Artist research: The photographers Bill Brandt, André Kertész and Brassaï

23/24 July 2017. Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK), André Kertész (1894-1985, Hungary) and Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984, Hungary-France) were groundbreaking photographers, who shared a love of black and white photography at a time when colour photography was already available and a keen eye for the unusual view on the seemingly mundane to create striking compositions.
My tutor very likely intended for me here that I investigate the principles of distribution of light and dark areas in a composition devoid of colour. Since in black and white photography there is no colour to distract the eye (which humans have a great innate affinity for), any compositional imbalance is noticed immediately. Gibson (n.d.) points out that “the emotional power of color can mask poor composition”, which requires that particular attention is to be paid to “tonal contrast, texture, line, shape, pattern, and negative space”. This will be absolutely true for black and white painting as well. Another vital aspect listed by Gibson (n.d.) for successful black and white photography, the requirement of having the best possible lighting conditions, will of course be of great advantage in setting up the arrangement for a painting. However, in painting there is a large creative space on top of the properties of a setup, within which the respective weight of light and dark may be analysed, played with and adapted further. Which means that deviation from the original arrangement may be such that it is no longer recognizable in the finished work.
Among the three pioneering photographers I feel the greatest affinity with Brassaï. His compositions include many textural elements I might find in a contemporary painting. Troiano (2016) analyses his “The Language of the Wall” graffiti series from wartime Paris (ASX team, 2013) as a purposeful journey through the history of man. This may not be immediately obvious to the first-time viewer, but graffiti is often based on symbols common and intelligible to a large percentage of people through the times. One such photo in connection with the other members of the series thus becomes the carrier of several embedded layers of narrative, allowing a viewer to travel with it for as deep as they want the journey to be, from a superficial interest in the depicted wall texture to prophetic messages encoded in the series.
Bill Brandt, on the other hand, appears to me to have been a more direct commentator of contemporary everyday and political life, and, as black and white photography lends itself beautifully to that purpose, the documentation of the world at night. As far as I can see there are fewer encoded messages than in Brassaï’s work and this is probably included in his explanation of his approach to photographing the human body: “Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). This appears to me as a highly experimental, 21th century approach, since while the absence of planning will have opened doors to a new way of seeing the world, it will also have been accompanied by a great many failures. Brandt however also edited photographs in his darkroom to achieve effects he had in mind (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). In images which were not pure documents of a situation, Brandt’s compositional qualities are strikingly evident. In the same way as in a working painting he leads the viewer into and through a story, for example in his “Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow” (1937).
The fewest connections I notice with André Kertész. There seems to be a strange modern commercial feel to the photographs I found, which is strong enough for me to lose interest. While the compositions are immaculate, for me they do not radiate the mystery of Brassaï’s work and also lack the political statement of Brandt’s. This is not surprising, really, as Kertész used to work for magazines such as “House and Garden” (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.).

For my own work to come I will have printouts on my wall of those photos which left the strongest impression. I just hope that I can learn from them.

References

ASX team (2013) Brassai: *The Language of the Wall” [blog] [online]. American Suburb X, 27 July. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/07/brassai-graffiti.html [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Brandt, B. (1937) Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow [black and white photograph] [online]. Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Gibson, A.S. (n.d.) Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes in Black and White Photography [blog] [online]. Digital Photography School. Available from: https://digital-photography-school.com/5-mistakes-black-white-photography/ [Accessed 23 July 2017]

The J. Paul Getty Museum (n.d.) André Kertész (Getty Museum) [online]. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1847/andr-kertsz-american-born-hungary-1894-1985/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Troiano, C. (2016) ‘Graffiti’ photographs by Brassaï [blog] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 13 May. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/network/graffiti-photographs-by-brassai [Accessed 23 July 2017]

Victoria and Albert Museum (n.d.) Bill Brandt Biography [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Artist research: Susan kae Grant

29/30 June 2017. Taking a first look at photographer and bookmaker Susan kae Grant’s (USA, *?) work makes me feel at home somewhat, much in line with the effect the charcoal animations by William Kentridge have on me. Her representative, Conduit Gallery (n.d.), describe her work as ‘a significant collaboration of artistic and scientific inquiry into the nature of dreams, memory and the unconscious’. On Vimeo she explains her technique working together with a sleep lab and models and the ideas behind her work – ‘what if you could enter the dreams at the moment you are having them’ (VERVE Gallery of Photography, 2014). I do think, however, that on me Kentridge has a much greater impact, because his direct way of transporting emotion by drawing feels absolutely straight and genuine. Grant’s approach overall appears more theatrical, which I believe is intentional, because dreams might probably be seen as a ‘theatre of the mind’. I also believe this will work on other persons in the same way as Kentridge’s approach works on me. Grant’s shadow photographs (Grant, n.d.) remind me of paper cuts but at the same time remain vague, at times uncomfortably so, about the portrayed dream persons and situations. Here I can see why Kentridge’s work has more appeal to me. No matter how beautiful the arrangement and emotionally gripping the story, I keep feeling that photography is an indirect means of transporting messages. I would rather be a witness to the fascinating experiments or be allowed to walk into the set Grant creates on the way to the final piece of art than seeing the latter. As always I may be totally wrong, but it is a feeling I cannot ignore. I do like her means of becoming aware of shadows existing in the world, though, and capturing them on two-dimensional surfaces. For my work on Assignment 2, which at this stage I would like to become a collection of shadows of items existing in my real life, but casting a shadow on my soul, I would like to return to the above, but then paint them using the semi-abstract techniques discovered during Part 1 of the course.

 

References

Conduit Gallery (n.d.) Artist: Susan kae Grant [online]. Conduit Gallery, Dallas. Available from: http://www.conduitgallery.com/artists/susan-kae-grant [Accessed 30 June 2017]

Grant, S. k. (n.d.) Shadow Portraits [flash photo sequence] [online]. Susan kae Grant, Dallas. Available from: http://susankaegrant.com/flash.html [Accessed 29 June 2017]

VERVE Gallery of Photography (2014) Susan kae Grant Artist Video [online]. VERVE Gallery of Photography, Santa Fe. Available from: https://vimeo.com/97842571 [Accessed 30 June 2017]