Research Point – Image and Text

Sophie Calle – Take Care of Yourself

Take care of Yourself by Sophie Calle has been described by Louise Neri as ‘a tour de force of feminine responses to a breakup letter that Calle received by e-mail from a man.’ At first, Calle didn’t know how to respond to the letter, but after showing it to friends, the idea for the series developed. Calle asked 107 women to answer professionally, and analyze the breakup letter that she had received from her boyfriend. She didn’t want the women expressing sentiment for her, just an honest interpretation of the letter. The series features a wide range of media including song and dance, scientific analysis, a crossword puzzle, origami, a shooting target, a forensic study and photographs. The title, Take Care of Yourself  is taken from the parting words of the letter, and was first presented at the French Pavillion in the 2007 Venice Biennale.

Whether or not the letter is genuine is of little importance. It’s remarkable that such an array of mediums were used to express reaction or response to Calle’s (very personal) letter. She describes how at first she did not know how to respond to the letter, but ultimately and ironically responded very specifically to the parting works ‘Take care of yourself’. Calle feels that the project is her doing just as the parting words state, she is taking care of herself. One contributor wrote a twelve page text, of which Calle selected the following phrase to go on the wall, ‘Cowardice or sublimity?’ For me this positive/negative question sums up the entire project. As out of something negative, came a positive, the project itself.

It is difficult for me to form a pure opinion on Take care of Yourself, having not seen the work/instillation as it had been intended. This puts me at a disadvantage, as I’m heavily reliant on critic reviews, and interviews with Sophie Calle. This aside, I do find the project intriguing. Although Calle would disagree, I feel she exacted a form of revenge on the letter’s author. For what man would want to be dissected, analysed and attacked by 107 women ? Not I.

Sophy Rickett – Objects in the Field

In 2012 Sophy Rickett was awarded a prestigious Artist Associate-ships at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. During her fellowship, Rickett produced a substantial new body of work, which consists of a series of photographic prints, found photographs, photographic collages with text, a monitor-based video with sound and a text. Richett wrote the text Objects in the Field, which is now at the centre of the project. Inspired by Dr Roderick Willstrop, the designer and builter of a now obsolete Three Mirrored Telescope and camera. The project combines a factual account of Rickett’s experience with Dr. Willstrop and technical information about his telescope, along with other childhood lens-related recollections, such as having her eyes tested and seeing clearly for the first time. The project’s overall title, Objects in the Field, draws on the language used by astronomers and astrophysicists, which refers to stars as objects and to the sky as the field.

Having not seen Objects in the Field as it had been intended, and judging it just on what I’ve seen or read on the internet, I’m at a real loss and struggling to find elements in the project that appeal to me. I understand the links and parallels between the world of the scientist and that of the artist, but I’m still finding the project a bit of a stretch.

Question: How do these pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?

Both of the above mentioned projects do not have the traditional beginning, middle and end narrative. They challenge the notion of authorship control. Sophie Calle goes as far as surrendering authorship completely, in favour of 107 different responses, ‘I asked all these women to respond, and I used whatever they gave me without rejecting or censoring anything.’ While there is no clear ending to the narrative, the project itself is Calle’s answer to her former boyfriends parting words, ‘Take care of yourself’.

In Objects in the Field, Sophy Rickett shares authorship with Dr. Willstrop by allowing him to caption the photographs, and narrate the soundtrack. The use of one voice in the narration make separation of the anecdotes and stories into two distinct narratives difficult. The project is a tribute to Dr. Willstrops life’s work. There is also a lingering thought that the analogue methods of the past paved the way for the digital technology of today.

The course text introduces these two projects, by referring to them as ‘examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice’. It seem that one can really push the boundaries of what constitutes photography these days. Are these two project more visual and conceptual art than photography ?

One in 8 Million

One in 8 Million is a Emmy Award winning documentary series, run by the New York Times. The series shares the lives of everyday New Yorkers through photographs and audio. The project allows 54 New Yorkers tell their unique stories in their own words on the New York Times website using a simple  interface. Each contributor narrates their own story over a slide show of rich and beautifully captured monochrome documentary style photographs. I really like this project and find it to be a fascinating insight into the lives of a diverse cross-section of New York. The project is to some extent a celebration of the multicultural city.

Kaylynn Deveney – The Day-to-Day Life of Alfred Hastings

Photographer Kaylynn Deveney moved into the neighbourhood of 85-year old Albert Hastings. Kaylynn took notice of the small rituals and routines which formed Albert’s everyday life. A friendship slowly developed as Kaylynn began photographing parts of Albert’s day. The two developed a simple yet effective method of storytelling, through Kaylynn’s images and Albert’s handwritten text. The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings is a chronicle of aging, living alone, and the ordinary things that make up our daily lives. The project is presented as a diary, containing seventy-eight photographs along with poems written by Albert, his clock drawings, and personal family photographs. This is a series which really appeals to me. The photography is tastefully executed, presenting the most ordinary and simple part of one man’s life in an attractive way.

Karen Knorr – Gentlemen (1981-1983)

Gentlemen (1981-1983) was photographed in English gentlemen’s clubs in Saint James’ in central London. Staged using club members, family and friends, the work explores the patriarchal values of the English upper middle classes. The series of 26 images with text constructed out of speeches of parliament and news, humorously investigates attitudes prevalent amongst the English establishment in the 1980’s. Despite being Prime Minister and head of the Conservative party, Margaret Thatcher as a woman was not allowed full membership at the Conservative Gentlemen’s club ‘The Carlton’. It is in these clubs that behind the scene influence is still used to influence politics and business. Knorr gives two voices to the series via the text; the past tense historical and the present tense. The present tense, gives reference to change and the end of the British Empire, while the past references the way thing were. The use of text adds new meaning to what could not be seen in the image alone. Knorr believes that ‘adding text also prolongs the time that a viewer spends looking and thinking about the work. It slows the consumption of the image.’ I feel that this series is well constructed and an excellent example of synergy in the use of text and image together.

Duane Michals – This Photograph is My Proof (1974)

Photographer Duane Michals is thankful that he has no formal photography training, otherwise he would have had to unlearn the rules that are part of such training. He redefines photography on his own terms. Michals is known for his use of sequential images and text to examine topics such as loss, death and desire, often with a sense of humour. This Photograph is My Proof is a single image with underlying text, taken to to be a record of a real event. The image features, a man and woman sitting on a bed in a loving embrace. Beneath the image is the following text, ‘This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen. She did love me. Look, see for yourself!’ The image works in creating a sense of happiness and nostalgia, while the text, which seem desperate, creates a sense of doubt and melancholy.

Michals is known for work (Things are Queer 1973) which challenges reality. The text accompanying This Photograph is My Proof is presented as autobiographical. In, What does photography ‘document’?, Dr George Petelin of Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, suggest that the man in the image may be Michals, ‘His interviews tell us that Duane Michals is gay and has been in the same relationship for 39 years (Murtha, 2008). Proof, however, is dated both 1967, two years before the commencement of this relationship, and 1974, presumably when the text was added and the picture exhibited as an artwork. Michals often appears in his own photographs, and in 1967 was 35, so could well be the man in the picture’. Petelin also concedes that ‘Michals is known for photographs that are constructs, extensively and obviously manipulated’ and the Michals in ‘Proof could be an actor or at least a persona he devises to question the evidentiality of photographs. But maybe also not’.

Whether the image is autobiographical or not, probably isn’t important. What is interesting on the other hand, is that Michals has presented us, the viewer, with an image and text which stimulates thoughts and questions regarding what we are looking at.

Reference

Boothroyd, S. (2015). ‘Karen Knorr – Gentlemen and Belgravia’, Photomonitor Magazine [online], February, available: http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2015/02/gentlemen-and-belgravia/ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Deveney, K. (2015). kaylynndeveney.com [online], available: http://www.kaylynndeveney.com/bertgrid.htm [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Deveney, K. (2007). The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings, New York, Princeton Architectural Press [online], available: http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=pp034 [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Jefferys, T. (2014). Objects in the Field’, The Learned Pig [online], 20 Feb, available: http://www.thelearnedpig.org/objects-in-the-field/900 [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Knorr, K. (2014). karenknorr.com [online], available: http://karenknorr.com/photography/gentlemen/ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Michals, D. (2015). duanemichals.tumblr.com [online], available: http://duanemichals.tumblr.com/ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Neri, L. ‘Sophie Calle’, Interview Magazine, available: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/sophie-calle#_ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Petelin, G. ‘What does Photography Document?’ [online], available: http://www.academia.edu/208132/What_does_photography_document [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

The New York Times (2009) ‘One in 8 Million’ [online], available: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/nyregion/1-in-8-million/ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

The Photographers Gallery (2014). ‘Sophy Ricketts – Object in the Field’, The Photographers Gallery [online], 19 May, available: http://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

Timeout London, (2014). Gentlemen, Belgravia [images online], available: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/karen-knorr-bp-spotlight [accessed 22 Apr 2015].

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One comment

  1. […] I’ve previously written a blog post on the work of Sophie Calle. I’ve included the link here. […]

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