Monthly Archives: September 2014

True to Life?


‘True to Life ?’ is a poignant and brave contemporary photography exhibition currently running at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It explores ideas of modernity in the Middle East, with a particular focus upon twenty-first century women. Its pieces unite icons that are typically associated with the East or the West. The viewer is left to decide whether the photographs emphasize the dichotomy between these symbolic icons, or the compatibility between global cultures. The title of the exhibition itself shows how simplicities such as punctuation can change the entire meaning of words; “True to Life” as an exhibition would be a bold statement that would change the way you think as you view the images- accepting that this is the realities of life of those depicted in the images and that there is no more to it, however the use of the question mark really challenges you to reconsider the real as you look upon the lives illustrated in the various images and compare it to the actualities of our own lives.

true to life intro


Born in Tehran 1974, Shadi Ghadirian’s work is the first that you come to in the exhibition and in my opinion one of the best and most memorable pieces. The series ‘Qajar’ (1988) shows historic portraits of Iranian woman with a modern twist incorporated into the scene. “With their painted backdrops, vintage clothing and grey tones, Ghadirian’s images could be mistaken for historic Iranian portrait photographs. In contrast, the contemporary props indicate the modernity of these images and also represent items forbidden in some way in today’s Iran. Through this contrast of the historic and contemporary, Ghadirian comments on female identities. The props suggest that in private Iranian women have personal aspirations, whereas in public they are expected to adhere to conservative traditions.” This body of work has a strong political message on what ‘the real’ is to women across the world yet also what women expect the real to be for fellow females. It has very cleverly challenged us and our acceptance that gender be able to define those in other cultures – it is not “the real” that Iranian women cannot enjoy the same pleasures as western women, it is ‘a real’ that humans have created for themselves, it is not in our genetics but simply a language we have been born into that we accept as reality and do nothing about- we do not perhaps even consider it until photographs such as these challenge our own perceptions and make us question who is speaking this language and way of life for us.

These snapshot-style images of a party could have been taken anywhere in the world. Here they expose the underground youth culture of Tehran but also stress the need to protect the identities of the revellers. Amirali Ghasemi has made these youths reality become a universal one, one that can be shared and experienced by those all over the world. By removing the individualities of the subjects Ghasemi has made this body of work accessible to a much wider audience who are then able to envisage their own personal accounts of similar scenes from their own memories. “This project was Ghasemi’s response when he encountered recent “Media” images of his hometown Tehran being distorted and pushed toward black and white extremes and being dominated by images of the veil and suppression. They portray a young population who, instead of looking towards expanding its social liberty, is having fun enjoying the last years of a reformist state in power. Tehran remixed is also an attempt to break through and to experiment with documentary photography and manipulate it in order to tell stories without ignoring people’s privacy.”

The ability to tell stories through documentary photography is a gift many photographers take for granted- myself included. The word documentary gives your work something far stronger than belonging to a genre of art- it gives it credibility. The connotations of the word documentary have allowed documentarians to publish work without having to vouch for its authenticity, and with this comes a trust between viewer and photographer that goes unchallenged whilst the viewer is blissfully unaware of any means of manipulation; they do not question what they see, simply accept it as a factual documentation. Ghasemi has essentially brought this to light and is screaming out at the innocence of some viewers that this project “was created to visualize the other side of Tehran in contrast to the prejudicial images often produced in international media on a mass scale. Tehran Remixed deals with the concept of public versus private, by flipping through images of mega city’s unseen version of social life by means of content.” Just because you see “the real” depicted in the papers does not mean that that is the finality of the situation. Documentary photography shows only the story the photographer wants to share, it is up to the viewer to broaden their mind and accept that there are always two sides of the story.

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Şükran Moral, ‘Despair’. “In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.” Floating precariously in a tiny boat, these men migrating from Turkey’s shores risk everything in the search for a better life. If the boat sinks, the colourful digital nightingales perched around them can fly away, whereas the men themselves will surely perish. Moral regards these migrants as the ‘new slaves of today’ living on the margins of society. Through her work she gives them ‘identity, expression and soul’. I love the juxtaposition between the electric birds and the blacks and whites of the men, on first glance the piece really challenges you to stop and examine it closely- leaning in I was able to see each pixilation of the digital nightingales and this almost enhanced their likability and your relief that these men’s lives will live on with the fluttering of their wings. I really like the concept of digitally editing images so that it is obvious that you have done so- you are in no where deceiving the viewer, just making them view your work on an entirely different level.

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“Hassan Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.”

The joyful, fashion-conscious Moroccan women in these images strike poses like models in magazines such as Elle or Vogue. Hajjaj presents these women wearing traditional dress but in versions that are emblazoned with the symbols of western consumer culture. The sculptural frames are made from recycled materials. They incorporate familiar brands but are identifiably Middle Eastern because of their Arabic writing. Together frame and image are a fusion of Arabic and Western worlds that may challenge our perceptions of Morocco and the women who live there. The relationship between modern consumer culture and traditional Muslim dress is explored in Hajjaj’s, ‘Saida in Green’. A Moroccan woman in a niqab poses like a model in Vogue, her clothes emblazoned with logos from Western designer Louis Vuitton. The frame is constructed from a recycled Middle Eastern tyre, perhaps highlighting the disposable nature of Western consumer culture. This fusion is repeated elsewhere in the exhibition. In Hajjaj’s ‘Jama Fna Angels’ the frame is assembled from aluminium cans, aerosol cans and glass bottles bearing Arabic writing, whilst the women in the photograph wear Louis Vuitton shoes. The use of traditional dress and westernisation emphasises the effect of two opposite realities adjoining together to become of one in which is creates a new, funky version of reality that challenges perceptions and gets people really thinking and intrigued about what they are faced with.

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“In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of recycling nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.” In ‘Who will make me real?’ (2003), Saadeh poses for a self-portrait. Her body language parodies popular conceptions of Orientalist harems, yet she wears only Palestinian newspapers reporting deaths on the Gaza strip thus making an explicit political comment on the current affairs. This depiction of Palestinian politic’s on a woman’s body is a statement on Saadeh’s daily struggle to survive life in Jerusalem. The title of the piece “Who will make me real” highlights the struggles faced by women living in the area. Will it take for them to literally cover their female forms in the names of the deceased men of the area for their existence to be acknowledged and their voices heard? Are they judged real or not by the men they know rather than on their own integrity? Her sexual positioning in the photograph is a direct commentary on how men perceive their women should be and what is needed in order for men to take interest in what women have to say. Saadeh has gotten their attention and now she’s captured their interest.

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Further pieces of interest:


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Cruel and Tender

Fazal Sheikh: Cruel and Tender < watch video here

“Sheikh’s interest in photographing refugee communities began after he visited Kenya in the early 1990s and documented the refugee camps near the border with Somalia. He treats his subjects as individuals, identifying them by name, and writing texts that explain the political circumstances that forced them to leave their home. Before taking photographs, he spends weeks living in the camps, giving his work a genuine depth and engagement.” I particularly like how Sheikh combines the text and image to create a greater final product with more weighting and profoundness. The honesty in his work and dedication of portraying the realties of his subjects situations really enhances the photography and the viewer is able to truly connect with the images before them. I like the idea of using text and image together in my own book to really bring the piece alive and add new dimensions to the photo’s.

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What is ‘Real’- Initial thoughts

This module will challenge my own sense of what is real.

A final photo camouflages the fact that every photograph is in fact a fiction; when you frame something from the real world you take it out of context to construct your own context- you create it’s narrative. The word “documentary” was coined by Scottish documentarian John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana (1926)  (link to reference on google books).

His 1932 essay “First Principles of Documentary” argued that cinema’s capacity for observing life could be a new art form, wherein the materials “taken from the raw” can be more real than acted fiction and the “original” actor and “original” scene are better lens for interpreting the modern world than their fiction counterparts.

John Grierson

Blais, R. (2011). A Documentary About The Filmmaker Who Coined “Documentary”. Available: Last accessed 26th Sept 2014.

You need to really reconsider ‘what is real in photography’ what’s authentic, what’s ambiguous? Do we produce ambiguous purposefully? Do we as documentary photographers displace peoples comfort? Seriality of pictures (repetition) and narrative photography try to investigate how to make work that isn’t simply about a beginning, middle or end- it challenges the viewer to think deeper and beyond the obvious. What is the truth? Just because the images have been taken from the real world, is it necessarily truthful? A pictures meaning changes depending where you place it or what you as the publisher decide to include or not include in the frame: context! Construction leads to deconstructing the images meanings- you as a photographer can show a reading of the world that manipulates the viewers opinion of the very world they live in and know.

When you document something it instantly becomes a thing of the past- so is it ever current? It is in the present but showing the past.

The word “documentary”has a historical construct, it is a word full of preconceived ideals; it cannot achieve neutrality, it is very objective. There is a visual language already there, an expectation- documentary is an unstable medium. There only needs to be a change of title to change a photographs meaning- documentary value is given by a passing of time. Documents of history and of history of photograohy- documentary is talking to itself.

First thoughts for project:

– A book of double photos, same picture back to back with a different title used to completely change its meaning

– Facebook army picture (photo of soldier with a meme written then it says “This is not real” someone made the text up to give the photo more power/make people connect more)

– Can get people to act out scenes to look as though they are being natural (example the laughing pic of Jes and I- fake laughing) A project on “My sister is hilarious” ??

This is set up- not a "real moment" captured.

This is set up- not a “real moment” captured.

– Disposable cameras? Fake family photo album ending with “this is not a real family”. My family- photoshop in fake people to be friends (self portrait against google images) scan in my handwrititng to make it seem even “more real”.

–  Photoshop open’s up possibilities (hyperreal) but loosens foot-holes on reality- use digital manipulation.

– Final piece book- think about the construction- can I show the pictures in a different way- disruption? Place text at start that leads into work? Or put all text at end? Make people think about the work more once they’ve read the text.

  • Bring more layering to my pictures- not just what we see- what is really happening in it? I need to be critical about the way I take photographs, to reconsider my approach. New ways to represent the real for me.

Its all about the meaning of the work!!! – Who, what, when, where, why?

Subject > content > approach

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The Notion of Truth is Highly Questioned…

“The Real” by Olivia Kennaway – clickable PDF

A written essay on wildlife photography with regards to “the real” and the representations of reality.

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Close to Home: Small World

SMALL WORLD MARTIN PARR – Link to Magnum photo gallery

Martin Parr’s series “Small World” is an entertaining yet technically brilliant body of work. Whilst I am not usually favourable of Parr’s work, this book has won me over somewhat and broadened my understanding of the way in which he works and how clever his ideas can be. To me, the title “Small World” (in context to Parr’s style of photography) connotes scenes of tourists clambering over one another to capture that one unique and iconic holiday snap that will impress their friends and family and visually broadcast their “one-off” experience to the rest of the world… along with the other hundred tourists also jostling for that image. You’ll see as you look through the images that many of the tourists are brandishing other world-renowned places on various items of clothing whilst visiting another region of the world; such as a “Bali” top worn in Barcelona, Spain, a “New York Yankees” cap worn in Paris, France and a “Hollywood” t-shirt brandished in Luxor, Egypt. Individuals seem to want to promulgate to others just how well-travelled they are, feeling this bizarre necessity (which most of us are guilty of) to purchase something wearable broadcasting to fellows tourists our level of culture and travel.

Yet many will still want homely comforts that they are used to despite being many miles away, as Geoff Dyer states “they can increasingly expect to find many of the things and convinces taken for granted at home.” Tourists bring money and so locals provide what tourists want, be it westernised food or running water from a tap – locals will do their utmost to provide a level of normality and home comforts whilst the landscape provides the rest. “Close to Home” for me, represents people’s desire to see the world out there, to travel and explore, educate themselves and immerse themselves in cultures unbeknown to many – whilst still being able to feel close to home wherever they may be.

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Thomas Struth: Talks About His “Paradise” Series

Originally published in ArtForum, May, 2002

At this point, Paradise consists of twenty-five photographs I’m just beginning to understand. intuition is an old word, but many things sprout from inner processes and needs and then take on a form. My approach to the jungle pictures might be said to be new, in that my initial impulses were pictorial and emotional, rather than theoretical. They are “unconscious places” and thus seem to follow my early city pictures. The photographs taken in the jungles of Australia, Japan, and China, as well as in the California woods, contain a wealth of delicately branched information, which makes it almost impossible, especially in large formats, to isolate single forms. One can spend a lot of time in front of these pictures and remain helpless in terms of knowing how to deal with them. There is no sociocultural context to be read or discovered, unlike in the photographs of people in front of paintings in museums. Standing in front of the facade of the cathedral in Milan, one experiences oneself as a human being defined by specific social and historical conditions. The jungle pictures, on the other hand, emphasize the self. Because of their consistent “allover” nature, Paradise numbers 9 and 4 could be understood as membranes for meditation. They present a kind of empty space: emptied to elicit a moment of stillness and internal dialogue. You have to be able to enjoy this silence in order to communicate with yourself–and eventually with others…

I don’t understand why so many people equate the notion of paradise with escapism. Paradise was never a place one could enter–though, in this global moment, escapism is no longer an issue either. The disappearance of the social debate about utopia, which the title “Paradise” alludes to, is an impoverishment and banalization. I focus exclusively on the experience of proximity. Nowadays the human being is reduced to a consumer and therefore to an instrument of a global economic mechanism. I, on the other hand, am interested in peculiarity, the individual ways of people and what goes on inside them when their historical bearings are disoriented. Certain aspects of cities now strike me as being straight out of science fiction, such as a particular intersection in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where everything revolves around the increase and intensification of information. Then I notice a growing confinement, not only in a physical sense but also in terms of vital energy. We must look elsewhere if we want to expand the individual’s space. Understanding and communication have increasingly become inner processes originating in silence. As sources of air and space, the jungle pictures offer me an even deeper purchase on another of my ongoing subjects–the city.

I like the idea of having no particular focal point or “isolate single forms” in my images- just allowing the viewer to be swamped by the scene before them, their own eyes choosing where to rest, move on and intensify. Struth’s oversized book allows the images to stand strong and have a bigger impact on the viewer rather than just viewing them on a small screen. The idea that these could be universally placed is full of deeper meaning, for example they are our “sources of air and space”, we as humans have no power or control over natures abilities and this work reflects that. Without defining structures these ubiquitous photos are meant for everyone to access and be a part of- much as we all breath the same air nature produces intercontinentally, there is no ownership of it.

According to the Oxford Dictionary the word paradise means “An ideal or idyllic place or state” but who is to say that a place is categorically “paradise”? One’s ideal may be another’s worst nightmare and this book allows you to make judgement for yourself without enforcing the idyllic upon you, merely showing options of such places with the scope for imagination to prevail. Struth’s photos’s may appear repetitive at first and slightly unremarkable but the more you appreciate their all-embracing allure the more their beauty radiates through as a collection of paradisiacal visions.

My own photo in response to “Paradise”


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Contact Sheets

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Landscape1 <<< Clickable PDF

Landscape2 <<< Clickable PDF

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