Martin Parr – From A to B Tales of Modern Motoring (1994)
This documents national life and characteristics and is clear that he enjoys the ordinary and banal. His photographs are usually entertaining and original but also “show us in a penetrating way that we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value” (Pro.magnumphotos.com, 2019).
This book was commissioned to accompany a BBC series on motoring capturing single women and salesmen driving, their journeys and thoughts dreams and worries. Those images of people driving seem to be taken from a vehicle driving alongside them.
There isn’t a cohesive visual perspective to this series, but where he photographs people he accentuates their characteristics and adds humour with the visual and the texts, which works partly as the viewer recognises some of their own traits.
GB ENGLAND “I think the best part of me are my legs and obviously when I’m in the car people can’t see them”.
GB ENGLAND. “When I first bought the car I couldn’t wait to catch a reflection of myself in a shop window”
GB.ENGLAND. “When I’m on the motorway I don’t day dream. I’m usually thinking of the fuel range I’ve got”.
GB England. Salesman in his car. From “A to B”.1994
This work covers not just the drivers but their journeys, the petrol stations, the landscape, road signs and much more.
GB. England. Yorkshire. Yorkshire Dales. 1994. GB. England. A1 North. A1 Café’s.1994.
GB England (Pro.magnumphotos.com, 2019)
In focusing on the familiar Parr enables us to look at things in a different light.
Bayley, S. and Bayley, S. (2019). ‘I enjoy the banal’: Stephen Bayley meets Martin Parr | The Spectator. [online] The Spectator. Available at: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/02/i-enjoy-the-banal-stephen-bayley-meets-martin-parr/ [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
Pro.magnumphotos.com. (2019).Magnum Photos Photographer Profile. [online] Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL5357TF [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
Lee Friedlander – America by Car (2010)
Friedlander is known for his exploration of the American “social landscape”; his portraits of everyday life are often framed or fragmented by objects such as doorways, fences, walls, windows, and buildings.
This work contains 192 images, taken all over America from the inside of a car from the driver’s point of view, he once said “If you want to understand America, start by looking out the window.” (The Art Reserve, 2019). In each image the vehicle’s interior and exterior elements fracturing the images, “providing a submersive sensory experience not unlike the one in which a driver might engage in glancing out at or studying something other than the road” (Berk, 2019).
The landscape is often presented as at odds with the environment:
(The Guardian, 2019)
Whilst sometimes the patterns of nature and the interior of the cars are exploited and played with:
(The Guardian, 2019)
Friedlander also composes juxtapositions and groupings of subjects that are humorous:
The lines, angles and reflections can be confusing but here they emphasis the chaos of the city:
(The Guardian, 2019)
Some images show timeless American landscapes whilst others depict modern America:
(The Guardian, 2019)
I do find it fascinating how he deliberately shoots a wide view (taken with his Hasselblad Super Wide camera) which slightly exaggerates the perspective and then bisects this in different ways with the vertical frame of the windscreen. I assume that he has done this so that the viewer gradually begins to see America from his perspective. He deliberately uses reflections and plays with perspective proportion and form, layering the visual environment, the effect appears simple, rather like film stills, but the layering that he uses gives us an immersive experience
Berk, B. (2019). Stick Shift Review: Lee Friedlander’s “America By Car” at the Whitney Museum. [online] The Hive. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2010/09/objects-in-mirror-are-closer-than-they-appear-lee-friedlanders-america-by-car-at-the-whitney-museum [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
The Art Reserve. (2019). Lee Friedlander: America By Car. [online] Available at: https://www.theartreserve.com/blog/lee-friedlander-america-by-car [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019]. – Lee Friedlander
The Guardian. (2019). Lee Friedlander: America By Car – in pictures. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2011/sep/02/lee-friedlander-america-by-car-in-pictures [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
Robert Frank – Les Américains (1958)
Robert Frank set out to capture America by car. He began with journeys through England and Wales before this car journey through America shot from Detroit to San Francisco to Chattanooga, Tennessee. He took 27,000 images on his journey which he condensed into a set of 83 black-and-white photographs. He travelled in a Ford Business Coupe with his set off with his 35mm Leica camera.
He seemed to find a new beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life, diners,, cars, jukeboxes, and the road itself, and his style was “intuitive, immediate, and off-kilter” (Indrisek, 2019) and radical at the time.
The work moved away from pictorialisim and photojournalism of the time; it showed things just as they were “I was tired of romanticism…I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple” (O’Hagan, 2019). At the time the images appeared to some as blurred and grainy but they did show a sad divided country. His “vision was decidedly that of an outsider, of someone who was looking beneath the surface” (Indrisek, 2019), not the usual wholesome portrayal of America.
On a technical level, he abandoned the traditional ideas of composition, framing, focus, and exposure. Some of the images are much underexposed, some are overexposed, some have an excess of grain, a lack of shadow detail. A photograph of a parade actually focuses on two onlookers watching from their apartment windows, with one of their faces obscured by an American flag- This was bold.
There is a structure to his photographs in the book; each section begins with a picture of an American flag and moves on to explore people (of all walks of life) and objects wherever he encounters them: drugstores, diners, streets, funerals, and in their cars. The Americans is non-narrative and nonlinear; but it uses thematic, formal, conceptual and linguistic devices to link the photographs.
(O’Hagan, 2019) (Indrisek, 2019)
This work is full of contradictions from poverty and class divisions to consumerism and pride. It was brave as it confronted the reality of the surface level glossy America and he used photographic techniques to take away the normal polished images of the country and emphasis the reality of the visuals.
Indrisek, S. (2019). How Robert Frank Captured a Dark Portrait of America in 83 Images. [online] Artsy. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-robert-franks-the-americans-matters-today [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
Nga.gov. (2019). The Americans 1955-57. [online] Available at: https://www.nga.gov/features/robert-frank/the-americans-1955-57.html [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
O’Hagan, S. (2019). Robert Frank at 90: the photographer who revealed America won’t look back. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019].
Paul Graham- The A1 – The Great North Road
He spent 2 years photographing the life and landscape along the A1 in the 1980s. He began in the south in London and followed the road north. This work showed that documentary photography which was traditionally in black and white could be effective in colour.
It’s refreshing to see roadside images captured on this side of the pond as a change from Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander’s car journeys and Ed Rucha’s gas stations for instance. The road itself, rarely features in the 41 images (neither do any recognizable landmarks), whilst the cafes and service stations feature strongly. It is as if he is using the road as a tool for investigation differences between the north and the south, such as in these two cafes:
(The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Certainly Graham exposes with his camera things that we would overlook, “Graham is a watcher, a watcher of people and the space they occupy” (BBC News, 2019). His captured observations paint a colourful realistic picture of England in the 1980s.
BBC News. (2019). Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-13133461 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
The Museum of Modern Art. (2019). Paul Graham. Interior, John’s Cafe, Sandy, Bedfordshire from the portfolio A1: The Great North Road. April 1981 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/147702 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
The Museum of Modern Art. (2019). Paul Graham. Interior of Cafe, Londonderry, North Yorkshire from the portfolio A1: The Great North Road. September 1981 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/147722 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
The Museum of Modern Art. (2019). Paul Graham. Bus, Car and Airplane, Newcastle By-Pass, Tyne and Wear from the portfolio A1: The Great North Road. February 1982 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/147729 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
The Museum of Modern Art. (2019). Paul Graham. Company Representative, Leeming Services, North Yorkshire from the portfolio A1: The Great North Road. September 1982 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/147723 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
The Museum of Modern Art. (2019). Paul Graham. Blyth Services at Night, Blyth, Nottinghamshire from the portfolio A1: The Great North Road. February 1981 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/147711 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
Chris Coekin – The Hitcher (2007)
In this work the photographer is both actor and director is a series of short stories of a hitch-hiker in the UK and the drivers who pick him up. Going beyond straight documentary photography, The Hitcher is therefore conceptual art where the artist is central to the work itself.
Using disposable cameras, in series 1 Coekin took self-portraits:
(LensCulture, 2019) (Chriscoekin.com, 2019)
Pictures of roadside junk in series 3, Like Graham’s work he shows us roadside details that are impossible to take in when travelling in a car at speed:
(LensCulture, 2019) (Chriscoekin.com, 2019)
Whilst in series 2, portraits of those who stopped and offered him lifts were taken on his medium format camera:
Apparently the title of the exhibition uses the cult horror film The Hitcher “to play on the contrast between the ‘stranger danger’ paranoia peddled by the media and his experiences of the kindness of strangers” (Telegraph.co.uk, 2019). The kindness of those who offer him a lift is captured along with his vulnerability on the roadside. I suspect most viewers like me would like to know more about the strangers and it would be interesting to see the effect if their own comments as text were added as they are in Parrs work.
So this work is both a commentary on the UK at the time, possibly the contrasts between the south and the north and also a conceptual work of art.
Chriscoekin.com. (2019). The Hitcher: Series 1 : Chris Coekin. [online] Available at: http://www.chriscoekin.com/index.php?/ongoing/the-hitcher-series-1/ [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
Chriscoekin.com. (2019). The Hitcher: Series 2 : Chris Coekin. [online] Available at: http://www.chriscoekin.com/index.php?/ongoing/the-hitcher-series-2/ [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
Chriscoekin.com. (2019). The Hitcher: Series 3 : Chris Coekin. [online] Available at: http://www.chriscoekin.com/index.php?/ongoing/the-hitcher-series-3/ [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
LensCulture, C. (2019). The Hitcher – Photographs by Chris Coekin | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/chris-coekin-the-hitcher [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
Telegraph.co.uk. (2019). Chris Coekin: The Hitcher. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3675360/Chris-Coekin-The-Hitcher.html?image=1 [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
MY LEARNING POINTS FROM ROAD RESEARCH:
- That the ordinary and the banal can be made interesting for a viewer, particularly in a landscape which is normally viewed at a certain speed or height, e.g. by car, on foot, by bicycle; I notice this change in viewpoint and detail myself whether running or cycling.
- The contrast between presenting portraits of people with and without commentary/text (A to B tales versus The A1)
- The interesting effect of using elements of the landscape to frame/dissect things as Friedlander does.
- The photographer can make the decision by the way he shoots whether to make the images a submersive or viewing experience (America by car V Les Americans).
- The photographer can also make the choice whether to present the manmade and natural landscape as at odds with each other or to use them to harmonise.
- Journeys may be presented aesthetically and/or to make a cultural social or political statement.
- I was surprised to see the variety of photography techniques used within some bodies of work; for instance in Frank and Coekin’s work some images are blurred and /or grainy and the perspectives taken were quite varied – I usually aim for some consistency within a series.
- As with usual in photography the observation and keen eye is essential in picking up the detail, juxtaposition or humour that is achievable within an image