One of the vacation exercises is to comment on nine inspirations. So, here goes.
1. Annemarie Prins. I have only recently discovered her work, through conversations with Cambodian photographers. Annemarie, a Dutch theatre director and playwright, created the play Breaking the Silence, in 2009. The play is based on many interviews she conducted with Khmer Rouge survivors. The work was partly sponsored by the documentary centre of cambodia (DC-Cam), led by its founder, Youk Chhang.
To quote Annemarie:
‘The main goal of this production is to find a way out of trauma’s silence; contributing to open dialogue as part of the process of reconciliation’.
And here is an example of the dialogue in the play:
Vutha: Did you give orders to arrest people?
Sina: Yes, of course, we could not prevent it. Even our parents and children were taken. There was nothing we could do.
Vutha: You knew about the mass killings?
Sina: The killings were in the other village.
Theary: You’re a liar.
Why is this inspirational? Because the work illustrates ways to open up the conversation on an otherwise hidden topic in Cambodia, in sensitive, engaging and culturally appropriate ways.
2. Makara Ouch. He is a Cambodian photographer, working with DC-Cam. Youk kindly shared a book he had written on the rediscovery of Buddhist urns at a temple in Phnom Penh on my last visit, and Ouch was the photographer. He has just released a book entitled Breaking the Silence to accompany a new production of the play, just staged. I do not have a copy of the book, and have only seen images. A copy awaits on my next trip.
Why is this inspirational? Because Ouch is dealing with aftermath photography from a uniquely Cambodian perspective. I look forward to further studying his work, and will be discussing possible collaboration with him and other local photographers as part of the project.
3. Cindy Sherman. I found myself really getting drawn into Sherman’s work, as another part of this vacation break activity. I won’t extend the comments here, as the post is pretty thorough. However …
Why is this inspirational? Because Sherman’s use of images with little written or verbal explanation, yet with clear intention to challenge stereotypes in the audience’s mind, underlines the importance of clarity of purpose, an appropriate aesthetic strategy and audience understanding.
4. Elizabeth Anscombe. One of the questions in the Sherman exercise mentioned anti-intentionalism (art critics ignoring an artists intentions in the critique of their work). This led me directly to English Philosopher Anscombe (1919-2001). She literally wrote the book on Intention. The book itself is a very hard read – even seasoned philosophers need to read it several times. I have been separately conducted research on artist’s statements, which is also related to the topic of intention.
But, if there is an essence, it is about unpacking the every day use of the word intention – do I intend to do something, and if I don’t can I really claim it was intended? What is the difference between intending to do a specific thing, and intending to get an audience reaction, which cannot be guaranteed? Can you actually intend to get a specific audience reaction, or just force it?And so forth.
There is a wide range of literature on artistic intention, around the question as to what extent an artists intentions should be part of any review. But not much that I can find digs deeply into the language being used.
Anscombe was the wife of my Professor of Logic in my Undergraduate years, Peter Geach, and she wrote a defining work on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus which I studied under Geach, and is still in my library.
Why is this inspirational? Because unpacking exactly what a photographer intends with a piece of work, for him or herself and for the audience, especially in this era where the network can give images a life of their own, is an important challenge worthy of more understanding. I have been given talks recently to audiences in bath, of both photographers and generalists. The concepts of artistic intention and networked images are a small part of that talk, yet they invariably surprise the audience as new ideas.
5. Jim Mizerski. Mizerski is an American writer, historian and photography who publishes books in Cambodia about Cambodia. The books are all designed and printed there. His work covers archaeology, art, and culture of the country, and often his books are picked up by tourists as ‘reference guides’ at the airport – often near to be read again, perhaps. But his scholarship is first class.
Why is this inspirational? Because I also hope to print and publish in Phnom Penh, a significant logistical and planning challenge. There is much to learn on how to do this.
6. Senga Nengudi. I visited the Leeds Art Gallery last week, and by chance the adjoining Henry Moore Institute had an exhibition of the work of American Senga Nengudi – her first major retrospective. She is a sculptor and performance artist. Whilst interesting in it’s own right, what really fascinating me was how the photographs of some of her performances become works of art in their own right. The header image shows photographs by Quaku and Roderick Young of Nengudi’s Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978.
Why is this inspirational? Because the power of photography as both a primary and secondary communication vehicle is something I frankly have not really considered before.
7. Joan Fontcuberta. I have been reading both Photography: Crisis of History and Pandora’s Camera. I found the latter the more insightful work, as the former seemed, to me, to offer essays which tend to reinforce each other rather than create new thoughts. Fontcuberta is a clear writer, with ideas that ring true to me, starting with:
‘… whether we realise it or not, photography is also a form of philosophy’. (pg 15)
Much of his writing is about the digital versus the analogue. Whilst I frankly do not agree when he suggests that digital photography longer shares the function that analogue had in depicting reality, it is clear that things have change. An example; with the advent of mobile photography and the ubiquitousness on the cameraphone, Fontucuberta rightly states:
‘Taking a picture nowadays is not so much the recording of an event as a substantial part of the event itself: event and photographic record fuse’. (pg 26)
It seems we all need to have social confirmation of an event happening, sometimes to the exclusion of actually ‘being present’ at the event, and mindful of its meaning. the mass use of photographer not only affects the photographer, but also the audience and their knowledge of the medium:
‘The difference in digital’s ability to manipulate images is not that it’s possible – it always was – it is that the public (the viewer) now knows what is possible with digital manipulation‘. (pg 62)
Fontcuberta does not quite nail the idea of the networked image, as a rust of these changes, but it is implied. Yet, something which is also touched on, culture, is scantly discussed. I like his idea of archaeology as a way of thinking about a history of photography, suggesting a forensic examination of both artefact and context. Yet his writing falls shorts of anthropology, in considering social and cultural context.
Why is this inspirational? Ironically, because of what Fontcuberta only implies, rather than deals with fully – the cultural context of photography. This manifests itself in the ‘western’ gaze, the ‘colonial’ gaze, and so forth. It prompted me to examine my own thoughts on this in more detail, in Cultural Context.
8. Jordi Bernado. Bernado is a Spanish documentary photography, noted in some of Fontcuberta’s work. He created the book Good News in 1998. His eclectic juxtaposition of images, without explanation, encourages (almost forces) the viewer to make connections for themselves about the scene being presented to them. Very Very Bad News, from 2002, continues this tradition.
Why is this inspirational? Because his books use of juxtaposition and intrigue to engage the viewer has direct relevance to my challenge – possibly to balance ‘education’ about the Genocide with personal, survivors stories.
9. Peter Frankopan. Frankopan wrote The Silk Roads, published in 2015. It became an instant hit and a classic reassessment of history, re-orienting our ‘Western Centric’ view of the world, and challenging the accompanying ‘colonial’ mind set. He has just published The New Silk Roads, which a forward-looking view of the influence on our collective futures of the new orientation of the world. A superbly well researched duo, the books are thought provoking to anyone dealing with Asia, as I am.
Why is this inspirational? As I have noted above, we do not take enough notice of cultural context, and Frankopan’s thinking helps me continually reassess how I am developing my project, with sensitivity to Asia and historical context. I have a way to go in 2019.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t add …
Gary McLeod. This might seem a cop-out, but it is true. I offered to read Gary’s opening words on his new book, rephotography. I will not dwell on the content, but suffice to say the work is well researched, and thought provoking. I enjoyed reading and commenting on the chapter, and thank Gary for his trust.
Why is this inspirational? Because Gary’s thoughts once more make me think about how I am going about ‘aftermath’ work.
Separately, I have been doing more research into Japanese photography (Provoke, Daido Moriyama, Nobuo Ina), the impact of Cultural Context on how we take and view photographs, and the power (or lack thereof) of artist’s statements.
ANSCOMBE, Elizabeth. 1957 (2008 Ed.). Intention. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
BERNADÓ, Jordi. 1998. Good News *. Barcelona, Actar.
BERNADÓ, Jordi. 2002. Very Very Bad News.Barcelona, Actar.
CHHANG, Youk, & MAKARA, Ouch. 2015. The Urns: Nothing is Permanent. Available at: http://d.dccam.org/Archives/Photographs/pdf/The_Urns_Spreads_Page–Email.pdf (accessed 02/11/2018).
FONTCUBERTA, Joan (Ed.). 2002. Photography. Crisis of History. Barcelona: Actar.
FONTCUBERTA, Joan. 2014. Pandora’s Camera: photogr@phy after photography. London: Mack.
FRANKOPAN, Peter. 2015. The Silk Roads.London: Bloomsbury.
FRANKOPAN, Peter. 2018. The New Silk Roads. London: Bloomsbury.
MAKARA, Ouch. 2019. Breaking the Silence. Phnom Penh: DC-Cam.
MIZERSKI, Jim. 2017. Elephant Train: Phnom Penh to Bangkok in 1871. Phnom Penh: Jasmine Image Machine.
MIZERSKI, Jim. 2016. Cambodia Captured: Angkor’s First Photographers in 1860s Colonial Intrigues. Phnom Penh: Jasmin Image Machine
PRINS, Annemarie. 2009. Breaking the Silence: A New Cambodian Play. Available at http://d.dccam.org/Projects/Radio/pdf/DCCAM_BREAKING_THE_SILENCE_%20FINAL.pdf (accessed 29/12/2018).
SHERMAN, Cindy. 1982. Catalogue of Stedilik Museum Exhibition. München: Schirmer Mosel.