Informing Contexts – Contextual Research – Conducted between 01/02/19 – 10/05/19
Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes
Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. London: Vintage Books.
“When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.” Barthes, pg. 57
In the first part of Barthes Camera Lucida, he concentrates on the deconstruction of images and the elements of photography that move or stimulate the reader, (the prick or ‘punctum’). In part two however his writing becomes more personal, particularly in discussion regarding images of his late mother and the subjects of loss, history and death are quite prevalent. As such I focussed more on the first part of the book and reflecting on his book Image, Music, Text (Barthes, 1977) which I discussed in the sustainable prospects section.
The quote above secures, for me, the permanency of an image. Despite living in a digital age there is still a trace, the characters in our images are frozen there and stored in time for future reflection or consumption. It also reinforces the documentation point of view in that the image secures that the activity took place, it documents the lives people were living at the time and cannot be denied as the moment cannot be changed.
Reading this book led me to thinking of music as a nostalgic trigger. Many of the artists whom I have spoken with have discussed their passion for the medium being linked to childhood or a historical event, fond memories etc. The same can be said for myself in both music and photography. We use photographs within the family home to reminisce, capture key milestones and reviewing these images over time evokes a sentimental response and nostalgia. Music is being used as a form of therapy for dementia patients for example. It can be used to calm anxious patients, trigger memories or to give them a voice when in the more developed stages of the illness. This could be something my project could investigate further and develop towards the final major project module.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art
Cotton, C. (2014). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson.
A very informative read, this book gave me insight and certainly raised my considerations as to what my work is trying to say and where it fits in terms of audience and consumption. It certainly helped when exploring the art of tableaux images and their historical connections to the painting masters.
“When historical visual motifs are used in a contemporary photographic subject in this way, they act as a confirmation that contemporary life carries a degree of symbolism and cultural preoccupation parallel with other times in history, and arts position of being chronicler of contemporary fables is asserted.” (Cotton, 2014, pg.55)
My images tie to this, showing the link from historical punk aesthetics to the visual displays through fashion and consumerism in contemporary culture.
I found it particularly interesting exploring the work of deadpan photography and the gaze of the individual photographed. Deadpan portraiture really works because it gives the feeling of connection with the subject and the viewer, as if the gaze is a shared moment between both parties. This type of photography can be quite intimate, which could be useful with my chosen subject matter. Body language, positions, demeanour are all unknown displays of the subjects character and personal identity and this is something I wish to capture effectively within my portraits.
This book has led me to look further at the works of Nan Goldin, Nick Waplington and Nikki S Lee and look closer at documentary photography on the whole. I really like how documentary photography shows the realism in life and challenges our pre-conceptions of cultural stereotypes. I still feel this is an avenue I would like to explore further within my project.
Understanding a Photograph
Berger, J. and Dyer, G. (2013). Understanding a photograph. London: Penguin.
I appreciate the way Berger deconstructs a photograph with such emotion and intensity. I have always enjoyed reading his work and his series Ways of Seeing, takes me back to my art school education where my passion for photography and the visual arts begun.
“Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject the way a photograph does.” (Berger, pg.51)
When reading any photographic theory, one’s perspective on any image can change but I find Berger’s experience from the visual arts really helps understand image construction and narrative. For me his works push you to see more, to see deeper and question what it is we see.
BBC (1972). Ways of Seeing – BBC Series. Available at: https://youtu.be/0pDE4VX_9Kk [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].
I watched Berger’s Ways of Seeing series as a means of studying during bed rest. I was very inspired by his discussions on the use of music and rhythm having the ability to change the significance or deconstruction of an image. The playing of music whilst viewing an image is something I have considered for my final major project exhibition, in particular having the artists portrayed performing whilst the work is being viewed to support the images and the energy contained within. As the culture and music of punk rock is not known widely by all I feel this could help give an overall experience of the culture and its energy.
“Images can be used like words, we can talk with them” (Berger, 1972)
No Future – Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture 1976-1984
Worley, M. (2017). No Future – Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture 1976-1984. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
With so much American influence in todays popular culture and particularly within the punk/alternative music scene it is important to understand the history of punk and what it means to Britain. This book focusses on this historical account with deep discussion of the youth moment and its importance in British culture.
There is an argument within the subculture of punk rock over where it all began, with the Sex Pistols in the UK or The Ramones in the US. As my project is documenting punk rock in the UK it is important to trace the UK roots of the genre and its original motivations, style, ethos and passion.
Having read so many books and stories centred around the Sex Pistols and Malcom McLaren/Vivienne Westwood I wanted to find an unbiased resource documenting fact over a glorified version of its inception.
As stated in my CRJ previously I am disappointed by the motivations and actions of Westwood and McLaren in what should have been a free spirited and accepting movement. They capitalised and sold punk as a brand and a fashion movement rather than its intentions as an anti-political, non-conformist, expressive youth movement.
Offensive, challenging and angst fuelled, punk certainly made an impression after the Pistols release of the Anarchy in the UK single in November 1976.
“Amidst front-page headlines and articles bemoaning the Pistols as ‘boorish, ill mannered, foul-mouthed, dirty, obnoxious and arrogant’, punk was first subjected to municipal bans and earnest moral outrage as to its supposed degeneracy before then being codified and commodified by a record industry keen to appropriate, package and market the ‘new wave’ as a saleable product” (Worley, 2017, pg.6)
When you consider its impact at the time, the particular era and generation of politics, its transformation from youth subculture into a mainstream popular culture, mass produced commercialised product was inevitable. Even in our generation the medium is revamped with fashion trends, get the rock look or the punk look, commercialise rebellion and channel angst into a marketable product rather than using alternative fashion as a means and a statement to challenge societal norms and prejudices.
“Punk appealed on one level because it was visually and aurally exciting; it injected a youthful energy and urgency into pop music.” Worley, 2017, pg.7
Venues attempts across London and various cities to ban punk shows only ever increased their appeal. Record stores refusing to stock the Pistol’s God Save the Queen 7 inch in 1977 for example, only made the product more appealing and increased its value. Thus increasing the hostility from the royalists and further fuelling the tabloid press and public outrage against the movement.
Although times have changed and variations of the original movement continue to develop in western youth culture, I believe some hostility towards the punk rock movement remains. For the older generation the torch still carries its flame and the visual appearance of the traditional punk is still met with an unaccepting view, particularly in small towns such as my home town.
As society we are now in another period of political uncertainty and discourse. Worely comments on punk’s popularity during periods of social change and uncertainty and I find myself turning to punk music with politically based angst and frustration, looking for answers, opinions and even humorous commentary on these issues.
A great example of the more humorous commentary in song is the NOFX track The Idiots Are Taking Over (Birkett, 2003). Written as a commentary on the Bush administration in the US and the social and economic issues derived from his campaign, the song puts serious issues into a light hearted thrashy melody.
Fat Wreck Chords (2003). NOFX – The Idiots Are Taking Over. Available at: https://youtu.be/3kqLVeP7iHA [Accessed 11 May 2019].
“There’s no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated” Birkett, 2003
One aspect I guess I have always resonated with is punks voice for the disadvantaged and socially challenged. For me, punk artists from the DIY scenes and independent labels give an honest, frank and realistic expression of life in working class Britain. This really was the aim of punks inception before the distortions and interventions of the art world and corporate music labels.
Although DIY scenes are portrayed as a dying breed they still exist, and with some the passion and the movement is as strong as the 70’s/80’s. I find the passion followers of these scenes have is just as inspirational as the struggling artists that keep them going. Although small networks, they are almost run like family businesses with strong connections deeply rooted within their communities.
Punk for me is a lifestyle, an aesthetic expression of colour, tone and mood connoted through my clothing, lifestyle choices and music. It is my expressions as an individual, being able to think and express my opinions clearly and freely without any judgements or prejudices.
Although the punk scene can vary from place to place and contain some elitist rhetoric, to me it connotes family, unity, integrity, passion and joy. There is (or certainly should not be) no right or wrong definition to the question “what is punk?”. To me the question is more, how do you define something undefinable? Artistic expression? Photography?
Sustainable Prospects – all contextual Research conducted from 24/09/18 to 10/12/18
“You see, people spend too much of their time today being spoon-fed by organised society..” Edwards, P – 1966
Young, C. (2016). Style tribes – The Fashion of Subcultures. 1st ed. London: Frances Lincoln, p.76.
My research project has moved on greatly since the positions and practice module in June. Despite my project itself taking a slightly alternative form to my original intentions I have been researching the work of subcultures and the styles behind them.
The above quote by professional surfer Phil Edwards is taken from the above book ‘Style Tribes – The Fashion of Subcultures’. I chose this quote to include as despite Edwards being a professional surfer and part of the California surf movement I feel this quote and his outlook is comparable to the punk rock/punk ethos. Also I feel the quote to be particularly relevant in modern society as I feel it reinforces my opinion that people have become lazy and less motivated to find their niche. Modern society is reliant upon the ease and availability it has for images, style and material and people are spoon fed ideals, opinion and politics online and within the mainstream media.
This book is a fantastic catalogue of historical information, extremely informative not only about style and subculture movements but also the motivations behind them. It explores the use of fashion as a means of self-expression and contextualises each practice with the political or historical events of the cultural era.
The book takes us from the 1920’s era of Flapper Girls to current day Hipster and Japanese Street Style trends.
The book has helped me connect that the majority of style trends were in fact a social statement about class or more an escapism form working class culture. Subcultures essentially hailed from a time of growth and development post World War 1. The consumption of music and fashion increased after the war with thanks to industrialisation, modernism and globalisation. The introduction of mass production of clothing and music equipment opened up a new world for the young. This also escalated towards the 1950’s where teenagers became the target of advertising men to sell all manner of youth style products.
Clothing was used as a social statement for some. People took pride in their appearance, donning styles to show pride and dignity in themselves during times of difficulty or limited opportunities. As styles and times changed so did motivations with movements such as the Teddy Boys, Rockers and Punks were style was about rebellion, anarchy and a fight against ‘the system’.
One of the key points I have been raising in my interviews with musicians is whether they believe that the attendance of live shows and the movement of punk rock has been effected by social media, music streaming and the instant technology behind digital downloads. The belief is that this is the case due to the speed of availability and the ease of use fans prefer to acquire music in this fashion rather than launch dates, record shops or old fashion merchandise stands at shows. The belief is also that the digital age is making people less likely to follow one specific scene closely due to having an abundance of material right at their fingertips.
With music festivals now designed for the masses and hugely more commercial than ever before it is apparent that something is affecting the music culture scene.
My personal notes from the relevant subcultures and sections within the book. They detail the style, motivations and ethos for each subculture.
From this research I began to document in my notebook just how many of these genres/culture styles all relate to punk and the bands which through their musical fusion convey the style and culture of punk. I have also listed the common factors within each movement;
- Political views
- Working class movements
- Artistic influences
- Against mainstream beauty conventions
- Second hand/personalised clothing
- The DIY (do it yourself) ethic
Barthes ‘Image, Music, Text’ and Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ are two texts I have purchased to support my research project. As it has been some time since my degree my knowledge on image analysis and semiotics is a little rusty to say the least.
I have enjoyed reading both pieces, however, I need to have another attempt at Barthes over the module break in preparation for the informing contexts module as trying to fit it in here and there is not the best approach with such a heavy text and I din’t feel I have really given it the time or attention it really deserves.
“The modern location for music os not the concert hall, but the stage on which the musicians pass, in what is often a dazzling display, from one source of sound to another” Musica Practica, Barthes, 1977, pg. 153
What I find so interesting here is despite Barthes producing this book some forty one years ago his opinions and description of modern music as it were is still relevant to live music today. Now live music is not just about the practice of music and the songs being played by the artist. Every element of the performance must hold some visual and aesthetic value in order to gain the power and control of the audience.
Whilst reading ‘On Photography’ I discovered some interesting prose in regards to polaroids and the impefectness of photography.
“Imperfect technique has come to be appreciated precisely because it breaks the sedate equation of Nature and Beauty” Sontag, 1979, pg. 102.
Sontag here touches on the boundaries of the natural and the beautiful. I believe it is possible for something imperfect to be beautiful. I actually find imperfect things more aesthetically beautiful. Naturally occurring items, trees for example hold that beauty but are not necessarily perfect in their form.
I understand not every viewer will hold an appreciation for the technically imperfect photograph, however, I still feel this is a relevant link to the depiction of punk rock culture which I will continue to use.
Here are a selection of other books I have begun reading in preparation for the next module. I am disappointed I have not had chance to explore further in this module, however, I believe they will all support my research project in the long run and I hope to be able to include further photographic theory in order to better support my project.
Dick Hebdige’s 1979 title ‘Subculture-The Meaning of Style’ has proven to be one of the most important sources of secondary research material I have used to date.
Considered one of the first people to identify and write about sub and youth cultures, Hebdige’s work has been discussed at length by nearly every academic to look into the subject since.
Of particular relevance to my study is his consideration of the functions which sub cultures fulfill, they help the participants to gain a sense of identity and expression, often via the use of breaking taboos within society, or trying to stray outside the lines of the moral majority. This stand against the status quo being a popular theme within most youth cultures, for example Punks, Ted’s and Biker Boys which isolated those involved from mainstream society and united them within their own sub societies or cultures at the same time. This idea can be adopted into my work directly; the punk rock scene concerns itself in a huge way with unity and a sense of community amongst those involved. And while it does not so much seek to upset society or break the taboos of the moral majority in a negative way, the lifestyle choices and idea’s associated within the subculture stand apart from the mainstream. Anti drug, anti capitalist, pro life ideals often cause as much suspicion, contempt and misunderstanding from the society looking in, as more self destructive lifestyles such as drug abuse or self mutilation.
Hebdige is quick to point out that ‘No doubt, the breaking of rules is confused with the ‘absence of rules’ (Hebdige, D 1989 pg.92) hence such sub cultures may appear to or want to believe that they do not adhere to any regulations or set of moral codes and standards placed upon them, but that in fact they simply follow a different morals to those of the mainstream. This idea is one which will be highly relevant to my area of study.
Some other key elements which I have taken from this book include his considerations into the way which society as a whole deals with sub and youth cultures. For Hebdige this takes two main forms, ‘The Commodity Form’, and ‘The Ideological Form’.
The commodity form concerns itself with consumption, and is generally handled by journalists, academics, and untimely business; turning the culture into a marketable and profitable image. Such an act, it can be argued renders the sub culture impotent, taking away its threat and sincerity, and turning it into nothing more than another fashion statement; therefore making it safe and acceptable by the mainstream, capitalist consumer masses. This could not be any more relevant to my area of application. Part of the fundamental building blocks of the punk rock ethic is an anti-consumer, anti-materialistic approach to life. Many of those involved being left wing and often concerning themselves with environmental and animal rights issues. To market these beliefs for profit would certainly cause irreversible harm to its validity.
The ideological form tends to be a method employed by sociologists, who generally subscribe to the belief that subculture’s follow models of deviant behaviour.
‘As we have seen, the way in which subcultures are represented in the media makes them both more and less exotic than they actually are. They are seen to contain both dangerous aliens and boisterous kids, wild animals and wayward pets.’ (Hebdige, D 1989 pg.97).
Basically this means representing the groups as in one of two ways, or sometimes in both. As highly dangerous people towards whom society should isolate and regard with contempt, and also in other situations as clowns or figures of ridicule that are harmless and can be made the subject of mockery. The second of these may arguably cause more damage to the validity of any sub culture.
The book contains much more information which I will be referring to throughout my project, however these are examples of a few of the main idea’s which I have taken from Hebdige’s work.