My Salon students

Cathy Hayward, Andy and his hors d’ouvres

The annual Kodak Salon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography is on and several of my students have put work in. This open entry show is a great opportunity for emerging photographers, it gives them a chance to try out the exhibition process and test their work against others. You can see a selection of their work at visual arts nmit blog.

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The Iwo Jima photograph 1

The famous World War II image of the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima is one of the most influential photographs ever made. Taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on a Speed Graphic (I have one!) the picture was immediately seen as iconic and potentially useful as propaganda in the war effort. It was published widely and turned the photographer and the marines lifting the flag into celebrities. This is all detailed in Clint Eastwood’s 2006 film Flags of our Fathers.

Rosenthal’s picture is an example of a mythical photograph, one that takes on meanings outside of what is depicted, acquiring an aura of historical significance. It encapsulates one of the puzzles about photography, how an image that is snapped at a fraction of a second, often without much special thought, can become an artefact imbued with symbolism and facets of meaning that are not objectively contained in the representation. The original print version – just a small sheet of paper – gave birth to two Hollywood movies, a gigantic sculptural replica, numerous coins and medallions, a postage stamp and various kitsch merchandise. All this from 1/400th of a second. It is an enigma.

The Iwo Jima photograph, because of its iconic status and wide influence, offers itself as a case study in the medium of photography and its social and political uses. In this and some subsequent posts  I’ll endeavour to unpack this subject, looking first at what happened on the day, and later on some of the photograph’s subsequent incarnations.

First, did you know there were other photographs taken that day? The capturing of Mount Suribachi, the highest peak on the small strategic island of Iwo Jima, was recorded by several photographers attached to the Marine force. There has been confusion and suspicion about what really happened and who shot what almost from the day it was made, but here is a timeline of the events.

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1.  February 23 1945. At about 10.20am, Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, a US Marines photographer, captures the raising of the US flag on top of Mount Suribachi

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2.  February 23 1945. At about 2.35pm, because it can’t be easily seen from the landing beach below, the flag is lowered and a much larger flag is raised. This exchange of flags is recorded by Marine Photographer Private Robert R. Campbell.

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3. February 23 1945. At about 2.35pm, Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer “embedded” with the Marines, photographs the raising of the second flag. This shot will become the iconic Iwo Jima image.

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4.  February 23 1945. At about 2.35pm. Just to the right of Rosenthal, Marine Cameraman Sgt. William H. Genaust shoots colour cine film of the same moment.

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5.  This moment is depicted in Clint Eastwood’s 2006 movie, Flags of our Fathers.

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6. When the flag is up, Private Campbell takes a photograph of two soldiers saluting.

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7.  A few minutes later, Private Campbell captures Joe Rosenthal taking a group photograph of Marines under the flag. Sgt. Genaust’s cine camera can just be seen on the extreme left, filming the marines.

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8.  Joe Rosenthal’s group photograph. Both his and Campbell’s photograph were taken at the same instant.

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9. Private Campbell takes a portrait of Joe Rosenthal on top of Mount Suribachi, with the landing beach seen below.

February 25, two days later. Despite military censorship, Rosenthal’s photograph is published in the Sunday morning issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, only about forty hours after being taken.

See my other posts on this subject: Iwa Jima photograph 2 and  Iwa Jima photograph 3,

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Magnificent. Obsession.

What could be a more perfect challenge for a cinematographer than depicting blindness?

In Douglas Sirk’s 1953 film Magnificent Obsession, the subjective experience of the blind Jane Wyman character is one of the main drivers of the plot. The film is a lush, over ripe melodrama where Wyman unknowingly falls in love the man who accidentally caused her blindness, and the earlier death of her husband. The man is Rock Hudson. I did say it was a melodrama.

The film was shot by Russell Metty, one of the great cinematographers, who worked with Sirk in ten movies, and also with Welles, Kubrick, Vidor and everyone else.  Metty created an astounding visual scheme for Obsession. For many of Wyman’s scenes he used darkened sets punctuated by pinpricks of light or patches of single colour against black (see above). The lighting and mise-en-scene are very calculated. Several scenes are staged as tableaux and look almost like paintings; they make beautiful still photographs as you can see here. The film is worth studying for the way lighting and colour in photography can be used to convey ideas about narrative and character. Here are some examples, and you can click on the images for a closer look.

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Entering an eye clinic, Wyman passes through sunlit buildings like a ghost, a streetscape reflected in the glass doors.

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In the eye clinic, the doctors are assembled as if in a Rembrandt group portrait. As they inspect her eyes with a torch, the screen darkens, and only the eye itself is lit, an eye that doesn’t see light.

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This image is a POV shot (point of view) from a blind person’s position, a strange idea when you think about it. The transparent curtain and half light suggest her experience of hearing someone enter a room without knowing who it is.

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As Wyman rises from a table into the light, a shadow momentarily crosses her face: a bad memory briefly returning to her thoughts.

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A blind person can’t see flowers or their colour. If you are a cinematographer, how do you get around that?

The website cinematographers.nl describes Metty’s “highly distinctive use of light and shadow … such that, as characters move around a room, they shift in and out of shadowed areas. The effect is of constantly changing patterns of lighting, shading and silhouetting on faces and bodies which runs through the mise-en-scène like a rippling ‘painting with light’.

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CCP me

The Centre for Contemporary Photography is currently running the 2010 Kodak Salon, its annual open entry exhibition. This big, busy show “takes the temperature” of photography in Melbourne over the past year. Sort of. Anyone can put work in and they generally do, so you get a pretty wide range of quality. The walls are crowded 19th century salon style, so works have to compete for attention. I’ve been lucky in my submissions, always getting a really good, visible spot, and this year is no exception, you can’t miss it. The picture is from my Big Heads series, part of my MFA exhibition last year.

The other great thing about the Salon this year is how many of my current and former students are in the show. Soon I’ll do a post and show you their work.

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Eryk Fitkau

Eryk Fitkau died earlier this year, aged only in his late fifties. He was one of the leading commercial photographers in this country and you would recognize some of his work from billboards and magazines. I always thought he was one of the few commercial photographers who had a distinctive style. He was doing arty handcoloured black & white photographs for big league clients when the norm was slick, glossy colour. He stood out.

The wonderful picture above is from a campaign for Jeans West Urban Sprawl although he is better known for his hard-edged fashion and beauty work which has a tough, Eastern European quality, unknown in Australia before him. See his site here.

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Slit Scan Alex

My colleague Alex Zattelman is an inventor and tinkerer and comes up with the most intriguing camera devices you can imagine. Alex is the programme coordinator for NMIT’s Applied Photography courses and is a very busy man, but he somehow manages to put together some wacky machines.

His latest creation is a slit-scan camera that takes weird, distorted photographs using a moving horizontal slit that passes in front of the camera. It’s a big black box with a sliding panel. The camera – any camera but a digital SLR means instant feedback –  sees a moving line of light and if the the shutter speed is long enough and the subject moves, you get amazing results. Looking forward to trying it out myself. See more work on his website.

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Fillum Fallum

Here’s something strange. An artist called Aditya Mandayam uses a laptop computer to expose photographic paper and make short movies. He calls them Laptopograms. Sheets of Ilford paper are placed on the screen of the computer and an image is exposed. The paper is then developed in the darkroom in the normal way to make a print. This by-passes the usual film developing and enlarging steps of analogue photography.

To say the least it’s a novel way of making photographs but what makes it really weird is that Mandayam is making films – sequences of moving action! The artist places  hundreds or even thousands of sheets of photographic paper on the screen, one after the other, develops them, and then scans them all to put back in the computer. The images are then sequenced into short films! See more on fillum fallum.

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