Julia Margaret Cameron – The Directorial Mode of C19th Photography.

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Julia Margaret Cameron, Sadness, 1864. Albumen print, 22.1 X 17.5 cm.

I have chosen Sadness over other more obvious directorial examples in Julia Margaret Cameron’s oeuvre because it combines many interesting elements. Cameron was known as a great casting director and sought to reveal the internal qualities of her sitters. In Sadness, the viewer ponders whether Ellen Terry, the great Shakespearean actress was collaborating with or performing for Cameron.

For A. D. Coleman, directorial photography is when, “the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images…” (1)  During the 1850s, the directorial approach was an alternative to realism in photography. Anne Marsh writes of this era as producing, “… photographic works which explore the performative and theatrical aspects of photography. The early photographers… provide the opportunity to look at self-consciously created oeuvres which aspired to the unreal, the made-up and, at times, attempted to represent the unrepresentable.” (2)

The photograph of Terry aged sixteen, was taken at Freshwater Bay (Cameron’s home) while she was on her honeymoon. The portrait reveals Cameron’s ability to draw out Terry’s character. Terry was an actress and a young bride of a mismatched marriage with the painter George Frederick Watts, a man twenty one years her senior. The couple separated less than a year later.

An interesting reading can be made of this work when firstly, Cameron’s personality is taken into account. Secondly, when the questions posed by her technique and directorial style are considered. And thirdly, from a fascinating essay on patriarchal society and sexuality during the Victorian era by Anne Marsh.

In The Magic Image, Cameron is described as “… outspoken, candid… iron-willed… hypnotic [and] determined to express herself…” (3)  When Cameron moved to England from her birthplace of Calcutta after marrying the philosopher Charles Hay Cameron (who was twice her age) she “… did not attempt to hide her contempt for the ways of conventional society.” (4)  It was when they moved to the Isle of Wright that Cameron found the “intellectual stimulus she craved.” (5)  The illustrious crowd that visited her home included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Longfellow and Thomas Carlyle, and many became the subjects of her photographs. Inspired by the allegorical paintings of her friend George Frederic Watts, Cameron began composing her photographs in a similar style.

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

George Fredrick Watts, Arion Saved by the Dolphin, 1896. Oil on canvas, 28.5 X 41.5 cm.

There are differing opinions on Cameron’s “sloppy” technique and soft focus. Some historians are of the opinion that it was Cameron’s inexperience and enthusiasm “to show the greatness of the inner and give likeness of the outer man.” (6)  Other’s suspect a “subconscious unwillingness to submit to any technical principle… [an] obscure desire to subvert technique.” (7)  In ‘Annals of my Glass House,’ 1874, Cameron wrote, “… when focusing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.” (8)  Photography and its relationship to reality and truth are at work in Cameron’s image. Coleman writes, “The issue here is not whether the photographer manipulated the print but the subject.” (9)

The collodion tear on the image surface evokes a peeling of layers revealing what is hidden beneath. Anne Marsh refers to Steven Marcus’ book The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, which documents the dualistic interpretation of sexuality. A way of enforcing the construct of women as being controlled within a patriarchal society was achieved by confining women to the home, where women carried out the duties of “chaste mother and caring wife.” (10)  Cameron photographs Terry in her house, leaning into the shadow against regency wallpaper, tugging at her necklace nervously, her wedding ring subdued.

This dualistic quality is further evidenced in the eroticism achieved by photographing Terry in her petticoat. The fabric, with its Pre-Raphaelite folds and lacework falls slightly off her shoulders and highlights a sensual curve to her hair upswept behind her shoulder. Weston Naef remarks, “There is a very skilful use of light that reinforces the sensual element of the content. The light comes off of her cheek and models the lower part of her jaw…” (11)  Her long neck exposed is quite provocative. Marcus’ double coding of women and sexuality brings into question the nature of Cameron’s directorial gaze. The devout Anglican, mother and wife, and the sexualised image she created subvert Nineteenth century conventions.

References

1. A D Coleman, ‘The Directorial Mode: Notes toward a definition,’ in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the present, ed. Vicki Goldberg, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981, p. 484.

2. A Marsh, ‘Ghostly Performances: The Aura of Early Art Photography,’ in The Darkroom: Photography and the Theatre of Desire, Melbourne: Macmillan, 2003, p. 116.

3. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 62.

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

6. ibid., p. 65.

7. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 78.

8. ibid., p. 76.

9. Coleman, op. cit., p. 480.

10. Marsh, op. cit., p. 122.

11. N Weston, (ed.) In Focus Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs from The J. Paul Getty Museum, Christopher Hudson, 1996, p. 108.

Images

Julia Margaret Cameron http://www.masters-of-photography.com/C/cameron/cameron_sadness_full.html

George Fredrick Watts http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/arion-saved-by-the-dolphin-97313

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Adam Fuss – The Mirrored Surface; Daguerreotypes in the Digital Age.

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Adam Fuss, My Ghost, 2001. Daguerreotype, 27.9 x 35.6 cm.

Sekula’s claim, that the history of photography is haunted by “two chattering ghosts,” seems a perfect statement when discussing My Ghost by Adam Fuss, 2001. Fuss liberally and literally draws on the pictorial and technological history of photography in this series of images. The image in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ collection, is a sumptuous and ephemeral milky blue daguerreotype of a wing spanned white swan. The polished plate creates a mesmerizing otherworldly image coupled with the fact that symbolically, “The swan can be read historically as a mythical creature alluding to love and death…”  (1)

Even today, a daguerreotype holds the viewer, it is a magical experience to see one up close. I now comprehend how powerful these images would have originally been to a Victorian audience. Immediately I think to myself, is this Zeus, disguised as a swan descending from the heavens to seduce Leda? No, it is Fuss, captivating his audience, creating a little yelp in the minds and hearts of those of us obsessed with the history of photography and alternative analogue printing processes.

According to Sekula, every photograph is sending a message. So what message is Fuss sending the viewer? In 1840, Edgar Allen Poe described the daguerreotype thus, “In truth the daguerreotype plate is infinitely more accurate than any painting by human hands… the photographic drawing discloses only a more absolute truth, more perfect identity of aspect with the thing represented.” (2)  This is one of the ghosts that Sekula speaks of, the ghost of objectivity. Sekula writes of photographic discourse and the authoritative voice of photography as evidence, truth and of affirmation. (3)  For Sekula photographic meaning is linked to context. Fuss draws on these definitions inherent in photography’s history in My Ghost.

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William Henry Talbot, Articles of China, c. 1844. Salt print from a Calotype paper negative printed image, 13.4 X 18 cm.

Fuss documents the swan in a scientific way. Similarly, in ‘The Pencil of Nature,’ William Henry Talbot employed the objective photographic eye to compile an inventory of the china and glass cabinets in his home at Lacock Abbey. Yet at the same time, Talbot recognized the capabilities this new technology had upon representation and art. This is Sekula’s opposing ghost, the ghost of aestheticism.

In this age of digital imaging, to come across images produced in this labour intensive process is so very rare and even more exciting. Grundberg writes, “It’s easy to see Fuss’s cameraless photograms and latter-day daguerreotypes as reactions to our digital era, in which photography’s ring of truth has a hollow sound.” (4)  A daguerreotype is a “unique-and-precious-object” that cannot be reproduced unlike proceeding photographic processes.  (5)

Fuss titles the series, My Ghost, effectively alluding to the history of mortuary photography and the photograph as a memento mori. In a singular image, Fuss has captured both these ghosts. The clinical pose of the dead swan is set free, imbued with a spiritual quality as it floats hauntingly in a milky blue sky. Grundberg writes, “Fuss’s photographs might be said to superimpose the presence of absence on the absence of presence.”  (6)

V&A Channel. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography. Adam Fuss – This is a revealing and evocative look at Adam’s Fuss’s working environment and an insight into his creative ideas.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/channel/people/photography/shadow_catchers_camera-less_photography_adam_fuss/

References

1. Art Gallery of New South Wales, 20 December 2012, <http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/work/156.2001/&gt;

2. A. Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’ in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin, London: Macmillan, 1982, p. 87.

3. ibid., p. 85.

4. A. Grundberg, ‘Adam Fuss’. Artforum, Vol. 41, Issue 1, September 2002, viewed 20 December 2012, <http://search.proquest.com.wwwproxy0.library.unsw.edu.au/docview/214348639?accountid=12763&gt;

5. Sekula, op.cit., p. 95.

6. A. Grundberg, ‘My Ghost’. Artforum, Vol. 9, Issue 2, Summer 2002, viewed on 20 December 2012, <http://search.proquest.com.wwwproxy0.library.unsw.edu.au/docview/214350852accountid=12763&gt;

Images

Adam Fuss http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/156.2001/

William Henry Talbot http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=106520

Alfred Stieglitz – Why I Photography Clouds.

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Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent, 1929. Gelatin Silver Print, 4 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.

Stieglitz repeatedly used a number of motifs in his work. In New York, the symbols of modernity such as skyscrapers, snow covered streets, views of city buildings from his window, trains & railways, ferries & ocean liners, depict a changing, bustling world. In his Lake George years, Stieglitz photographed friends that visited, the farmhouse, sheds, fields, grassy knolls, clouds and dying poplar trees. Perhaps, his most famous works are the 300 or so photographs of his wife and muse, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Stieglitz first photographed clouds in 1922 when he was 58 years old. It began with a simple statement from the artist, “I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography.” (1)  Inspired by the work of O’Keeffe, “whose paintings were deeply expressive of her visual, emotional and psychological experiences,” (2)  Stieglitz developed his theory of clouds being the equivalent of his life experience.

Further investigation into Stieglitz’s photographs of clouds reveals a complex range of influences and readings of these fascinating images. In his early years in Europe he greatly appreciated the composers and painters of the German Romantic period. (3)  In 1912, he published an excerpt in Camera Work from Wassily Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky wrote of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso: “These are the seekers of the inner spirit in outer things.” (4)  He greatly admired the transcendental writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson that elevated the spiritual above the empirical. And lastly, he was undoubtedly well-acquainted with Symbolist theories of the picture as a metaphor. (5)

His early experiments with clouds, Music – A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs No III, 1922 & Equivalent 1924, are both anchored to the ground by small hills and trees. But, in the Equivalents of 1929, no such connection or narrative exists. The photograph depicts the clouds on an angle which disorientates the viewer. Krauss writes that photography, “offers a direct, transparent relationship to experience.” (6)  Krauss describes the significant feature of these works is what Stieglitz chose to reject and present with only the gesture of a cut. (7)  Stieglitz relinquished control over his subject which Krauss interestingly compares to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades.

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Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent, 1930. Gelatin Silver Print, 4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in.

The world became a vehicle for Stieglitz to express the profound feelings he was experiencing. “There seemed to be something closely related to my deepest feeling in what I saw, and I decided to photograph what was within me.” (8)  Stieglitz wanted to transmit meaning using clouds as a metaphor. He said, “My cloud photographs are equivalents of my most profound life experiences, my basic philosophy of life.” (9) Therefore, his thoughts, emotions and experiences could correspond to abstract forms, lines and colours. Stieglitz wanted his photographs to look like photographs and to embody the medium’s inherent qualities. Sekula writes of photography’s dual nature; symbolic and realistic, art against documentary photography, “photographer as seer vs photographer as witness.” (10)  With Stieglitz’s Equivalents, Sekula believes a quintessential aspect of the medium as evidence has been renounced in favour of a metaphorical romanticism.

References

1. D. Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, Aperture, New York, 1960, p. 143.

2. S. Greenough, ‘Alfred Stieglitz and the Idea of Photography’, in Alfred Stieglitz the Lake George Years, Art Gallery of New South Wales Exhibition Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2010, p. 32.

3. J. Annear, ‘An Introduction’, in Alfred Stieglitz the Lake George Years, Art Gallery of New South Wales Exhibition Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2010, p. 18.

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

6. R. Krauss, ‘Stieglitz/”Equivalents”’, in October. Vol. 11, Essays in Honor of Jau Leyda (Winter, 1979), p. 129, viewed 14 December 2012, <http://www.jstor.org/stable/778239>

7. ibid., p. 134.

8. D. Norman, The History of Photography Series; Alfred Stieglitz, Aperture, New York, 1976, p. 6.

9. D. Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, p. 144.

10. A. Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’, in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin, Macmillan, London, 1982, p. 108.

Images

Alfred Stieglitz http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Stieglitz-Equivalent1842+.htm

Alfred Stieglitz http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Stieglitz-Equivalent1844+.htm

Observations of the Author (using Christian Boltanski’s, ‘What they Remember’ as a model)

Image

  • On the back of the Artemis pendant she wears around her neck, the words “Courage” are engraved.
  • The middle finger of her right hand is slightly crooked. She broke it as a child. Riding her bike she scrapped her hand against a wall. She flicked her hand clicking it back into shape. Too scared to tell her mother of the accident, she hid her hand & swollen finger from her for weeks.
  • She loves the smell of cigar smoke. It reminds her of her father.
  • 11th September 1999.
  • She nearly kissed a girl on a summer’s night in tall grass. The girl wore a red dress.
  • Whenever she is in Athens she visits the Acropolis. She often thinks about how many people have walked the same footsteps she is now over the ages.
  • She has eliminated black from her wardrobe preferring earthy colours; greens, browns and blues.
  • She has an alter ego named Roxy Manet. Roxy wears black.
  • She is very selective about the people she spends time with.
  • She loves the quiet of the mornings, often reading and listening to classical music.
  • She is an artist, mostly working in photomedia.
  • Her childhood was happy.
  • On special occasion’s her mother & siblings would have dinner at her father’s restaurant. She often ordered fresh strawberries & cream for desert. Her father always wore a suit and tie.
  • She devours books.
  • She has very eclectic taste in music.. from Preisner to Radiohead.
  • She laughs when her friend J says, he’s “gagging” to see her.
  • She carries a lot of things in her bag.
  • She used to wear a ring on her ring finger which was given to her on Xmas Eve 2004. She no longer wears the ring. Sometimes she feels her ringless finger, for a few seconds her heart sinks.
  • One night she especially delighted in seeing her beloved dog’s sausage silhouette in the lightly dimmed kitchen.
  • She wears her hair short.
  • She loved riding her bike as a child.
  • 6th August 2012.
  • She loves the colder months of the year and contemplates her mother’s maiden name which translates as “without winter” from Greek.
  • Once she lay on the grassy hillside full of wild flowers at the stadium in Ancient Olympia. It was a warm day in Spring. She remembers smoking a cigarette and looking at the patterns the clouds made in the sky.
  • 22nd August 2010.
  • She has a Burmese cat named Kitty Scout. He was named after a character in one of her favourite books, “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
  • She is very sentimental, often keeping what may be insignificant to most.
  • Once a girl gave her honeysuckle to taste. With that gesture, the drop of sweetness in her mouth, her heart swelled and came undone.
  • She enjoys moments of solitude.
  • Her memory is a little scattered at times which she often blames on a period in her life when she smoked a lot of pot.
  • She collects decorative boxes.
  • Once a woman asked her to put a drop of rose oil on her chest near her heart. The woman said she wanted her to breathe her in and taste her on her lips all day. Just the thought of it made her closed her eyes with a sigh and she was taken to another place.. She felt time expand, ancient to modern.. She knew golden threads bound them beautifully, completely in all directions.
  • As a child she loved playing the piano and often memorised long pieces because she couldn’t read music very well.
  • She often photographs clouds like Alfred Stieglitz did.
  • She wants to hike to St George, a church at the top of the mountains in Nestani, Greece… and she finally did on 2 May 2016.
  • Most of her photographs are drawn from memories, perhaps they are too overwhelming to keep inside, she needs to archive the emotion by making a photograph of it.. those impossible bodily experiences, to “materialise memory” as Zelizer eloquently puts it.
  • She has a scar on her right knee from a moped accident in Santorini. After the fall, her first words were, “Is my camera OK?”
  • She can recite Lord Byron’s, “She Walks in Beauty”.