Contextual Studies & Critical Investigation (History and Theory)

Critical Study
[click the link below for original PDF copy with images]

Critical Investigation

Awarded full marks

The abstract theme of memory is something that is of great interest to me, not only it’s representation through art but also from studying psychology, how memories are individual and can be interpreted differently by each receiver. It is most specifically the abstract aspect of memory that inspires me within my own work. I have previously looked at the work of Uta Barth and have carried some inspiration from her work into my techniques when creating images for my current project. Within this essay I am going to analyse the work of artists I have taken interest in and potentially begin to relate their work to my own by critiquing their images, evaluating the various techniques, use of colour, textures, tones, light and other photographic aspects in comparison with me own work.

Stefan Heyne’s earliest work (2004-2005) [ http://www.stefan-heyne.de/index.php?content=arbeiten ] has some resemblance to the work of Uta Barth and it is for this reason that it originally caught my attention. Like Uta Barth’s work, Heyne uses the purposeful out of focus technique to create a series of images composed around ambiguity like Barth, with no accompanying text or any signal to the subjects of the images, the viewer interprets the image with an individualistic perception. The images rely on colour, line and texture to maintain a sense of realism, as well as shadow and contrast which define the emotions, almost creating feelings of fear or insecurity due to the obscurity of the location. In contrast to Barth’s work, many of Heyne’s photographs are fairly dark or have a great deal of contrast and shadow, whereas Barth’s earliest work such as the images below are comprised of a great deal of light and simplistic block colour.

As a student in East Berlin, Stefan Heyne lived very close to the Wall and this provided him great inspiration, ‘beyond all the social symbolism which the Wall had for me first of all it had the effect of being a very present, physical view blockage. So for me it was succinctly connected with the uncertainty about, and only vague idea of, what lay behind it’. Much like the inspiration of my work, it seems as though ambiguity played a key role in Heyne’s images.

‘Today I am engaged with the narrow edge between the real and the abstract, between recognisable and unrecognisable conditions, between the habitualness of viewing and visual irritations.’ Heyne describes the boundaries of photography similar to the boundaries of the Wall, which enticed him due to the forbidden nature of it.

It is this image titled, ‘Street’ that I think most relates to my own work due to the over exposure and out of focus attention to light. The bold line in the centre of the images creates a divide between the over exposed light and dark aspects of the photograph and this carries through in the repeated closed line primary square shapes that reflect the man-made concrete building which is the subject of the image. The negative space around the squares and light are another feature that makes this image so strong, the blending of tone from the centre of the image to the edge creates a depth and increasing allusivity within the narrow frame and has connotations of perhaps a rough area due to the opaque black of the windows, giving you no indication as the whereabouts or any inhabitants. As well as the tone, the mixture of warm and cold colour enhances the emotion within the photograph and the overall composition of the image shows that Heyne used a digital camera to retain a good quality image but manipulated the lens to be out of focus. The low ISO creates subtle colouring and grainless quality. Heyne said, ‘the thinking about images and the viewing of images’, shows he has focused the composition of him image for the viewer the interpret in their own way.

Xavier Damon’s work is another abstract series and it was his work named ‘Oeuvre’ that initially caught my attention. He summaries his work with this quote…

Think back to the instant after you close your eyelids against the bright summer sun, or a moment when you catch yourself dreaming with your eyes open …our body relaxes and seems to suspend its routine activities.

This is the moment when – quite unexpectedly – a subtler light shapes our view of the world.our gaze softens and blurs, while our pupil seems to amuse itself just opening and closing. In these moments of absence the eyes aren’t distracted by exactness: colours play together,forms dance by as the physical world is transformed into emotion. 

A French photographer, Xavier works to engage elusive moments through his photographs and specialises in colour images as well as behind involved with a musical movement and I believe this has also had an influence on production of his images, the way the colour is depicted as flowing and so vibrant can almost be translated into a musical performance.

The colour tone in Xavier Damon’s image above has a significant resemblance to this image of my own and the colour depth of his images reflects the array of colours within the series.

Unlike Stefan Heyne, Damon has used film (polaroid) to create his series (similar to Uta Barth) and this contextually works in creating a depth of texture which would have to be manipulated by altering the ISO to a lower number which increasing the grain in the images taken with a digital camera. I like the grainy quality of these images and not only does it make the images look as though they are almost disintegrating, but the texture in each begins to tell a story behind the image. As they do not have a clear subject and are almost just a pattern, the viewer can relate their own ideas to each image. For example, the images above remind me of a naturalistic idea, in the first I can see perhaps a cell of leaf because of the rich green colour and circular shape, in the second the yellow warmth of the colour is reminiscent of the sun. The third is most linked to my own work due to the light trails created by a long shutter speed, but reminds me of maybe a meteor shower or fire, the third pink image connotes a vibrant flower petal due to the almost translucent colour tone and the aqua blue of the third reminds be of water and the green details maybe a water-dwelling plant due to the fine line details.

I captured the manipulation and movement of lights within my own work through photo stills and also videography. The images below are a few taken from the series of work. Using a light source that was flexible allowed me to influence the subject into alternate angles and create shapes that distorted the ordinary subject and similar to the light in Damon’s third image (the red photograph) in some of my images I used a long shutter speed to capture the light movement. I then extended my interest in the movement of light to a video medium and produced a series of clips from different angles but all of the same subject. When editing the clips into a movie, I tried to choose clips with the same colour at the beginning and end to create a sense of a pulse and rhythm, the beating of a heart is consistent and repetitive so by mirroring the colours there is a constant theme running throughout the video. I also chose music that I felt enhanced the rhythmic feel of the video, each moving image piece uses music from the same artist (Colleen) which continues the running theme within my work, giving it a distinct and detectable style. The music also works to manipulate emotions in the viewer, for example in my changing seasons/times video I used the music to echo the feeling I associate with a certain time i.e. during the summer / day I used upbeat music and during the winter / night I used more mellow music. Using a variety of colour allowed the video to have connotations of different emotions, to me the blue is possibly sadness and the red has iconic representations of anger, I was trying to create an illusional and ambiguous atmosphere and allow the viewer to decipher a relatively simple image for their own meanings.. Similar to what I depicted in Uta Barth, Stefan Heyne and Xavier Damon’s works.

To develop my work further I think I will mostly focus on the moving image aspects of my work as I feel they are strongest, but stills accompanying the video to enhance the emotions I try to create. Light features strongly in my work so far, so I am contemplating focusing more intensely on light with various techniques, perhaps experimenting with more advanced video techniques such as 3D. I find the theme of journeys still to be of interest, the method of representing a non-concrete idea that every viewer will have experienced is a challenge I am enjoying exploring.

Contextual Studies New Media Art Presentation

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