We have learned that games are not only played for fun. So-called serious games have found their way into health applications where we might learn while playing a game of how to integrate more walking into our life in the city. While walking after work I happened to pass the Selfie Museum in Zagreb. In fact despite carrying the name of museum it is more an assembly of scenarios in which you can realize many selfies in different settings that have been prepared for that purpose. Hence your production of photo shooting with yourself as the major character is facilitated and you no longer have to spend a lot of time on the setups. Call it a museum and you’ll have more visibility and visitors.
Styles of selfies have changed and shooting very short videos to post on tiktok is of course easy there. A real threat to huge and expensive cinema studios considering the enormous reach some of these selfies can reach. It is a bit like a theatre with multiple stages for everybody to use at moderate costs. Before long we shall come to realize the potential for many more interested in theatre to become actors and directors themselves. Democratize the world of theatre is the new social dimension here. Test yourself in another profession through playful interaction. Test and learn about other competencies. We are in the middle of the next wave of “gameification” previously reserved to people ready to accept higher risks of likely failure. The young can now take their parents to the museum and show off their culture and skills. Intergenerational learning has a new aspect as well. The sociology of the virtual has another phenomenon to evaluate.
The Tate Modern Gallery in London has an exhibition of photography on display which challenges our Western view of art works. With a focus on photography and African photographers it is complementary to the many other photo exhibitions. We have a world in common, says the title of the exhibition. The images, however, reveal another vision of African photographers. Other perspectives on beauty, architecture and the distribution of wealth and waste across the world becomes explicit. Beyond the documentary effect of a lively African scene of photography and past colonialism the forward-looking vision of African photographers is also evident. Colours and Imagination of a unique kind allow us to look beyond the current state of affairs. Rising from the ashes and western waste the colours of Africa will prevail.
Only through the force to imagine a different trajectory for the continent we shall eventually be able to see new flowers blooming.
Positive images have to be put in front of the “negativity bias” in Western media when reporting about African countries. The light, the sun, the sea and coast lines, all can contribute to the rise of Africa in various ways. The photographers in the Tate exhibition demonstrate an impressive power to go beyond the day-to-day topics.
Broadening our scope of visuals with more images from Africa certainly are fist steps to enlarge the spectrum of photography and art. A chance to browse through the catalogue allows to go back from time to time to counter our usual stereotypes. (Image taken from Tate catalogue A world in common, 2023 Muluneh Aida 2018 p. 202-3).
It is a timely move to not only rely on people to come to exhibitions or a museum, but for art and artists to go towards people. Advertising exhibitions is a first step in this direction. As photography and selfies are all around us, it is a small step to get more people interested in art through photography. The treasures of archives and libraries complement the markets for art and photography. Susan Sontag has taught us the social sciences related to photography. Learning by looking is just like the well-known learning by-doing.
The BnF in Paris is advertising at the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Passing by the board might inspire thousands of travelers and commuters to stop for an instant. Eventually being bothered and to take notice of the intriguing image or images in this reproduction of a photograph or maybe 2 blended ones. A few might note down the address or take a screenshot with their mobile camera to remember. All these instances enlarge the audience for the exhibition or motivate people to go beyond the quick shot with their smartphone camera. The artwork related to photography mostly starts after the first shot. It is in fact sometimes quite a long journey to come up with the final image. Just go for it.
Nothing is just black and white. Some animals have a representation or vision of images in black and white. Just like in computing full color modes or high resolutions use more power of chips and memory. In short colors are computationally costly. For our brains this is unfortunately just as important. Therefore black and white images have a certain advantage. On the one hand they reduce an image to its essential elements, on the other hand they allow a faster grasp of the message or content at sight.
The BNF presents a wide range of images in black and white from the time that color photography has been available, but photographers consciously chose to represent their image in black and white (1907-). Obviously with black and white photography we maximize contrasts. An image can be converted into a graphical representation like a black and white pencil sketch or drawing. A few more nuances are introduced in applying perspectives to capture or to produce by use of lighting forefronts and shadows.
Using different materials as support of photography allows us additional creativity and stunning effects. Lighting from behind the image is popular in advertisements on our high-streets. Last but not least using techniques of color photography gave rise in modern black and white photography to allow for chromatic transitions and contrasts within images.
All this is well documented in the exposition and ample examples make it a formidable visual learning experience. From the origins of just black and white we have come around to the fabulous and magical in black and white. In reducing to black and white the essential becomes more visible. The superfluous is blackened or whitened out. It is a skill of importance nowadays to focus on essentials and to find new ways to go beyond the obvious shot.
Working at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF.fr), just like visiting, allows you to benefit from the many temporary exhibitions based primarily on their own collections and donations to the BnF. For those who like “dessins, estampes, photographies”, there is a small exhibition as of June 2023 which features on these three techniques in the work of a single artist Edgar Degas from the impressionist movement. Walking through the exhibition or slowly scrolling the press documentation allows you to follow the artistic life course of Edgar Degas. He started with the pencil dessin and evolved to the printing of a single or sequences of “estampes” (up to 20) to impress us beyond black and white with multiples of 50 shades of grey. Degas seems like continuously searching for the uniqueness of the moment to present strong emotions or to summarise interpersonal relationships immersed in a specific spatial setting. Having demonstrated the richness of dessins and estampes as artistic, but a bit laborious technique, he devotes his last few years to a more intensive work taking photographs and proceeding to their development or tirage as printed versions. No matter which technique he applies, he has a special artistic view that allows to capture emotions and immortalise them. The painter’s eye, as well as later on in his artistic career the photographer’s eye, keep scrutinising himself in various forms of “auto-portraits”. Beyond youth, the pervasive obsession with selfies nowadays had its artistic precursor Edgar Degas for example. Whereas most photographers would classify a double exposure as a “raté”, Degas experimented with this almost like a cubist, Picasso-like techniques in photography. Actually, the last few images in the exhibition show the artistic reference Picasso made in his work to images, impressions and techniques that inspired him throughout his artistic work. There are amazing links in and across the history of art or arts. (BnF expo Edgar Degas 2023).
Key visuals have the potential to appeal to us like an own language. From a communication point of view the message is simple. You send a message from your visual appearance even if you do not intend to do so. Hence, better think about it briefly before you go public. The receiver might interpret your visual statement differently from you or other peers, but you offer a coherent version of your activity or appearance. Be it politicians (Merkel) or others, frequently memory allows only for key visuals to make lasting impressions or for something or someone to enter into collective memory of a decade or even a century. Repetition, also from different sources, plays a major part in this. It is surprisingly still uncommon to hire persons in charge of key visuals for a person, an organisation or a festival. Haphazard treatment of key visuals as part of marketing is probably an underestimation of the lasting impact of a coherent visual message. Stability and repetition are key here, rather than the wide-spread ad-hoc approaches to marketing. Only on the margin of the exposition devoted to Philippe Apeloig “Des esquisses à l’affiche” (BnF) this lesson can be learned. The merit of the exposition is the opening-up of the process of creation. Posters, graphics and typescripts all contribute to the overall visual message. Achieving coherence in the thousands of choices demands an aesthetic point of view. This may blend aesthetic languages of a decade and reflections on the subject. Catching an audience at the time of affluence of images, movies and accelerated rhythms of daily life remains a challenge. For the “Fête du Livre” Apeloig has achieved this in a memorable way, well worth a tiny exposition of donations from a master in visual communication.
There have been many attempts to write a history of photography. Susan Sonntag’s account of photography and photographers remains the most successful one in my opinion. It includes a critical view on the medium just as much as capturing the power-related element of images and particularly photos. “Ouvrir l’album du monde” traces the history of photography from 1842-1911 starting with the invention by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre of the “daguerréotype” (Great press dossier Link to pdf-file). The attempt to “de-center” the history from the dominating western perspective is interesting as it reflects the spread and acquisition of the new technology by various “ruling groups” across the planet. Images like photos served and still serve often as proof (so easy to produce fakes and fake news nowadays). Proof of variety of existence of species, mankind, land acquisition and landscapes. Images of religious ideation, frequently forbidden, have been captured on photos. Many photos use up-front and profile perspectives on the same face, like police registry or the ethnographic documentations. This puts the visitor in an awkward position of “complice” to the process, judgement or documentation effort of a ruling more powerful class or colonial occupier. Historical embedding is necessary to balance the voyeurism of the camera. The film “Der vermessene Mensch”, reviewed in The New York Times recently, is a timely warning, how science and photography have served to create hierarchies of people, despite the fact, that “all men are created equal”.
The self portrait is a timely topic for an exhibition of photography. As part of the European month of photography (EMOP), the PhotoBrusselsFestival offers a good overview of what photography deals with in the 21 century. The Korean cultural centre (KCC) in Brussels has a long tradition to serve as an exposition in the centre of Brussels (Sablon) and is joining this year’s photo festival. The 2023 photography festival has the “Self-Portrait” as a guiding theme. Rather than entering the debate about “portrait chosen or portrait endured” (Photographica 5,2022) the self-portrait has more degrees of freedom in it. Even if it is apparently a choice to portrait oneself, there are ample examples, where the urge to produce a self-portrait is part of a wider concern for fundamental issues.
The exhibition of 5 artists from Korea at the KCC invites us to reflect on the pervasive self-portrait practice all around us. The self-portrait is not only a tool of self-reflection, which has a long tradition in art (just think of a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer of himself), but self-portraits are also pervasive on media and social media today. Additionally, the self-portrait is a powerful tool of thinking and imagining yourself at various stages of the life-course. For centuries it had been a social or political privilege to have your portrait taken. It still is to some extent, but only if the person taking the photograph, has a special reputation. In a market difference to the selfie, the exhibition of artists in the KCC highlights the process of self-reflection that is part of creating the portrait as well as the ensuing reflection by the spectator. In looking at the self-portrait of the photographer, we might involuntarily deal first with our own perception of the image. Danger, dreams, fantasy, sorrow, pain, self-assertion and reconstruction of the self, all these themes come to mind when confronted with the self-portraits of the 5 artists (Bae Chan-hyo, Jeong Yun-soon, Lee Jee-young, Ahn Jun, Choi Young-kwi).
KCC director Kim Jae-hwan names this collection, curated by Seok Jae-hyun, “An odyssey of images leading to self-re-flection”. In referring back to the protagonists in novels from Hermann Hesse, he points our attention to the “unique journey through images as they find themselves”. To embark on the journey visit KCC in Brussels, ask for a copy of the catalogue or start by reading the title of the exposition: “Who Am I” – it is apparently no longer a question after the journey. Is it for you? More reflection on images and photos here.
The exhibition of photos and film on “masculinities,liberation through photography” is an excellent example of how artistic approaches to central social phenomena enrich our understanding. The collection of images on masculinities enlightens and reveals the social construction of masculinity. All persons interested in such basic questions should grab the opportunity to pay a visit to the Barbican Centre in London until May 2020 (Later also in Berlin). Perfect choice of a location as the Barbican Centre represents a fine example of “brutal architecture” in London. This is already worth a visit for those not familiar with such concepts. Prepare to get lost somewhere in the multitude of cultural offerings. It feels like Centre Pompidou in Paris, but has additionally a splendid concert hall.
Depending on the time and location of our upbringing we are subject to different social constructions of masculinity. Browse through family collections of photos from grand fathers, fathers and your own youth and maybe your children. From the perspective of how masculinity has been framed at different epochs and across continents, it is obvious that masculinity just as feminity are constructed by social discourse, social choices and media representations. Make it a choice – nowadays – yes we can !
Read on with a critic published in “The Guardian” or “The Sunday Times“.