The Embrace, Ben Dolman 2010
Why am I looking at outcomes before starting a project, could it be just technical requirements in that I want to produce a large print and it might be best to use a large format camera to maintain quality or might it be that I wish to travel light and merge unnoticed into the background and use a rangefinder camera instead of a plate camera and the outputted work will best suited for a book rather than large prints, the outcome might be defined by tools I use. Should I look at the financial options at an early stage as they might determine my output, I may be able or not to exhibit in a gallery for example. Could the outcome be predetermined in that the work is primarily concept driven and the image making is purely illustrative of the conceptual governance of the project or does a photography assignment need planning and permission and that could define the outcome. It will be interesting to see if thinking and planning for an outcome will limit a project or support and nurture it rather than undertaking an undefined and unplanned project that is purely intuitive and photographs are made by chance.
Past Outcomes from past practices
In the past I have been a painter, a prototype technician, a furniture maker, a scenic artist and a digital artist. Each activity has had it’s own distinct point of origin, terms of context, modes of production and outcomes for the maker and a given audience.
As a painter the painting was either an outcome of a commission or something speculative that could submitted for competition or exhibition in a public/private gallery or alternative space.
As a prototype technician the aim was to solve a manufacturing problem and develop new production, the role was defined as being part of a team, a defined sequence of a complex process.
As a furniture maker the object was normally made to order commissioned by a client but sometimes objects were purely made from technical or aesthetic experimentation.
As a digital artist the outcomes were research orientated that developed from the pursuit of understanding new digital creative and production practices that could be used by artists and designers in their work.
Photographic Practice Past and Present
Now that I am studying and making photographs should I start to think about what I should do with the outcomes of the practice as an after thought or should I think of an outcome first be it a book or exhibition and work backwards thinking what I need to do to achieve a given outcome. So far I have not given much thought to the outcome of my photographic practice as I have been just been learning and understanding the technology behind the medium. My conceptual framework for my photographic work so far has just been limited to having an instinctual approach to the medium, I have been happy just going out with a camera and see what the world looks like through the view finder. I am quite happy to continue with this mode of working as it works for me at the moment and after my spontaneous approach to photography themes appear in the work and new pictorial narratives are formed. During my MA it would be good to challenge this mode of working and see if new approaches that require a degree of prejudgement throw up new image making possibilities and insights into the creative process and alter the conceptual under-pinning of my photographic practice.
I have started looking at the history of photography and the traditional outcomes and destinations of the photographic image and I am seeing four main areas of activity though in recent times and with the advent of new digital technologies there has been a convergence, blending and definitions challenged.
The Snapshot - The Domestic and the Amateur
From Kodak’s slogan for their Box Brownie camera “You press the button - - - - we do the rest” to Polaroid’s instant film technical developments in camera technology and print production over the last century have allowed anyone to take their own informal photographs of their holidays, their children growing up, of birthdays and other special occasions where in the past they sat formally for a professional photographer. These resulting informal photographs found their way into the family photo album, a family portrait hanging on the wall and the table adornment providing rich history of their clan, a shared memory of their community and friends. Now with online social media sites like Friends and Flickr the amateur snap shot reaches a wider audience leaving the confines of the home, moments captured on smart phones allow people to instantly communicate a captured moment visually with one another. The snap shot taken by the amateur can be taken on a the vast array of digital devices today and has led to a new citizen journalism where any event at any time on earth is captured from 9/11 to the Arab spring uprising. The development of the citizen journalist have led to an uncertainty in the future of the professional photojournalist as technology and communication changes so do the roles in photography.
Fine Art Photography
Photographers trying to be like painters springs to mind when I think of fine art photography, next earnest and black and white images. This base understanding of what is fine art photography has since been broken down with the advent of pop art and then conceptual art, the blurring of what was considered as photojournalism or commercial photography has also influenced and changed the type of work that is now considered and championed in contemporary fine art photography practice. The scale of the work in early fine art photography exhibitions was modest due to the limitation of the developing tray in the darkroom, some of the biggest prints were done by Richard Avedon for his In the American West work but they are nothing on the scale that can be done today with new commercial digital print technologies. With today’s modern reprographics the scale of work can be very large as seen in the work of Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall, the bill board as exemplified by Kodak’s Colorama series of 18’ x 60’ colour transparencies prints hung at Grand Central Terminal taken into the gallery to compete and rival the scale of a Jack Pollock or a Anselm Kiefer. The range of output derived from fine art photography is now limitless with the advance of new technologies as are the new and emerging audiences and venues. Possible outputs for fine art photography range from the traditional gallery exhibition of either hand crafted prints to large scale digital reprographics, the photo book, installations in public or alternative spaces, competitions, online through a website, blogs and social sharing networks to name a few.
Editorial photography and the photographic essay has been one of the most influential and informative of all photographic genres for me. Photojournalism for me is best exemplified in the work by the Magnum photo-agency founded by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson of the decisive moment frame, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour after the second world war in 1947 and continues today with photographers like Alec Sloth who blurs what defines a photographic essay and makes images that many consider as art. Outputs from this photographic genre are present in all forms of mass media from newspapers, magazines, photo books, television, and the web. In recent times the profession has been challenged by the rise of the citizen photojournalist and many photo agencies have laid of their staff, but noting the work of Alec Sloth, Simon Roberts and Richard Misrach with the reinvention of the role and the outcome there are an interesting alternatives to this genre in the future.
Large, brash, loud, selling you things you do want but perhaps do not need, showing you a life style you dream of but cannot afford, these are some of the things that come to mind when I think of commercial photography. But it is also where most of the technical innovations have happens in high end reprographics, camera technology and it’s polished aesthetics and production systems have influenced certain elements of fine art photography. The outputs of the work is very similar to that of photojournalism mass market designation but with a very different intent, there visual stories are housed in the adverts. Commercial photography be it fashion or a product shot is at the service of a brief to illustrate a clients wares for sell.
There are also other highly specialised photography practices such as scientific documentation used in forensics.
Options and Choices
Looking at all the past photographic outputs that have become available to photographers I have already looked at online publication be it a web site or a blog, in this day and age I take this form of output is taken as a given though we have to be careful as there is an assumption that photography is free now, given to content providers without payment in the hope of exposure to a wider audience. I have been looking at photo books,.in the past and there were two main options for publication, either you find an enthusiastic publisher with deep pockets who would invest in a limited edition print run of your work, the other option is to self publish by funding the printing and distribution yourself or printing your own photo book at a local community print workshop, abusing a photocopy machine or laser printer. Today we have our own inkjet printers and access online publishing services like Blurb Books who offer the software, colour profiles and layouts to create your own photo books that can be printed as one-offs or limited editions to be sold through Blurb’s own store front. Quality is not as good as a traditional printer but it is affordable and it gets your images off the screen and into your hands.
Submitting your work to photography competitions and festivals is a good option to get it seen by a wider audience, often the submission is small to cover the administration costs and sometimes they are prizes. Seeing your work in a group show can be an interesting experience as the counterpoint to others perhaps can offer a more rewarding experience for yourself and the viewer.
Exhibiting in a gallery is a minefield for me coming from a traditional fine art practice who has in the past rejected its mores and conventions but I am faced with them again. This time looking at the exhibition opportunities things have changed, there has been a severe economic downturn that has limited the number of shows a gallery can financially put on each year and risk in new talent. On the up side there are more specialist galleries that support the exhibition of photography, the time has passed when photography was seen as a poor relative to traditional fine art practices like painting and sculpture. The type of photography exhibition that appeals to me is that of the collective, a group of image makers joining together to put on a show. It may have a theme or not, and the sum of a group of practitioners can often be greater than the individual leading to something more visually dynamic and intellectually challenging . I have been inspired by The Chicago Project http://www.edelmangallery.com/chiproject.htm and other smaller photography collectives and now the task in the future is to find like minded people and a venue.