So your first day back at college, and your given a recommended reading list for the next two years to ingest literally, so at first glance here is the list:
Barthes, Roland. (1984) Camera Lucida. London: Fontana
Berger, John. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin
Diprose & Robins. (2012) The New Basics, Principles, techniques and Practice. London: Thames & Hudson
Hedgecoe, John (2006): The Art of Digital Photography, London DK Publishing
Hedgecoe, John (2003): The New Manual of Photography, London DK Publishing
Jeffrey, Ian. (1981) Photography: A Concise History. New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press
Kobré, Kenneth (1996): Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach. Oxford, Focal Press
Newhall, Beaumont. (1982) The History of Photography New York: Museum of Modern Art.
Peterson, Bryan (2003): Learning to See Creatively. New York, Amphoto Books.
Phaidon (Ed) (1997): The Photo Book. London, Phaidon Press Ltd.
Scharf, Aaron. (1974) Art and Photography. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Sontag, Susan. (1997) On Photography. London, Penguin.
Semiotics in Photography
So this is a great list to begin with and am doubtless that they're others that can be added by myself and my peers as we move through the new academic year; our first proper lecture looked at signs and in particular semiotics in photography.
I know from coming from an advertising background this is an interesting subject, it looks at history of signs in humanity and communication in photography. Signs appear in every day life, from information informing us what is happening around the world (a technique used in guerrilla advertising) to signs urging us to purchase products used in every day life.
For instance in the example below we see the signifier in a term and the signified in the overall sentence:
The social media (signifier) website Facebook (signified)
So by that statement we can see that our mind is cast straight away to a physical representation; although the signified is almost certainly not a substance.
So for this past week I have been reading a lot and viewing art and its interpretation; Ways of Seeing by John Berger is a fascinating insight in to painting and art criticism, and shows the reader how we perceive the world through the eyes of art, exploring the meanings of paintings, photographs and graphic art forms.
It is a brilliant book and do watch the BBC documentaries too, if your studying photography as an art form and would like to know more subscribe to my blog.
Language of Art
Why is it that art really does speak to us regardless of the language we speak, whatever your mother tongue; you are always going to perceive art or a form of art as a language that provokes emotional response to the viewer, whether as a reader or something much more physical like a sculpture.
However what about paintings and photographs they're physical too, but the interpretation of physical is so far removed from an actual presence as in the form of a sculpture, but paintings and photographs do capture a sense of a physical form, from a moment captured in time or rather a moment captured or re-imagined in a physical sense painted with oil or painted with light.
In both forms composition is implementable to the message or sign being conveyed, so in the painting the message can be altered at will, in the photograph it can be in a digital sense.
However if your referring to an organic sense then the photograph or the memory of what was captured, will be ever infinite.
The one aspect about photography is that it really is organic, the moment is captured and it is developed by chemicals and yes more light, it is tangible product.
So too is a painting, the energy that goes in to a painting is much like that of composing a photograph, we want the viewer to be hooked, we want the viewer to ask questions of the piece and we want to provoke a human response, much like the cave paintings, in Lascaux, Southwest France, we want to signify how we perceive the world through our own eyes, through a shared experience.
Looking at the list above, another aspect of art and its interpretation is that of philosophy, yes art is philosophical, it makes us look at ourselves through the eyes of others, the irony is we are all the same in a physical sense, we are born with a brain, we ingest information and somehow this information is scrambled through a series of significant events that happen during our own lives cycle, we begin with a sense of needing stimulation to kick start the psyche in to wanting to ingest knowledge, and that knowledge is always shown with signs or symbols associated with words whatever the language they mean the same thing, much like the Swiss linguist and semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure, we are shown the signifier and the signified.
We learn through a series of signs and those signs are in a sense very physical to a growing and curious child, we are taught through a series of events in a social sense how our lives are cataloged, through experiences except in the real world, those events don't always play out the way the world or rather the elder members of your family would wish for you.
So you see art is interpreted through differing experiences, how I experience a visit to the museum might be completely different to your experience of a visit to a museum. We all differ from one another what one person likes, another may dislike. We are different and yet we are the same, that is the most interesting aspect to the art form of a being and that being human, human differences are shaped by culture and the very surroundings of their habitual life, a tribe member living in a remote village in or another continent, will interpret life differently to someone who may have been born in a war torn suburb of Israel, and so too the interpretation would be a very different but yet organic experience.
Images, paintings and photographs are man-made; we all want these interpretations to be reciprocated by some human response whether that is in a metaphorical or literal sense. That is the beauty of the intelligence of the language of art, it can be taken in either of those interpretations; early painters used certain references to mortality in their paintings, one example is Caravaggio and his painting of St. Hieronymus Writing, 1605-1606. The human skull signifies the signified (St. Hieronymus) that death comes to us all, much like that of William Shakespeare and the play in which evokes a monologue from a young Prince Hamlet and the vile effects of death. The signifier and the signified.
Two very different interpretations but none the less, the very same message questions our own existence why are we here, what are we doing, what do we want to accomplish in our own existence. The signs are there and we can make a difference, we can inform and we can educate through the medium of art and in many forms.
Art and Design
Design is an art form associated with everyday things like words or the font or typography to create that word, or more so to actually write it, we design and we create. Creating something is the art of creating something which is beneficial to our world and our lives, to mankind. We create to stimulate use, we create to evolve.
Evolution in design has taken much the same growth rate, as we ourselves have taken in our existence, mankind has evolved at an alarming rate, we think of ourselves having lived for a long period in time, however time only exists in a relative sense say the length of time it takes to travel a distance from point A to point B.
Much like time then we create a series or parallels of linear composition to create form, this can be interpreted in the form of a shape, or a tempo in a musical piece or in a language. In a shape it could be closed much like that of a triangle, circle, square or hexagon or so on. In music it could be the repetitive beat of a drum or in language it could also be that of a sound, that sound could be signified by a signifier, so for instance; if I say wood, it could be interpreted as a series of trees in an landscape or it could be a piece of wood for a fire.
The signifier remains the same; the interpretation of the signified always changes. So by design we can change the way we interpret the design by a series of communicative sounds or words or shapes. We can change the way a message can be conveyed in this manner.
As a photographer starting out I shot a lot of landscapes hoping to try and capture those moments which were signified by those historic painters, like Constable, Turner or Vermeer. I wanted to capture an emotion being portrayed in a landscape, if I were born in Sao Paulo, Brazil; how would I interpret a painting by those aforementioned?
Sao Paulo is a densely populated city whose inhabitants live close to the coast and yet their skyline is adorned by so many skyscrapers, residential blocks that convey a surreal world of concrete trees. Not the very green, idyll to speak of. It is constructive, much the same and further inland we witness lush green forests.
In stark contrast, we too see these examples in the design of paintings by J M W Turner, in his paintings of The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons we see the forms breaking down. In that interpretation we can suggest that the buildings are like fires man-made and encroach upon the lush green land of Brazil, eradicating the landscape form and replacing it with one that is neither attractive or environmentally beneficial, but is beneficial to a living sense of habitual longing to exist.
Interpretation is the key to our existence we suggest how to interpret in language and art is a language in a different form, but it is an accepted form of language, the photographer Cristina De Middel shot a series of photographs that portrayed Africans in a different light, one that engages the audience with reality and myth. The concept of a nation after gaining independence gains leadership in a race to space with a collective aptly titled The Afronauts Zambia gains recognition in developing a space program to send the first African astronaut to the moon.
The series of images some depicting traditional dress interleaved with a space suit against the backdrop of an elephant does certainly evoke a human response. Is the photographer showing signs of racism to prejudge an African, or does the photographer want to convey a message "Why not?"
Controversial aspects in photography seem to go hand in hand, is it art to engage the viewer in awe or to engage the viewer in shock. Whatever the interpretation and no matter what side if the fence you are on, art is not without its sense of irony.
I will be looking at this subject again, so for now keep photographing and documenting the world with your own eyes, and you will begin to find your inspiration through your own interpretation.