Research: Notes from Assignment 1 Feedback Suggested Reading

Following submission of my draft of the essay on Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, my tutor suggested looking at:


Cinéma Vérité Documentary

According to Wolfgang Porter documentaries can be split into three categories: docudrama, observational documentation and cinéma vérité. Cinéma vérité is a filmmaker’s attempt to give an unbiased view of a story.

In the 1960’s French filmmakers were influenced by the newsreels of Russian reporter Dziga Vertov to create cinéma vérité. Immediately there is a paradox in that humans cannot create an ‘unbiased’ story. In observational documentation subjects are often unaware of the camera however in cinéma vérité they are aware of the camera and this can influence their behaviour and opinions. A modern day example is the TV show COPS.

The most important influence is the filmmaker themselves. The film produced will show how the filmmaker’s personality and presence effected events. The filmmaker needs to have a premise or a theme to the intended story. Typically need 10:1 ratio of interviews:supporting shots (coverage or B-roll footage). Often the required careful plan goes out of the window!

Editing is crucial – this is something that I didn’t really consider in my Deller essay. The filmmaker may have had their own preconceived idea of how the story should be portrayed but the story will attempt to ‘tell itself’ which may force the filmmaker to reconsider the direction the finished film will take. May need to get extra shots after to adapt to new direction.

Porter summarises the article by saying “Cinéma vérité in reality is ‘Film Truth’ created as you – the filmmaker – saw it.” It does beg the question whether the ‘truth’ seen by the viewer is the same as that of the filmmaker?

Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism by Hal Foster & Rosalind E. Krauss

Perhaps unusually this book has five introductions:

  1. Psychoanalysis in modernism and as method
  2. The social history of art: models and concepts
  3. Formalism and structuralism
  4. Poststructuralism and deconstruction
  5. Globaliszation, networks, and the aggregate as form

Full notes on each of these methods can be found here.

This book goes through a summary of art produced in each year since 1900. Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave was created in 2001 and the key art events were:

  • By now digital techniques have become important in photographic image-production in various forms of media – Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky
  • Ersatz unities
    • previous decade witnessed transformation in image technologies.
    • Wall observed (1989) “The historical consciousness of the medium [of photography] is altered”: rather than a direct “message without a code” (Roland Barthes (1961) The Photographic Message) a photograph may now be show through with various complicated codes (including computer code).
    • Wall performs with large colour transparencies set in luminous light boxes mimicking advertisement displays or his images suggest historical painting (sometimes composed in reference to neoclassical tableau – staged ensemble of painted figures captured in a significant action or pregnant moment. See Diatribe (1985)
  • Delirious spaces
    • Sam Taylor-Wood also cites historical paintings in some of her work including video and sound installations.
    • Influenced by James Coleman Taylor-Wood draws on precedents in cinema, theatre and tableau vivant and varies mediums (like Tacita Dean) to “offer a ‘provocation’ of meanings”

Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts (Internal and external contexts) by Terry Barrett

Barrett defines the nature of photography as selectivity, instantaneity and credibility. As photographs are frozen instants in time, viewing a photograph causes the viewer to attempt to recreate the flow of time around that image. Understanding what the photographer was experiencing allows the viewer to hypothesise on what the photograph is about. Without considering the role of the photographer, the photograph becomes an object. The viewer also needs to understand the means by which the photographer has created new relationships or associations within the subject.

Internal context

The subject of the photograph itself and is the starting point of interpretation:

  • identification of subject matter (possibly including Barthes’ denotation and connotation)
  • consideration of its form (including focus, depth of field, angle of view, shutter speed, types of illumination, grain size, tonality, contrast range etc)
  • relationships between the two.

Methodologies for analysing photographs have been proposed by Feldman’s (1981) steps of description and analysis, Broudy’s (1983) scanning, and in phenomenological art criticism (Kaelin, 1973; Lankford, 1984).

Original context

Many photographs are inscrutable without information drawn from other sources eg Sherrie Levine. Original contextual information makes photographs meaningful and broadly refers to what was physically and psychologically present to the photographer at the time when the photograph was taken. Things to consider:

  • photographer’s intent
  • biography
  • intellectual, imagistic and stylistic sources of work
  • relation to other contemporary photographs
  • social, political, philosophical and religious character of the times.

External context

External context is the photograph’s presentational environments:

  • how and where it is being presented
  • how and where it has being presented
  • how it has been received
  • how other interpreters have understood it
  • where it has been placed in history of art

Barrett suggests that ‘Photographs, most of which are relatively indeterminate in meaning, are easily overdetermined by how they are presented, especially when accompanied by captions, deadlines, or longer texts.’ If they are accompanied by text, consider who wrote the text.

The Past is a Foreign Country by Natasha Hoare

Andreas Huyssen said ‘[the] past is not simply there in memory…it must be articulated to become memory’ and documentary film is a method to reanimate past events or revisit individual or collective trauma (must like a reconstruction with the intent of processing Post Traumatic Stress). Hoare suggests that ‘Re-enactments also provide the artist with a means of representing the past using a theatricality that through its distancing of the viewer deconstructs history as truth, allowing for fresh interpretation.’ – which is where it links to the idea of whether the filmmaker/director can produce an unbiased account.

Rebecca O’Dwyer reads reenactment ‘as an active form of remembering through which we can establish a new relationship to the past, a past understood as being in a constant state of flux.’

Hoare says of Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave that it ‘brought this piece of working class near-history to the attention of viewers for whom the confrontation had yet to be memorialised’ and that ‘The documentary film – directed by Mike Figgis – reveals both the scale of the undertaking and the poignancy of both sides revisiting the intense emotions of the day.’ – Again this is something that I didn’t think about, the documentary film will be influenced by Figgis and is an interpretation of Deller’s original artwork.



Books: How to Write About Contemporary Art

I get the feeling that Glinda Williams’ book How to Write About Contemporary Art would be a book that my tutor wishes he could hit me over the head with! To be fair, it doesn’t say anything new that isn’t in my feedback forms but for some reason I wasn’t getting the lightbulb moment until I read this book. Glinda Williams discusses a lot of the errors that I have been making in my essay writing but handily gives examples which seem to have made things click. (Famous last words to type before submitting my final first draft of this course). Below are my notes which I intend to try to incorporate in future: Continue reading “Books: How to Write About Contemporary Art”