWEERDE, I & MATADIN, V. 2010. Interview by Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. Available at: https://youtu.be/W-ITa3S9cMM

Last Accessed: 15Apr2018

[ii] FRASER, P. 2013. Interview with Tate.

Available at: https://youtu.be/F8glmAtCnnU

Last Accessed: 15Apr2018

Week 8 - Speaking Photographically

It is fascinating thinking about the intent of photographers, what they want to say, and whether their aims come across. Patrick Trefz, a surf photographer who’s work has been a big inspiration to me this module, describes himself in a 2015 interview with Davis Jones as “an anthropologist and a sociologist” (Jones, 2015), looking at his subjects as though they are a “character study” (Jones, 2015). Trefz uses his work to try to show that there is more to surf culture than images of world-class surfers on epic waves, prominently displaying sponsor company logos, would imply. Such images have become almost the normality for surf photography these days. Whereas Trefz states that for him,  “There were stories in the surfing world that were reality for me and there were subjects who I wanted to follow” (Jones, 2015). He also talks about how the normal style of surf photographs don’t often provide a lot of depth in terms of showing who the surfer is, the person behind the actual act of surfing. Trefz is looking to show more of who a surfer is, and what surf culture and surf lifestyles really look like, and not just photographs of surfers surfing.

Trefz uses a combination of different types of images to communicate this culture that is otherwise only represented by the famous surfers at famous wave spots. For example, Trefz’s 2012 photo book “Surfers’ Blood” (Trefz, 2012), also the subject of his 2015 interview with Davis. This book is a collection of his photographs taken over 20 years during his career as a surf photographer, and are a combination of portraiture, environmental portraits, landscapes, action shots of surfing, images in both colour and black and white – the black & white giving the images a timeless quality (Jones, 2015).

Whilst many of the photographs in the book are land-based, there are some taken in-water; in the more expected image style for surf photographs. Trefz acknowledges that these kind of images show non-surfers what surfing can be like, and that technology like GoPro (the epitome of action sport image capture technology) can be used to provide the up-close images of surfing that “For the mainstream, that's a thrill, to see something incredible” (Jones, 2015).

Overall, I feel that Trefz’s desire to show an aspect of surf culture and life that is rarely seen, and an aspect of surfers and who they are out of the water, is a relatively successful one. He uses his combination of portraits/landscapes/still-life photographs, to show a wider variety of what surf culture encompasses. By showing more than just the surfers surfing, he provides a glimpse into their lives outside of the water. The lives of those he chose to photograph are still connected to the ocean, even when not surfing, and this shows how surfing and the ocean (for many people) filters into other aspects of life. Through the colour photographs he shows the vibrancy connected with surfing and the adrenaline of the sport. Through the black & white photographs he provides the timeless feel he spoke of to the body of work. I agree with Trefz, that these images do appear more timeless. I also feel they invoke a nostalgic feel to the work, and remind one of the photographs of the early period of modern surfing, photographs of Duke Kahanamoku (the “first emissary of surfing”, (Mansfield, 2011)),  from the 1920’s for example. They also put one in mind of the early drawings of native Hawaiians surf-riding when the islands were first “discovered” by the West. By choosing to include both colour and black & white photographs I feel that Trefz tells more of the story of surfing, rather than just individual split seconds of waves, and they connect the past of surfing, it’s history, to present day.

His desire to show more than one aspect of surfing is something that resonates with me, and I like the way he balances portraiture, environmental portraiture, landscapes, and still life images, along with including both colour and black & white. I feel this combination of images provides more of a view of who surfers are than just photographs of them surfing. Trefz aims to show more of a story with his work, and I am also trying to communicate more of a narrative about who surfers are through my project.

The one thing I think is lacking from “Surfers’ Blood” is the representation of female surfers. Trefz claims he sees himself as an anthropologist, a sociologist, looking at and wanting to show the other stories in the surfing world that aren’t shown. Trefz also states that, in relation to the “Surfer’s Blood” exhibition, he wants the audiences, of which he expects to be made up of people that “know next to nothing about surfing”, “to feel a sense of awe”, and that he wants “them to leave intrigued and blown away at the same time” (Jones, 2015).       

The majority of the photographs in the book are of men, and male surfers. There are around 100 photographs in Surfers’ Blood. Of the 4 photographs of women only one woman, in a close-up portrait photograph, is credited with being a surfer – Lee Ann Curren. She is also credited in the book as being “Tom Curren’s daughter”. One is shown having a cast of her leg made for an art project, (and the artist – the named subject of the photograph, is a man, it is not stated whether or not his female subject is a surfer), one is a toddler, and the other photograph is a group of women – all unnamed and it is unclear whether any of them are surfers. The only apparent connection from the subjects of that photograph to the rest of the book, is that they are of Polynesian descent – and modern surfing comes from ancient Polynesian practices. There are some other photographs of women in the book, not taken by Trefz (at least as far as I know); they are borderline pornographic barely clothed page 3-style images of women tacked up in the surfboard shaping workshop of a (male) surfboard shaper/maker – the stereotypical pin-up pictures in the greasy mechanics garage.

 

What exactly is the anthropologist in Trefz saying with these images? What is he saying with the lack of female surfer representation in his work? What awe-inspiring narrative, what intrigue and amazement will viewers of his work, that “know next to nothing about surfing”, take away from viewing his photographs?

Lee Ann Curren , from "Surfers' Blood" by Patrick Trefz    Available at:  http://www.patricktrefz.com/

Lee Ann Curren, from "Surfers' Blood" by Patrick Trefz

Available at: http://www.patricktrefz.com/

If a non-surfer were to view his photographs they may well think surfing is mans sport, a man’s domain, where there may be some women, but only one or two. They may well think that women in surf culture are there only if they are a male surfer’s daughter. Or that they can only be in the surf world if they pose somewhat seductively in skimpy bikinis to be pinned onto the wall of a sexist surfboard shaper. I hardly call that awe-inspiring or intriguing.

As a surfer myself, I know that this is not the case, I know that there are lots of women in surfing and that some of them are professional world class surfers. I know that many of them aren’t professional surfers, but embrace the lifestyle surfing gives them, that battle the elements and intimidating male heavy line-ups (areas in the sea where surfers sit to wait for the waves to roll in). I also know how daunting it can be getting out into the sea to surf surrounded by men, and how alone you can feel as a female surfer when you don’t see people like you in the media to identify with. When the prevailing image is of the tropical female surfer and your reality is cold-water wetsuit surfing – who do you connect with?

This is where I feel my practice and my project fits in. Like Trefz, I too am looking to show another side to surfers, but I am focussing my project on female surfers. Showing that there are female surfers, some of them are in the UK, and despite the cold and non-tropical conditions they do still surf. I do however feel that his use of mixed subject matter and combination of colour and black & white images works well and that is something I would like to bring in to my project. I feel the way it connects the photographs to the historic roots of surfing, and the timeless quality it gives to the images emphasizes the longevity of surfing as a practice, and it could imply that the subjects of my photographs – the women, aren’t a fleeting moment on a wave but a part of something bigger; the growth of women in surfing and documentation of ‘real’ women in surfing.

Kirsty , March 2017, Sophie Bradley

Kirsty, March 2017, Sophie Bradley

I also feel that, as Trefz indicated, the normal in-water GoPro style photos show a thrill for the non-surfer, and give an insight into what surfing is actually like. However they don’t necessarily communicate the narrative of surfers behind surfing, of the rest of the culture and lifestyle that surfing is. I sometimes consider bringing in-water photography into the project. However given that I am trying to show the other aspects of surfers, and not just the act of surfing, I am not convinced those style of photographs will add anything to the project. Yet, if I don’t include the perhaps expected in-water photographs what will that say to the viewer? It may imply that in-water photographs of women surfers aren’t as valuable, or aren’t as desired. This view of female surfers is obviously something I don’t want to say or encourage. I feel it is still something I will consider, and maybe experiment with, in the coming months, but for now I want to concentrate the project on land-based photographs.

Trefz’s dual approach of disseminating his work is also something I think would be valuable for my project. His book serves as a physical record of the images, and something that can be obtained outside of the exhibition (indeed it was published several years before the exhibition). It is something that can reach people who could not attend the exhibition in person. But his exhibition (he believed) would reach non-surfers and spread the stories behind surfing that he was trying to document and share. I think this dual approach could be valuable to my project.

A book or some kind of hard copy publication would provide the long-term record of the women I have photographed for the project, it would (I hope) be something that could reach people over time and over distance, it is something that can be sent to people who are geographically spread out. However an exhibition, could also bring the work to non-surfers. People who might not be inclined to purchase a book of surf-photography might attend an exhibition. As Trefz hoped for his exhibition, I would also hope that viewers of my work my see something inspiring in it, something that helps them see a different or unexpected side to female surfers and female surfing in the UK.

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JONES, D. 2015. On Surfer’s Blood And Beauty. From www.surfer.com. Available at https://www.surfer.com/features/patrick-trefz-on-surfers-blood-and-beauty/  Last Accessed: 14Apr2018

MANSFIELD, R. 2011. The Surfing Tribe A History of Surfing in Britain. Newquay, UK: Orca Publications

TREFZ, Patrick. 2012. Surfers’ Blood. Brooklyn NY: Powerhouse Books

Week 7 - Responses and Responsibilities

Something that struck me this week in looking at Sebastião Salgado’s work, is the idea of having to choose between aesthetics and method, and between aesthetics and the integrity of the message being conveyed. Can an image be “too beautiful” to convey a message?

There seems to be this idea that images can’t be beautiful, or aesthetically pleasing, in order to affect change (social, environmental, political, etc.)

Sischy’s 1991 article[i] condemning Salgado’s work claims he is “too busy with the compositional aspects of his pictures – with finding the “grace” and “beauty” in the twisted forms of his anguished subjects” (Sischy 1991) and that this anesthetizes the viewer to the horrors being shown in the image.          

I disagree with this – I think the beauty in his images elevates the subjects from the condescending Western view of the poor impoverished natives that need charity, to allow them to be viewed on a more equal footing to the (likely) more affluent Western viewer. Sischy’s overall criticising of Salgado’s work, in my opinion, is mostly to do with how his photographs are interpreted by the viewers. She herself comments on the “disparity” between the “intentions and results” of his work. But the results, how the viewers read his images, very much depends on the individual viewer. Sischy makes multiple, disparaging, references to the Judeo-Christian religious overtones in his images. However I am not of the Judeo-Christian belief and my initial thoughts about Salgado’s images are not of religious iconography or similarities. My background and upbringing don’t instantly lead me to think his images are attempting to be comparable to religious imagery.

I look at Salgado’s work and I am struck by the beauty of his images, like many people. But the beauty of them makes me look at them longer, it makes me really interrogate the subject matter being shown. I look at the work, at the people in his photographs, and I don’t see them as charity cases that only illicit feelings of pity, or worse – superiority. But the beauty of his work makes me see the people as contemporaries, in a terrible situation, that need aid and resolution. With “harder-hitting” photographs, those with so-called “shock-value”, I personally am more likely to turn away than really look at the image, as I would feel it is gratuitous and patronising. However, again this is due to my background, my upbringing, my personality. To blanketly say that Salgado’s work does a disservice to the subject’s because of how the images COULD be read, doesn’t take into account the many different people and their own individual minds and how they MIGHT interpret and react to his work.

It cannot be expected that the photographer can, or should, be responsible for controlling every single person’s responses to their work. I think every photographer has a responsibility to their subject, but it is not necessarily possible to be fully aware of how that is realised by the photographer (e.g. whether that responsibility is felt by the photographer to be reportage or straight documentary photography, or whether it is felt to be capturing beauty in a more aesthetically pleasing style of photography). How those images are later interpreted by the viewer cannot always be predicted. Some, like Sischy, may look at Salgado’s work and dismiss it as too beautiful to affect change. Others, like me, may see it as inspiration for the change that needs to be made. People are different and just because some respond more effectively to “beautiful” images over “gritty” images, doesn’t mean there isn’t a place, or a market, for both.

In my own practice, I am trying to show who female UK surfers are. For me personally, I feel the way I can do this, in terms of who I am,  is to show a form of beauty in who these surfers are. I don’t think it would be respectful to my subjects to take “gritty” pictures just to communicate who female surfers are, and I don’t think it would be reflective of who they are either. The women I have met through this project are beautiful women, inside and out, and that is something I want to show. I don’t feel that the only work that can be considered good work are the gritty images. Images can show something authentic whilst still be considered aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, I feel I need to be careful to not create work that is “beautiful” at the sacrifice of images that show something authentic, even if it is a bit “gritty”.

Joni Sternbach’s “Surf Site Tin Type”[ii] images of surfers I feel are very beautiful, with their very retro vintage feel, but don’t necessarily show who the surfers are, or what their lives are like, with complete authenticity. For example this image, whilst lovely, doesn’t really communicate anything about the subjects of the photograph:

Andy's Board , Joni Sternbach, part of the "Surfland" series that became the photobook "Surf Site Tin Type"  Available at:  https://www.theprintspace.co.uk/interview-joni-sternbach-surfland/

Andy's Board, Joni Sternbach, part of the "Surfland" series that became the photobook "Surf Site Tin Type"

Available at: https://www.theprintspace.co.uk/interview-joni-sternbach-surfland/

 

Whereas photographs by someone like Richard Sandler I would consider not as aesthetically beautiful as Sternbach’s, and are more on the “gritty” side of the spectrum:

 

W. 32nd St., NYC, 1983. Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City  Available at:  https://www.lensculture.com/articles/richard-sandler-the-eyes-of-the-city#slideshow

W. 32nd St., NYC, 1983. Richard Sandler / The Eyes of the City

Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/richard-sandler-the-eyes-of-the-city#slideshow

For me the grittiness of Sandler’s photographs matched the New York streets in which they were taken, and Sternbach’s allude with the natural beauty of the beach and ocean. For my work I feel I need to find a balance between these two areas – the beauty of the natural world and the women in my project, and the “grittier” aspect of surfing in the UK, where there aren’t palm trees and tropical weather, in order to show the more authentic reality of what it means to be a female UK surfer. Patrick Trefz’s work Surfers’ Blood[iii], for me, balances the beautiful imagery with more documentary style photographs, as well as combining a variety of images, for example action photographs, portraits, and landscapes. These combined present a more rounded insight into the lives of some surfers.

 

Patrick Trefz image, part of "Surfers' Blood" photobook  Available at:  http://www.patricktrefz.com/

Patrick Trefz image, part of "Surfers' Blood" photobook

Available at: http://www.patricktrefz.com/

I hope, as a creator, that viewers of my work see the message that I am trying to communicate. Although as above, I cannot control how everybody will react to it and how their lives and experiences, will influence their reading of my work.

I can use the method of sharing my work as a way to guide how I am intending the photographs to be read. For example a gallery display or photo book implies the work has a certain status, over only being printed in a magazine or only being shown online, for example. The latter two methods imply the photographs are transient, whereas the first two imply longevity and a permanence of value. Of course this would not prevent anyone from reading the work in a negative way, but would perhaps help a viewer to understand what I am trying to create and communicate.

Jess , March-2018, Sophie Bradley

Jess, March-2018, Sophie Bradley

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[i] SISCHY, Ingrid. 1991. Good Intentions in The New Yorker (09Sep1991)

[ii] STERNBACH, Joni. 2015. Surf Site Tin Type. Bologna: Damiani

[iii] TREFZ, Patrick. 2012. Surfers’ Blood. Brooklyn NY: Powerhouse Books

Week 6 - Sea of Images

People are adrift in a sea of images these days. We are surrounded by images, partly due to the rise of social media, on a daily basis. The practice of photography as an occasional pursuit of the few has developed over time to become the commonplace method to record and distribute images of the everyday. People see life and the world through the lenses of photographers – professional or non-photographers, via social media, via their smart phones.

A lot of photography is often still seen as showing reality, especially since the rise of lifestyle bloggers/vloggers/social media influencers. People forget that what they see on Instagram, for example, is not necessarily real life. Images seen on a screen are not first hand experiences, they are reproductions of a moment, re-presentations of an often crafted, edited, moment.

 

“Reality is experienced as an endless network of representations”

Mitchell (1996)

Although the above was written in 1996 the sentiment has perhaps never been more relevant. The line between real and not-real has been blurred and people have come to expect life to be as it is seen on a screen, as it is on social media. These, often crafted, images have created and perpetuate the illusion of what life is, or should be.

For example the images of “female surfers” that is has been popularised and is pervasive in social media and brand advertising has crafted the image of the fun-loving skinny bikini wearing surfer-model in the tropics, hanging out in a tribe of other fun-loving skinny bikini models, all with perfectly tanned skin and perfectly tousled hair. Viewers of these images interpret that this is what female surfers are. They believe that this is what they should be, what their live should be, what they should look like. The format of images is reproduced and shared and so the myth is perpetuated.

Through my practice I’m trying to show a different reality, perhaps a more authentic reality to the one seen in magazines – changing the ideology of “female surfer” from the unattainable surfer-model to the, perhaps more relatable, female surfer seen not in magazines, but the beaches of the UK. Instead of perpetuating the myth of the lifestyle/lives of the few, I hope to represent the lives of the everyday surfer.

Whilst this is what I am hoping to show. I am conscious that to date, there have only been Caucasian participants involved in the project. I am aware that this may well perpetuate the stereotype that surfing is not practised by other ethnicities, which isn’t globally true. In the UK I believe the surfing demographic is mostly White – possibly due to higher rates of Caucasian people living in the smaller coastal towns, whereas the urban town & city demographic is more multicultural.

I am not trying to imply that surfing, or the surfing culture, is a “white people” activity. However I do feel there is a risk that the impact of the work I am creating may be read in that way. Indeed there is a sense that although surfing first spread globally from the native pacific islanders it has been ‘conquered’ by imperialist cultures – as much of Hawaiian culture has been appropriated by non-Hawaiian societies (flower ‘crowns’, leis, ukuleles, tattoo styles, etc.).

A quick look at the top ranking competitors in the World Surf League’s World Championship Tour shows that the top 17 female surfers in the world, and the top 34 male surfers in the world, are majority Caucasian (of those 34 they are all from “Western” “developed” nations - except 11 from Brazil and 2 non-Western men; 1 from Japan and 1 from South Africa – although he is also Caucasian). In the women’s tour there is one (white) Brazilian woman, the rest are (also Caucasian) from USA, Australia, France, and New Zealand. This does raise questions as to why there are not surfers of other nationalities and ethnicities represented in professional surfing and in surf brand advertising etc., and therefore if my project does end up showing female UK surfers as all Caucasian it may be received as perpetuating the myth of surfing as something only able to be practiced by Caucasians.

Without knowing with any certainty the ethnicity of every female surfer in the UK I can’t say for sure whether this is, or will be, the case. As indicated above, there are many other issues that could be looked at regarding this; for example the ethnicities of coastal populations in the UK, the reasons why there are not more minority populations living in rural/coastal England, financial wealth or ease of access to equipment, cultural restrictions/expectations etc. It would also be interesting to look at what the populations of non-Caucasian surfers are in other countries and the reasons for any potential differences to the UK. However, I think although this is worth considering in relation to my  project I do not think it is going to be feasible to look at all these areas/issues in the frame of this project.

As previously mentioned I want the project to reflect a more realistic view of female surfers that aren’t shown in the media. But I also want to show the women in my project as the strong and beautiful women I see them as. I don’t want the project to be read as the complete opposite of the beautiful images on social media, I don’t want the images or the women in them to be viewed as antithesis of beauty.

There is a potential conflict here between wanting to show the reality of living and surfing in UK, which is not the glamourous pacific island life people expect surfing to be, and wanting to show that even so there is beauty to be found in this life; in the environment, the landscape, the sea, and the women that surf there. I want to ensure the project is authentic but still aesthetically pleasing. I am wary of overly airbrushing the lifestyle/lives being represented.

I have recently been looking at the Cait Miers book “Her Wave”[i].

An image from "Her Wave", Cait Miers 2017.    Available at https://www.herewith.com/journal/cait-meyers-her-wave

An image from "Her Wave", Cait Miers 2017.

Available at https://www.herewith.com/journal/cait-meyers-her-wave

This is a photo book purporting to be a celebration of women who use the sea as their playground – according to the book’s introduction. It is a collection of photographs, with some interspersed text, of women in the water. The introduction states that it isn’t a book about surfing, although most of the photographs are of women surfing, or are of female surfers not surfing. Of these women they are all sponsored professional surfers and/or surfer-models that are part of the Roxy (surf-brand) family. They are all women/girls mostly famous within the surf culture, rather than non-famous “everyday” women. It is an aesthetically beautiful book, as are the images, but doesn’t really show a reality of being a surfer. It does look more like promotional material for Roxy (surf brand that the women in the book are sponsored by), and doesn’t really give any insight into who they are, what their lives are like etc. – although granted that doesn’t appear to be the intention. The photographs perpetuate the myth of the young surfer, the exotic tropical islands of female surfing, the social media ready Instagram-style photographs with the rather vacuous millennial message of needing to be a woman of independence and freedom who doesn’t care that her “bikinis don’t match” (Meirs, 2017).

I want my project to give an insight into the everyday female surfers; that are not professional surfers, that aren’t paid to surf, that aren’t models. To show a more “real-life” view of the world, rather than what people think the world should be.

Turkle (1996)[ii] said we live in a “culture of simulation in which people are increasingly comfortable with substituting representations of reality for the real”. I want to substitute a representation of reality, for a re-presentation of actual reality. By doing this I want to show, and maybe encourage others to realise, that social media images and brand advertising do not always show real life.

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[i] MIERS, Cait. 2017. Her Wave. Self-published.

[ii][ii] TURKLE, Shelly. 1996. Identity in the Age of the Internet. In MacKay, H. & O’Sullivan T. eds. (2003) The Media Reader: Continuity and Transformation London: Sage

Week 5 - Gazing at Photographs

 
The steady intent look post-surfing    Zoe , April-2018. Sophie Bradley

The steady intent look post-surfing

Zoe, April-2018. Sophie Bradley

Oxford dictionaries defines “gaze” as a “steady intent look”. In relation to my project I would say my steady and intent look, my gaze, is at the representation of women in advertising, in particular advertising by surf brands. To extend from that I realise I look at many other areas of writing, T.V, and film, with that same mindset – how women are represented in and by the media. Through my project I am intending to show an alternate view of the women in surfing, than that which is portrayed in advertising. I hope to positively show that differences do exist throughout the population of female surfers, but in doing so I wonder whether by taking more photographs of women I am merely adding to the practice of judging women on how they look rather than what they do, or who they are. The nature of my own photographic gaze is perhaps voyeuristic in that I am asking for and recording glimpses into their lives, lives that I am not a part of and cannot have. This could be said about all photographs we take of other people. All photographs of others could be viewed as voyeuristic, they all record other peoples lives for our, and our viewers, consumption and judgement.

As above, I am hoping my project will show that not all female surfers are the ones seen in magazines and advertisements, that the reality of who female surfers are is different. From the gaze of some female viewers I have spoken to, this is something that comes across. However that is not to say that all women will react the same way to the work. Some may see the work as just another way to judge women on their appearance, or as not a true representation of female surfers depending on the variety or breadth of women in the project. Others may see it as a negative view of female surfers in the UK or surf culture in the UK when viewed in comparison to the glossy brand/magazine-edited social media lives of professional surfer-models that live (or are at least photographed) in the seemingly exotic pacific islands. Perhaps in turn leading to viewing the female surfer as something “exotic” and “other”. Perhaps the view of female surfers hasn’t moved on a great deal from the 18th century, when British explorers first witnessed and recorded native Hawaiians surfing; equating surfing to the pacific islands. Perhaps also leading to equating surfers to those same, genderless, pacific islands.

Bright (1985)[i], wrote that media, including the advent of cowboy movies in the 20th century established the American wild west landscape as a masculine construct. The image of the wild west American landscape, a genderless geographical feature, is now synonymous with the rugged cowboy image; with what it means to be a man, someone who can tame the wild west. In a similar respect the sea, also a genderless geographical feature, has long been thought of in a feminine construct. Much of nature is often thought of as feminine, the idea of ‘Mother Nature’, for example, (I believe from the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth; Gaia). Thus the idea of the sea as woman is a life-giver, a creator, the wild nature that cannot be tamed. Hemingway wrote in “The Old Man and the Sea”[ii] that the protagonist thought of the sea as a woman, “He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her.” (pg.19) and “the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.” (pg.20).  

This view of the sea as a woman may influence the reading of my images of women surfers. Viewers may equate the images of these female surfers with the wild and tempestuous nature of the sea; as strong and powerful women. Or they may liken the images to the life-giving nature of the sea and read the women as creators and nurturers, keeping the image of them in the home rather than as sports women.

This could be a possibly very interesting take on the project and I wonder whether my images would be read in this way, and whether perpetuating the judgement of women but in this respect, rather than the more one dimensional advertising images, would change the judgements made about women surfers. Whether it could change the conversation about who female surfers are, and how they are seen by other surfers or the wider non-surf community. 

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[i] BRIGHT, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. exposure, 23(1).      

[ii] HEMINGWAY, Ernest. 1952. The Old Man and the Sea. London: Arrow Books

Week 4 - Into the Image World

Many images we see have a intentional way of being read by the viewer, something the image maker wants the viewer to understand, to interpret from the image. This dominant, or preferred, interpretation of the image is particularly important in advertising. The image makers (advertisers) want you as the consumer, to infer a message from the image that will make you purchase their products.  

As I’m sure many people are aware, advertisers do not always get this right and many adverts have “failed” in communicating their intended message. Viewers may look at an advert and read an entirely different message from it; the oppositional reading.

Of course some adverts, or indeed any image, fall somewhere in the middle; the message may not be conveyed as completely as intended, and many people may read other un-intended messages from the image, but still they understand at least part of the message or concept, and react mostly favourably to the image; the negotiated reading.

The semiotics, the language of signs, within images can be difficult to get right as images will be read by each individual differently, to a certain extent. Everybody approaches images with their own individual knowledge and experiences, so whilst some may be able to understand the intended message, individual view points may create an oppositional or negotiated reading of the image. With some images this is not necessarily an issue, for example within the fine art world; fine art photographs may be interpreted differently by different people but this is deemed acceptable. However in advertising, where viewers, consumers, are being asked (from a brand perspective at least), to engage with the image to ultimately buy a product this may not be so acceptable. As Williamson writes adverts communicate the “qualities and attributes of the products they are trying to sell, but also the way in which they can make those properties mean something to us”[i]. If the advert does not mean something to us, as an individual, we are not likely to purchase the product it is trying to sell.

Writing about the development of modern surfing post-WWII, Heimann writes that “surfers were considered to be unconventional free spirits, with the media images generated after the War setting the stage to transform surfing from a sport into a lifestyle”[ii]. As surfing migrated during the 1950’s – 1970’s from Hawaii to California, to Australia, and beyond, it was seen as the exotic pastime of young people, something free-spirited, anti-corporate, and anti-establishment. It is this image and lifestyle of exotic freedom and adventure that advertising today still communicates as a desirable quality for one’s life, something to attain.

If we look at this advertising photograph from surf brand Roxy, shown on their website as the gateway image to shop for swim wear, we see a beautiful young woman, somewhere tropical, sunny and warm, her long her flowing in the wind, of course wearing nothing but a Roxy bikini – the product being sold, and we see the tag line “make waves move mountains”.

Roxy - website advertising image: http://www.roxy-uk.co.uk/  Photographer unknown

Roxy - website advertising image: http://www.roxy-uk.co.uk/

Photographer unknown

We read that these bikinis are for the young and beautiful, they are for the tropics, and the tag line tells us that they are for strong and adventurous women. If you buy these bikinis you too can be like this surfer-model.

However, on another level we, as consumers, also read that these bikinis, this brand, represents that exotic freedom and adventure promised by the lifestyle of surfing – from the 1950’s to date. Surfing as a lifestyle equates to this woman – and she isn’t even surfing, there’s not even a surfboard visible in the photograph. This brand solely makes and sells clothing and equipment (surfboards, snowboards etc.) for women and girls. Therefore we can confidently presume this advert is aimed at women, rather than men, and yet the composition of this photograph is reminiscent of this poster below – from 1967. This was produced at a time when female surfers were even more of minority than they are now, and even a cursory glance at surf photography and advertising from that period shows a distinct objectification and sexualisation of women within surf culture.

Poster from 1967 - photographer unknown  From  Surfing: Vintage Surfing Graphics  by Jim Heimann

Poster from 1967 - photographer unknown

From Surfing: Vintage Surfing Graphics by Jim Heimann

I can see the message being communicated in the Roxy advertising photograph above, I can see and feel the desire to identify with the woman in the photograph and consider oneself a part of that culture, to be included in the tribe of young beautiful adventurous women in that tropical paradise. I can read the dominant message being shared. However, I can also see the objectification it shows, I can see the somewhat archaic view of women in surf culture, and as a woman older than her, who doesn’t live in that tropical paradise, and who doesn’t look like her, I don’t actually identify with the lifestyle being shown, if anything I feel alienated from it. I read an opposition to the intended message. Yet because I do read the dominant and oppositional messages, and I’m perhaps a little ashamed to admit part of me does desire that lifestyle, I have negotiated the signs in this photograph to a point where I am still likely to purchase from the brand.

It is this form of advertising and brand photographs that so many other female surfers I have spoken to have said it is hard to identify with. Through my project I intend to show that this is not the normality for many female surfers in the UK, and to provide an alternate view of who female surfers are – for surfers and non-surfers. I work with non-model female UK surfers to take documentary style photographs of them in the reality of surfing in the UK, and having to surf in wetsuits because the weather and waters are cold. I hope to show that this is so different from the desirable lifestyle portrayed in the media, but that it doesn’t exclude them from the tribe of “surfer”.

To date this has been marginally successful in reaching some other female surfers via social media (judging from those who have reached out to me about the project/wanting to take part in the project). I don’t think there has been much success outside of this area, and I need to re-think the strategy for sharing the project, and/or re-think the format or style of the photographs I am taking. Whilst I personally may not always read only the dominant message in advertising photographs like the Roxy one discussed above, they are (presumably) generally successful as adverts for the brand. It leads me to question whether my project would be more successful if the style of my photographs were more similar to those of brand advertising images, or if I more directly contrasted my photographs with advertising photographs.

However, this may change the direction of the project to be more of a commentary on surf brand advertising, and it could take away from the original aim of the project; to show the reality of surfing in the UK/who female UK surfers are. I would need to consider whether the reach of the message I am intending to communicate is a greater concern than the message of showing and recording who female UK surfers are.

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[i] WILLIAMSON, Judith. 2005. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. 15th edn. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd.

[ii] HEIMANN, Jim. 2004. Surfing: Vintage Surfing Graphics. Köln: Taschen GmbH

Week 3 - Hunters and Farmers

There is an idea that photographers are either “hunters” or “farmers”, as postulated by Jeff Wall (in Horne, 2012)[i], this is not only interesting but does make me think about how I create my work.

The “hunter” being someone who sets out to track down a moment to photograph, to record the world as it is, the “decisive moment” of the Cartier Bresson school of thought.

The “farmer” being someone who cultivates their image, who uses technology and creativity to generate a photograph.

I have always thought of myself as a hunter rather than a farmer, as someone trying to show a moment of reality from the world as it is. I don’t create the subject matter or stage my work in a studio so I wouldn’t have thought that I belong in the “farmer” group of photographers. However in thinking further about these terms I am not sure the line is so clearly drawn, for example some photographers create work that appears to be a staged moment, i.e. they would be considered farmers in this situation. However the work is also a record of the world and invites the viewer to read the image in the context of their cultural knowledge – so the work could also be read from a “hunter” perspective.

For example, Gregory Crewdson’s work at first glance can appears to be documentary photographs of everyday lives, but are actually carefully staged scenes - reminiscent of movie stills or paintings. They still show a single moment, but the moment was a crafted one, and the indexical nature of the photographs means they show something that, for many people, is familiar or indicative of something they are already aware of – either first hand or through contextual cultural knowledge. For example this image, “The Motel” from his Cathedral of the Pines series[ii]:

Gregory Crewdson - The Motel    From the series Cathedral of the Pines (2013-2014)    https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/09/gregory-crewdson-photography-cathedral-of-the-pines

Gregory Crewdson - The Motel

From the series Cathedral of the Pines (2013-2014)

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/09/gregory-crewdson-photography-cathedral-of-the-pines

This appears to be a simple shot of a house in winter, but as before is a “farmed” scene. This will be familiar to those who live in similar locales, but for me it reminds of me the movie Fargo (1996), and therefore has quite an unsettling feel to it.

This may also be true for others who have seen the movie, and this intertextual relationship between the two affects the reading of the image. If someone hasn’t seen Fargo I don’t know whether they would also react in the same way to the image, whether it was intended to be read in that context, or indeed whether it matters. Even though this image was made rather than just taken, it is still a record of the world, and says something about the world and other cultural influences surrounding the subject matter.

It is debatable whether “hunted” photographs, documentary photos capturing a snap shot of time, can even really show the whole situation surrounding the photograph/subject(s) of the photograph. A photograph turns a three dimensional world into two dimensions[iii], turns one moment of time into a longer lasting image that can be read in a multitude of different ways, that (like farmed images) can be read differently depending on the viewers own cultural contextual knowledge. A photograph showing a person looking angry could be because the photograph was of an argument, or the person was telling a story about an argument, or was just pulling a silly face for the camera.

For example this well-known image by Diane Arbus of a little boy holding a toy grenade[iv], was an un-staged documentary style photo, which if read with no other knowledge of the situation the photograph was taken in, could be read as a photograph of a slightly odd or perhaps even mentally unstable child.

However as the contact sheet and article show (the contact sheet is further down in the article linked above), this was not the full story of how the photograph was taken, or of who the child was or what he was doing. So is it possible to tell the “truth” of the situation from that one image alone? When I first saw this photograph many months ago, I knew that Arbus was renowned for images of the marginalized and “bizarre”. So I read this image in the context of her other work and did not think the photograph of that little boy was anything different. I could not see, from that one image, the whole 'true' situation.

By only working in purely one method; hunting or farming, may not necessarily mean the resulting image will be read as intended or that it shows a “true” reality.

Shizuka Yokomizo’s “Stranger” series is, for me, a great example of constructed photographs that blur the line between hunter and farmer, and show a snapshot of a reality[v].

Shizuka Yokomizo - Stranger series (1998-2000)     http://theharlow.net/shizuka-yokomizo-dear-stranger/#

Shizuka Yokomizo - Stranger series (1998-2000) 

http://theharlow.net/shizuka-yokomizo-dear-stranger/#

Between 1998-2000 Yokomizo posted letters through individual letter boxes in London, asking the occupants to stand in their homes, look out of their window at the camera set up on the street, on an appointed day and time so she could take their photograph, they would never meet, and if they didn’t want to take part they just needed to keep their curtains closed[vi]. She farmed the set-up for these photographs, and constructed the process for them to be taken. But in not interacting with the subjects face-to-face, and not constructing the scene (what the subjects would be wearing, what they would look like, or what would be visible in the photograph etc.), I feel Yokomizo did capture an authentic moment of their lives. And by providing parameters for the work, i.e. the letter, the date and time the photograph would be taken, the passive acceptance of partaking by the subjects, we as viewers are given more than if it were a documentary street photograph, we know that this moment in time is not a fleeting millisecond but more of a genuine insight into their lives, into their homes. I do not think that there is a contextual cultural knowledge required to read these images as the concept of the work is more of a focus than the aesthetic reading.

I stated above that I always felt my work to be in the “hunter” group of photography. However reviewing this concept and the works of Crewdson, Arbus, and Yokomizo, I feel my work is currently conceptually somewhere more in the middle of hunter and farmer. Whilst I am still “hunting” in the sense that I am trying to show a reality, and not a fictional world, and I am trying to show authentic moments in the lives of female surfers in the UK, I am also “farming” these photographs as I pre-arrange to meet the women I am photographing, and whilst I’m not staging the scene I do occasionally provide direction in terms of where I want them to look during portrait photographs. I am also relying on the viewer having a contextual understanding of what is the normality for photographs, particularly in advertising, of female surfers, and therefore what I am showing is not normal in this context.

Aesthetically it is more in the realm of hunter rather than farmer, and I think this is appropriate to the message that I am trying to convey; that the photographs show a reality, and not a fictional world. I don’t want viewers to read the project as something that isn’t “real”, I want them to think about how different they are to the photographs they normally see of female surfers, and why that is, and what the “normal” photographs are really showing and what they mean. This week I have thought more about how the images would be read if there is no existing contextual knowledge of the portrayal of female surfers. As I wrote above, I’m not sure that it would matter. There may be no link by the viewer between the way I am showing female surfers and how female surfers are normally portrayed. But I am also trying to show the strength of female surfers that surf year round in the cold and in wetsuits, and that female surfers are not all one size and shape. I believe this does come across regardless of whether the viewer has any experience or knowledge of female surfer photography or not.

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[i] HORNE, R. 2012. Holly Andres: “Farmer” of Photographs in the Wall Street Journal (03Feb2012). Available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/09/gregory-crewdson-photography-cathedral-of-the-pines

[iii] BATCHEN, G. 2002. Each Wild Idea. Massachusetts: MIT Press

[iv] https://www.lomography.com/magazine/255096-influential-photographs-child-with-toy-hand-grenade-in-central-park-1962-by-diane-arbus

[v] http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/what-are-you-looking

[vi] http://theharlow.net/shizuka-yokomizo-dear-stranger/#

Week 2 - The Index and the Icon

The question of whether there is “anything particularly “photographic” about photography”[i], and whether photographs can be considered “real” is an interesting one. The idea is that photography is a unique method of making images, different to painting or drawing for example, and therefore requires unique methods of understanding. Unlike paintings, in which the subject matter could have been completely or partially imagined, photographs show something that actually “was”; something that did exist in that moment, space, and time. Presuming the photo in question wasn’t solely created on a computer via image creation and editing software – but more on that later.

This idea of photographs showing something that actually “was”, as if the viewer had been there themselves, requires the viewer to trust and believe that what they are seeing is a faithful, and true, representation of the subject matter. Paintings are viewed as the artists interpretation of the subject matter, and as the artists choices of how and in what medium to record the subject are wildly varied, paintings are not viewed as an accurate true record. For example if one wanted to look at an image of a clock one could turn to “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali.

The Persistence of Memory - Salvador Dali  Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/1168-2

The Persistence of Memory - Salvador Dali

Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/1168-2

However modern cultural knowledge tells us that clocks do not look like that – the clocks in that painting are the artists interpretation. And if that is true for one painting how could we say with any certainty that other paintings of clocks are any more or less accurate. This is an example of where the particular belief that photographs – created by a machine, are accurate records of the subject. A photograph of a clock tells us that that particular clock existed in that manner at the time the photograph was taken.

It is this particular belief about photography that has in part led to my project, and is what I am trying to use within my project. The belief that photography is an accurate record of the “thing” it is showing; that surf brand photography consists of iconic or indexical images of female surfers (to put it in relation to Pierce’s[i] characteristics of photography). There can be a belief that the subject in photographs are, in real life, as they appear in the images. That the women shown in photographs look and behave exactly as the photographs show – the iconic image. Or, that the photographs indicate the real females surfers in the world, that for the image to exist it is proof that the women in them must also exist – the indexical image. And to further extrapolate from this, that if those photographs show what one female surfer looks like, that must be what they all look like.

The way photographs are used by surf brands and media to indicate that the “thing” is real, has led to this image of women that surf as the surfer-model in the tiny bikini in the tropics. Those images are read by viewers as the truth of who a female surfer is. In my last module I photographed a surfer, Ceri, and her 12 year old daughter. During the session Ceri commented that her daughter is influenced by those images, and believes that those types of photographs show what female surfers are, or should be – and this is what I am trying to show is not necessarily the case, by using the knowledge of that same belief of the “truth” of photography.

Nowadays many more people are aware of the power and widespread use of photo editing software – particularly in the advertising industry. So there are many more people that read those types of images “with a pinch of salt”, so to speak. However the underlying core belief is that even with photo editing the subject was there and real to begin with, and so this dichotomy of what is “real” and what is “fake” in an image persists.

I am trying to use this belief that a photograph shows a real thing, to show “real” surfers in the UK. I am keeping the style of the photographs quite “natural” – only natural or available lighting, so no studio lights, and very minimal post processing. Mostly colour correction/balancing, but no editing anything in or out – and definitely no editing of the surfers to make them look taller/skinnier/or change their “flaws”. These images of real women are a record of them in that particular place in time - rather than an symbol of who all female surfers are.

The veracity of what a photograph shows can be called into question by the advancements in digital editing. The idea of photography as a record of something that really existed in a particular place and time is applicable when the elements in a photograph actually existed in real life. But what about the cases where photos are digitally manipulated to add and remove subject matter from the image. This link below shows the editing process of a wedding photo for a couple that wanted a Star Wars themed wedding photograph.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SHMvoLV8B4

Whilst this is an extreme amount of editing and, due to peoples knowledge of the world and the Star Wars movies, it would never be presumed to have actually happened in real life. But I wanted to use this as an example of where photography as record of what “was” can be pulled apart. It is quite obvious to know, looking at the finished image, that this couple did not spend their wedding day fighting the Empire on the ice planet Hoth. However it is not inconceivable to think that they may have actually worn cloaks and hoods, or been married in winter somewhere snowy – and yet all of those elements were added in via Photoshop – they were never a thing that was there. So how can we believe that any photograph was created by taking a photo, and not in Photoshop? How is the creation of the photograph different to a painter and their brush? Is there a point at which digital editing stops a photograph from being a photograph? And when edited photographs are seen by viewers, by consumers, I wonder what impact this has on them and how they view themselves.

I think these will be aspects to consider going forwards; to consider the expectation by viewers of digital editing and how to ensure that the context they are seen in encourages the belief that what is being seen was something that happened, and is a representation of that moment in time – and not something created afterwards. Photographs used in surf brand advertising and in magazines are expected to have been edited in post-production. If I were to have my photographs shown in that same context would the assumption be that they have also been “Photoshopped”? I will need to consider whether other contexts for viewing photographs, e.g. photobooks or gallery walls, are seen as less likely to contain digitally manipulated work.

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[i] PEIRCE, C, and BUCHLER, J. 1955. Philosophical writings of Peirce’, Dover. New York, USA

[i] SNYDER, J, and ALLEN, N. 1975. ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’ in Critical Inquiry. =Chicago Journals. Chicago, USA.

Week 1 - The Shapeshifter

My project about female surfers in the UK relates to how they are a fairly under-represented group of people in the UK, and a mis-represented culture and image within the wider surf & advertising world. Images of female surfers in advertising tend to lean towards women that look like models, are skinny, conventionally beautiful, and usually wearing a tiny bikini somewhere tropical. That is not the reality for surfers in the UK, where temperatures necessitate wetsuits pretty much year round, and many female surfers do not fit the stereotype of the surfer-model seen in advertising. Because of this many female surfers do not identify with the brands aimed at them, and non-surfers are put off trying the sport because they don’t look like the girls in magazines. 

The nature of my work is mostly concerned with the process of creating the photographs. Akin to the characteristics Szarkowski stated as specific to the photographic medium[i]; the thing itself, the detail, the frame, time, and vantage point. Szarkowski postulated that photography captures a trace of reality, invoking a presence of reality, and the detail that is captured tries to represent a fragment of reality. In my work I am trying to show a reality that isn’t ordinarily associated with female surfers, and trying to capture a moment in the reality of the world of UK female surfers. I am intending to show that how female surfers are shown in advertising and by surf brands on social media isn’t reality for every female surfer. That female surfers in the UK aren’t all skinny bikini-wearing models, but are “normal” women, of varying shapes and sizes and lifestyles, but that those differences don’t make them any less of a surfer.

He identified that another aspect of photography is what photographers choose to include, and exclude in the frame of the photographs they take. I’m constantly aware of this when taking photographs; of what I’m including and excluding, and how that choice affects what the images “say”, how they are received, and how by including/excluding a certain aspect of the world in or from the image, I impact the meaning of the photograph. I think for me this is probably the aspect of Szarkowski’s characteristics that most relates to my current work.

The characteristics of time and vantage point are probably less of a factor in how I create my work at present. However I plan to expand the range of subject matter in my project over the next few weeks. I hope by doing this to create a broader view of who UK female surfers are. Something I’m considering doing is taking photographs of the women surfing. In which case the two aspects of time and vantage point may become more relevant/more important, for my work.

The human choices I make are mostly related to the types of photographs I chose to take. I wanted to show who female surfers in the UK actually are – their different, non-model standard faces/bodies, the fact that they have to wear wetsuits to surf in, and trying to show that they are strong women to get out in the cold and rain to surf. Last module I did this by taking portrait photographs of them – focussing on their faces but also some photographs highlighting their hands in the cold, their wetsuits/boots etc.

I think the success of this was that it did show the women as they are, without unnecessary editing and in a more natural way than female surfers in adverts tend to look. The weakness is that I think the work only showed one dimension to the women I photographed. Feedback from the assignment in  the last module was that the work was repetitive, and looking at it again I can see how including some other variety of images could broaden the communication of who female surfers are. For example, as mentioned above, I am looking at including images of them surfing. 

Further development of the project will include looking at other ways of showing who female surfers are, to widen the range of photographs in the project and provide more depth. I’ll experiment with some additional focuses for my photographs, e.g. them surfing/preparing to get in the water. I also need to decide on the direction I want the project to go in and what I want the end product to look like. I changed my project focus half way through the last module so I need to re-think where I want the project to go and what I want to do with it.

I want the project to be seen in relation to and in the context of current surf brand imagery/industry. I’m not sure of the exact format the project will take, in terms of the final output of the project. But I would like the work to be seen by non-professional female surfers, and non-surfers. Throughout the project so far some of the most frequent comments made by the women I have photographed surround the images of female surfers used in advertising/magazines. How the women used in the photographs are very much of the surfer-model format (although many are also surfers), and advertising doesn’t include women that don’t fit that “look”.  Many have spoken about how surf brands and magazines aimed at them can be hard to identify with. The women shown are so far removed from their reality, and their lifestyle, via the dominance of images of tropical locales and young pretty skinny women in bikinis – in comparison to the cold UK weather and wetsuits. I would like to find a way for my project to be seen in this context; to show “normal” female surfers that they are not alone, and there are other “normal” female surfers. Perhaps through looking into contacting surf publications or perhaps even some surf brands. I would also like to find a way to show non-surfers that they don’t need to look a certain way in order to surf, so I would like the project to be seen in the context of sports photography but also as an example of what ordinary women can do – in a similar vein to the “This Girl Can”[ii] campaign.  

 

[i] SZARKOWSKI, J. 1980. The Photographer’s Eye. Secker And Warburg: London

[ii] http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk