Images by Matt McLaughlin – Columbia College – Chicago, IL
It’s entertaining, it clues us in on things we don’t know about, and it allows us to lose ourselves in fantasy – Its television. Ever feel like we tune in too much? Matt’s images serve as a reminder to me that we do. Lately, I have been keeping the television off, and have found that in return, life is far more interesting – and it’s for that reason, at this particular time in my life, that these photographs stood out to me. It is easy to begin to believe we have experienced or understand certain things just because we have seen them happen, or learned about them on TV. Realistically, we have not. Every moment we watch television is a moment we could have spent experiencing the world around us.
“Turn off the TV, look around,” is what Matt’s images say to me. Aside from my recent abolition of TV, it is the settings he has chosen that assert this idea. They are places and things that I could see and experience if I were to walk out my front door and go for a stroll. Others, I could encounter if I took only an hour out of my life to go somewhere else. What is important here is that these places seem to be familiar, though I am reasonably unfamiliar with them.
We see them every day, but not as often do we stop to feel the impact of a river decorated with trees, that is even beautiful in the off season – a cemetery, where those who were once just like us lie in resting – the skyline, built from the ground up by those before us with an ambition for progression – a great lake, whose stories would go back to the beginning of time if it could tell them – train tracks, which were once the most valuable resource that had been invented – and a tree, the life source of humanity.
The real question here, a question that all photographers should ask themselves is: Who is viewing these images?
How are these images going to be received by them, and why? Matt’s images appealed the way that they did because the settings were familiar to me, in addition to the fact that I have been taking notice of life in the absence of television. Would someone who is unacquainted with these places, or glued to the tube feel the same way? Are these images contextual? If they are, do I want them to be contextualized? If I don’t, what do I need to do to extend the message I intend to send to different types of viewers?
My point is that as photographers we need to persistently and open-mindedly ask ourselves questions about our own work in order to make it exactly what we intend for it to become. The more questions you ask, the more refined your body of work will become. The more refined your work becomes, the better it will be, and the more you will trust your decisions.
To see more work by Matt McLaughlin, check out his flickr.
Image by Katie Shapiro – Los Angeles, CA – California Institute of the Arts ’07
Makeup by Erin Hennessy
Katie has presented herself, in this series of self-portraits, as a religious woman, old man, battered woman, homeless man, 1940's film star (actress), and gothic teenager. All or most of which I am assuming are roles that are not suitable as actual descriptions of her, although I suppose it is possible that in some ways they could. Seeing as I have not had the pleasure of meeting her, lets assume she becomes a theatrical representation of realistic generations, genders, personalities, and lifestyles by stepping into their familiar stereotypes. Capturing staged versions of herself as such brings up a good point.
The medium of photography itself provides the photographer with full reign over the options they may choose from in which to portray their subject matter, in terms of the state of a subject as it exists in the world, or a notional idea of the subject. So when it comes down to it, their basic options are real life, or staged life.
Aside from the obvious fact that Katie is not both a man and a woman, young and old, or past and present – it is based on her placement within a studio setting, and use of herself as a model of something and/or someone that does not necessarily describe her, that we understand these photographs as staged. Because of this, we think of these portraits as characters. Taking photographs of religious women, old men, battered women, homeless men, actresses, and gothic teenagers as they exist in the world, on the other hand, would be a more realistic or authentic representation of them.
However, by embodying rich stereotypes that we can all comprehend by visual recognition alone, she begins to create a mixture of not just imitation, but also authenticity in her portraits. For me, this authentic quality is caused by my immediate reaction to the images as a spotlight on the enormous role that stereotypes play in society. Exposing our knowledge of how we might recognize an individual by particular details we associate with their demographic tells us just how deeply rooted, and perhaps unavoidable stereotypes can be. Regardless of how aware or unaware we may be of this phenomenon, we are forced to describe the subjects of her photographs using the visual characteristics that distinguish them as a type of people, rather than individual person. Emphasizing the influence of stereotypes provides a sense of authenticity to her images by revealing the state of the idea of stereotypes as they exist in the world. This message is delivered successfully because of Katie’s choice to use one single model (whether she used herself or someone else) throughout the series rather than a different model for each character.
To see more work by Katie Shapiro, check out her website, or her blog!
Image by Lenny Gilmore - Columbia College - Chicago, IL
As students, I think we can be discouraged by knowing that there are so many images before us, and that this can make us feel perpetually unsure of how creative we actually are, or can be. I think at some point in all of our minds, the question arises of whether or not there is more new to be had – and of course there is more new and different ahead of us just waiting for us to create it, but we think this anyway. Images like this one; being unlike any other image I have seen before forces me to make peace with this understanding.
I assume at this point, that my readers are students or teachers who spend most of their time in downtown Chicago, and know the terrain fairly, if not, particularly well. At one time or another, do we not begin to forget the wonder of the city we once felt when we first came here, surrounded by something enormously greater than we could comprehend? This image reminds me that, of my first impression of Chicago, a microcosm of a whole world connected by and bound by nothing but city limits. The moment I thought I could not stand to view another redundant image of the skyline from Grant Park, I was pleasantly presented with this anomaly.
Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.
-George Kneller (Philosopher of Education)
Thank you, George Kneller, for summarizing my thoughts on this exactly.
With Lenny’s understanding that one image is not necessarily limited to one frame, in combination with a high amount of technical skill, he has found a way to combine multiple images in order to create one cohesive point of view. It challenges the idea believed by those criticizing the birth of the digital era who would argue that digital photography/photomanipulation is not “real” photography, by revealing the infinite possibilities it offers. It is a confrontation, if you will, to the opinion that higher forms of art are limited to old-fashioned ways, often supported by the argument that using technological means in the creation of something beautiful and aesthetically intelligent requires less proficiency, talent, and innovation. Digital imaging such as this demands more skill than meets the eye, as the photographer must be fluent in technology and well versed in the ways of graphic design in addition to being articulate in their photographic acuity. It is work like this that not only challenges, but perhaps perpetuates these ideas due simply to the fact that he makes it look easy.
To see more work by Lenny Gilmore, check out his flickr, or his myspace!
Harriet's Staircase - Image by Matt Austin - Columbia College, Chicago, IL
Though this photograph, without a doubt, could stand alone as a spectacle of beauty to gaze upon and wonder about, it is the origin of the historical context of this location I consider to be particularly important. It gives the mind an idea of a time and a place for one's imagination to explore the past through the eye of the present. Knowing what has happened, what is happening, or what the future may hold for the subject of any photograph can give the viewer yet another way in which to view it. Take a minute to look at it again, make assumptions, draw conclusions, use your imagination.
This image was taken at the Charleville Forest Castle in Tullamore, Co. Offaly in Ireland. The castle itself was commissioned by Charles William Bury in 1798, finished in 1812, and has been rated the second most haunted castle in Europe by a number of paranormal activity professionals and other sources. The staircase you see is where the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Charleville, Harriet, fell to her death at the age of eight in April of 1861. She went upstairs to her room to wash her hands and on her way back down, tried to slide down the banister but fell from the point that is in the direct foreground of the photograph. The family put up a brass fence around those parts of the stairwell to prevent anyone from falling again, but over the years, the brass was stolen from the house. Her ghost is the one that is most commonly reported to have been seen/experienced in the castle.
Perhaps it is because of my personal beliefs and interest in the possibility of the existence of the paranormal that I find this story unusually fascinating. Regardless of my own beliefs on that subject matter, however, it fascinates me to know that after one hundred and forty-seven years, the life and death of one eight year old girl is represented and remembered through one still image of the place she used to be. I go on to think that had she not fallen and met her premature death, what would she be remembered for, if anything? Would Matt have made this photograph had he not known the historical context of this particular staircase? If he did not know and decided to, would he have composed it the same way? Would this image still bear the same impact, had her story not supplemented it?
An excellent way of knowing whether an image is successful to me, is to examine the questions it raises in my mind and evaluate why those specific questions have been raised. Additionally, I must think about whether or not the answers to these questions, if even available, affect my understanding and opinion of the image itself. Successful is one of those words we throw around willingly because its definition is subjective, however, by my definition, a successful image is one that is aesthetically pleasing, intellectually stimulating, technically well-rendered, and possibly psychologically/emotionally enticing.
With that, I don’t think any answers to the questions this photograph raises are important to comprehend the image itself. The history behind this scene set the stage for Matt to make of it what he would, and what he made of it is intriguing and beautiful. It is with knowing Harriet’s story that he chose to entertain the idea of telling it by way of one specific photograph. He has made an interesting architectural space even more so than had it been based on beauty alone.