My research for Laura Dack's project.
Basic concept: the rate of decay and consumption concerning waste.
Who would you look at and what ideas can you take from those photographers/artists in order
to structure the project?
David Maisel is a perfect visual reference for the aspect of decay in this concept in terms of both still life and landscapes and he would definitely be an influence of mine. Popular work of his comes in the form of the still life images he has produced from photographing copper canisters originally kept at the Oregon State Insane Asylum (where 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' was filmed in 1975).
Having looked into these photographs, I discovered that the copper of the containers reacted with water when they were kept in an underground archive at the asylum which flooded numerous times over a number of decades. This is what caused the different formations and colours on the cans during their time in the depository where they were left. The canisters contain ashes of patients who were never claimed by anyone. Each can is individual and unique, just like we are. Metaphorically these cans become almost like portraits of the people who's ashes reside inside.
"These deformations sometimes evoke the celestial - the northern lights, the moons of some alien planet, or constellations in the night sky. Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs in Library of Dust are meditations on issues of matter and spirit."
As is evident from the above photograph, Maisel uses a very shallow depth of field which highlights detail in the formations; similarly to how a portrait photographer may use a very shallow DOF to focus on the eyes of their subject to highlight their importance. Maybe Maisel is trying to say something about these people through representing the cans in this way specifically.
Despite the nature of the objects and the negative connotations linked to them through their origin, the subjects in their present form are strangely beautiful. The shallow DOF aids this but it is predominantly the colour and detail in the photographs that makes them so.
Maisel’s 'Library of Dust' monograph was called “a fevered meditation on memory, loss, and the uncanny monuments we sometimes recover about what has gone before" by The New York Times.
From looking at the interior images of the Asylum taken by Maisel, vibrant colour and either natural light or light coming specifically from lightbulbs seems to run through all of his images in this body of work. To me this makes them striking just like his photographs of the canisters.
There is something strange about the beautiful natural light coming in from the windows and the brightly painted walls when perceiving this in context - this is a stark juxtaposition with the nature of the location and it's history although this is displayed visually also through the peeling paint and random rubble carpeting these same rooms. I personally really like these photographs. Both elements photographed of the Asylum - the canisters and interiors and part of Maisel's body of work 'Library of Dust'.
The DOF used for the photographs of the interiors is larger than that of the canisters. This allows the details of the peeling walls and the dirt lining the edges of the room to retain their detail as these are important aspects of the photos visual elements and meaning. The natural aesthetics that both sets of these photographs take on are something that can be used in your own project to help structure it. It makes them more relatable in the sense of their realism and also how we often strive for beauty.
Robert Polidori has created photographs of destroyed interiors after the New Orleans flood, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and photographed buildings greatly affected by the Chernobyl disaster. The visual approach to his images are similar in a way to Maisel's. The buildings are adorned with bright colours despite the negative context they are in.
It is said that "Polidori transcends the limits of photography and captures traces of the human condition — paradoxically, in places that have usually been abandoned and are devoid of human presence. Each photograph amounts to a social portrait, revealing the soul of its various subjects, and layering both past and present in poignant works steeped in sorrow and beauty."
The theme of decay is as much evident in these images as Maisel's asylum work. I get the impression more from Maisel's series that these places have been abandoned for a long time which supports the concept of the rate of decay specifically. However, Polidori's seem more like it is simply documenting the stare of these interiors.
Other similarities between the two interior works which I feel work very well are:
- the large depth of field displaying the detail of the decay and allowing all aspects of the images to become equal in importance (and for the scenes to be viewed as a whole).
- The seemingly natural light providing some beauty to the devastating scenes.
A good photographer to look at in terms of consumption which his project particularly his 99-cent work. He photographs things on a large scale, which would relate to a theme of a fast rate of consumption.
How would you choose to portray the concept?
I would chose to portray this concept though landscape or the interiors of decaying buildings because these can look very effective when the decay is displayed through a large scale. However, a smaller still life could be very intimate and more personal just as Maisel's canisters are.
Specifically photographing buildings after certain events when the times of the event and the time of the photograph being taken are known, relates to the 'rate' of the decay. As well as decay, the theme of consumption could be portrayed through photographs of commercial interiors such as shops and supermarkets. Utilising a long exposure time and therefore blurring movement of people could represent the rate of consumption also.
What visual tools would you use to represent the concept (what would the viewer encounter in your image)?
I would personally use a large DOF to include all the detail of the scenes and to equalise it; just as Maisel and Polidori to avoid isolating importance to certain parts of the focus. I would most likely use a large format camera with a wide-angle lens for optimum detail.
What would the visual elements of your image be (composition, objects/subjects within the pictorial frame)?
This would depend mainly on whether the theme of decay or consumption is chosen. I feel taking a similar approach to Gursky and photographing consumer related interiors relates well to the specific rate of things occurring (such as consumption). In this case I would try to include as many materialistic objects like food and general shopping items into my photographs as possible.
However, I think the rate of decay is even more interesting. The rate specifically of decay may be hard to represent. Possibly just the theory of decay due to certain circumstances would also work. These circumstances being things like natural disasters that Polidori works with.
What would be your visual choices in the images (focus, distance, lighting, camera position etc.)?
- I would choose to use a large DOF as I’ve already mentioned and have the whole photograph in focus.
- I would take the photographs from a medium distance if working with decay to involve much of the scene. It is not a macro image but in the case of the rate of consumerism, a further distance away would work a lot better to include as much repetitiveness of objects (and possibly people) as possible in the images.
- I love the look of the natural looking light if taking the route of the abandoned and decaying urban buildings – it contrasts so greatly. Artificial lighting seems to relate very well to the concept of consumerism.