The photographs dealt with this week are constructions or a record of staged settings, hence not necessarily ‘naturalistic’ or authentic in that sense. Despite a certain ‘falsehood’ or fabrication however, the aim of the author in most of the examples does not seem to try to deceive the viewer. They rather use such construction to create a narrative, pose questions and convey a message which is probably what we should focus our attention on. In Martha Rosler’s “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home” (1967-1972) (see figure 1) for instance, the viewer is immediately made aware of the unnatural component within the work but in contrast to such example, the documentary style adopted by Miriam Bäckström in photographs of Ikea showrooms (see figure 2) makes it harder to decode initially in the absence of any further suggestions. The photo as a record of a staged setting becomes more evident in other of Bäckström’s work. In “Scenografier/Set Constructions” (1995-2001) (see figure 3) Bäckström reveals at the edges of the photographs the environment of their constituted setting. In both cases, ultimately, the viewer is made aware of the unnatural component within the work. With that said however, one should not undermine the messages that such work carry as these are of greater importance than a mere debate on whether a work is fictional or not (Snyder and Allen 1975: 169).
These examples play with ideas of representation and an uncanny constructive relationship with reality. In both cases, the artist borrows a share from reality. Bäckström’s end result seems to linger in between these two states, the artificial and reality. This remains prevalent in the artist’s work from this period. To extract further meaning one might need to ask further questions. Could Bäckström’s photographs lead us into questioning spaces, how we interact in them and how and to which extend are these a representation of our own personalities? The collective exhibition “Informative Rooms. The Interior as Portrait” (2016) looks at these same notions. The exhibition situates Bäckström and others’ work in the context of empty spaces ready to provide insights on the identities of the people inhibiting them. Such exhibition questions the relations to our homes. It asks if these are sanctuaries and “an honest expression of the self” (Judah 2016). The exhibition asks if they are stage sets “where we perform in public view” (Judah 2016). On the other hand, when looking at the constructive tactics used by Rosler one identifies that these do not share the indexical traits one might be used to in photographs. Despite that, her work seems to result in a more coherent message where the chosen representations showing an interconnection between two worlds raise clear discourse around political agendas, the Vietnam War and cultural practices in her homeland.
Such examples contrast other ideas around staged photographs. Photos of Ikea showrooms seem to present yet another question. To which extend are we shaped and affected by outside influences, and which roles do these influencers play? Here one might bring in context the role of advertisements and how sometimes the viewer could be lulled by a make-shift reality, accepting the mergence of the fictitious and the real to fall for a deceptive manipulative act stemming from for profit reasons. Jerry Goodis, Benetton’s Advertising Manager says; “Advertising doesn’t always mirror how people are acting, but how they’re dreaming… In a sense, what we’re doing is wrapping up your emotions and selling them back to you” (cited in Nelson 1983: 10). This asserts that despite our ability to recognise the fictitious elements, in the advertising arena, the power of the image can be exhorted on the viewer who at times or most of the times might become unaware of the actual intentions behind it, which is to lure him with a desirable disposition into materiality and consumption.
Going back to the practitioners mentioned, when considering my work along their practice some similarities could be identified. In current practice, similar to Bäckström, the subjects are untouched and photographed straightforward using solely the available light. Certain shots could also possess a comparable relationship to the lower perspective adopted by Eggleston in constructing the tricycle photograph (see figure 4). In my experience, such undertaking appeared in order to exclude areas of clutter unrelated to the subject (see figure 5). A lowered view was later implemented as an experimental attempt to accentuate the subject matter (see figure 6). Notwithstanding that, the aim of my work is not a construction at play around concepts of actuality and artificial but as in Rosler’s case, it is an attempt to question the socio-political context at this given time. The research project intends to deal with the contemporary discourse around global sustainability and sheds light on the effects of collective human behaviour and a country where issues such as waste management and other social and environmental measures remain at a disproportionate stand in comparison to a rampant economic situation.
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LANGSTON, Ingrid. 2012. ‘Cut and Paste: Works by Franz West and Martha Rosler’. MOMA 16 August [online]. Available at: https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/08/16/cut-and-paste-works-by-franz-west-and-martha-rosler/ [accessed 23 February 2018].
McARDLE, James. 2016. ‘December 17: A show New Enter Image by Swedish artist Miriam Bäckström is opening today at Galería Elba Benítez, San Lorenzo’. On This Date in Photography 17 December [online]. Available at: https://onthisdateinphotography.com/2016/12/17/december-17-appearance/ [accessed 23 February 2018].
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Figure 1: ROSLER, Martha. 1967-72. Balloons from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home. Available at: https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/08/16/cut-and-paste-works-by-franz-west-and-martha-rosler/ [accessed February 23rd, 2018].
Figure 2: BÄCKSTRÖM, Miriam. 1999. Museums, Collections and Reconstructions, IKEA corporate museum, “IKEA Throughout the Ages”. Available at: https://onthisdateinphotography.com/2016/12/17/december-17-appearance/ [accessed February 23rd, 2018].
Figure 3: BÄCKSTRÖM, Miriam. 1995-2001. Scenografier/Set Constructions. Available at: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/16/08/11/1608111f63b6f591d8dd860f62465d71.jpg %5Baccessed February 23rd, 2018].
Figure 4: EGGLESTON, William. c1969. Memphis. Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/51630 [accessed February 23rd, 2018].
Figure 5: MALLAN, Kevin. 2017. Project Work in Progress. Anthropocene: A Dystopian Legacy.
Figure 6: MALLAN, Kevin. 2018. Project Work in Progress. Anthropocene: A Dystopian Legacy.