Joseph Wright of Derby

mickyates Aesthetics, Art, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Ideas, Photography, Portrait, PositionsPractice, PPWeek2 Leave a Comment

Several of my fellow students have noted painters such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt as inspirations, with their mastery of both light and compositions, delivering works of great beauty and power.

Since I was a kid, growing up near Derby, I was always fascinated by Joseph Wright of Derby, wondering ‘how did he paint that’.

I don’t think his work has the same power as the two Masters, but there seems almost a domestic simplicity to his composition. As a photographer, I have no idea how to ‘do that’ with light – Danny and Gail both do – but I think I should consider my lighting more, to add  to my ways of seeing portraits. So  much inspiration already on the course!

From Wikipedia:

Joseph Wright (1734 – 1797), styled Joseph Wright of Derby, was an English landscape and portrait painter. He has been acclaimed as “the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.

Wright is notable for his use of chiaroscuro, which emphasises the contrast of light and dark, and, for his paintings of candle-lit subjects. His paintings of the birth of science out of alchemy, often based on the meetings of the Lunar Society, a group of scientists and industrialists living in the English Midlands, are a significant record of the struggle of science against religious values in the period known as the Age of Enlightenment.

Many of Wright’s paintings and drawings are owned by Derby City Council, and are on display at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) © National Gallery

Qs week 2 – 3rd presentation – “Fields of Cultural Interest”

mickyates Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Ethics, History, Ideas, PositionsPractice, PPWeek2 Leave a Comment

Q: Which of the disciplines discussed here do you feel is most relevant to Sam Shere’s famous photograph?

In the ‘fields of cultural interest’ (Roland Barthes), many apply to Shere’s image.

It was an embarrassment to the pride of Nazi Germany (politics). It was a significant moment in the history of air travel (history). It impacted air traveller views of safety (psychology, sociology). The accident contributed to the demise of Zeppelin production (engineering) and the dominance of airplanes and airports as we know them today (economic, industrial history, urban planning).

And of course the image contributed significantly to the history of photography itself.

Sam Shere. 1936. The Hindenburg Disaster.

If pushed to pick what is the most important, I would tend to see the overall economic impact of the demise of the Zeppelin and the rise of modern air travel engineering as equal top of the list. These would be followed by the image’s place in the history of photography.

Q: Do any of the disciplines mentioned resonate with your own practice?

The disciplines of history, research and critical thinking are most appropriate in my documentary work.

As mentioned by several of the other participants of the program, ethics also has a significant role in my work, from what to shoot on the street, to more serious questions. In Shere’s case, I can imagine there was little ethical dilemma, either at the time of shooting or otherwise. It was a major disaster, though not personalised to the victims. It was somewhat anonymised news.

Contrast that with Richard Drew‘s Falling Man, taken on 9/11.

Drew is on record as saying ‘I’ve never regretted taking that photograph“, despite its harrowing imagery. In fact it is an image with both punctum and studium.

© Richard Drew Falling Man (2001)

In my own practice, I was on an investigatory mission as a Board Trustee of Save the Children in Malawi, in 2002. We visited a hospital in  the Mangochi District. There was a cholera epidemic, with tents used as make-shift isolation wards, although only nurses were at the hospital that day. There was also a series of wards dealing with HIV Aids patients, the reason we were there. I took this image.

© Mick Yates Lost (2002)

I asked permission, both of the patient and the nurses, and we tried to explain through a translator why we were there. But was that truly ‘informed consent’, and did I take sufficient steps?

A very lively argument  occurred with one member of our party, who felt we shouldn’t be taking pictures at all. Generally though, the group agreed with taking the pictures.  They were to be used to build awareness of the issue, first with the Save the Children Board, and then more broadly in the organisation.

My understanding and action around the ethical issues of photography, whilst still nowhere near complete, did change that day, and I look forward to exploring this in much more detail on the MA program. I would absolutely still take that picture, as I do not think it exploitative, and in fact was a tender if sad moment for mother and baby. However, I would probably go to more pains to explain the circumstances to all concerned before taking the shot. I am also quite clear today that I would never take an image that sought to willingly exploit the subject.

Barthes, Roland. 1980. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill & Wang.