IAP A2: tutor-recommended research

In his feedback my tutor pointed me to a video of Larry Sultan discussing his project Pictures from Home (1983–92), in which Sultan spoke about an issue that I have also encountered in this project with my sister – the feeling that I am in some way betraying a trust as I present her experience in my own images and words, which I know are not the ones she would use herself. This issue is compounded for me by the fact that I have been attempting to offer a candid and non-glamourised account of a subject that has its very origin in Jane’s ongoing long-term project of creating the most glamorous possible version of herself.

In fact, her attitude towards breast implants has changed in the past couple of years, but the glamour dilemma touches other aspects of her personal history and preferences, too. She has for decades worked as an artist’s model, so presenting herself in a glamorous way is second nature to her. She has a highly developed understanding of how to arrange her body and facial expressions to best advantage, and it is as difficult for her not to do this as it would be for me to do it. Although we specifically discussed the fact that I would be looking to make more candid images than the ones that she is used to modelling for, and she fully understood the reasons underlying this, I know for sure (and can sympathise with the fact that) she prefers to be seen at “her best” – and in this sense the images I have made for the series do not “do her justice” and feel – as Larry Sultan expressed it – like something of a betrayal.

My tutor also referred me to Chris Verene’s work, which I hadn’t encountered before but which impressed me hugely for its directness and sense of presence. This is exactly the kind of relationship with my subjects I would like to be able to achieve. Verene’s subjects appear completely natural, even when they are presenting themselves directly to the camera, and we can sense – and vicariously experience – the intimacy between them and Verene. The photographs often have wonky horizontals and chaotic environments that make them look at first glance like snapshots, but their rich, depth-promoting light and almost tangible textures mean we are immediately transported into the scenes and they feel like real life. The candid and unforced sense of these images is exactly what I would have liked to capture in my photos of Jane, and this is part of the reason I mostly shot without asking her to pose – which she often did anyway when she became aware that I was shooting. This approach was not very successful for the reasons I have outlined in other reflection on this series, and I sense that Verene takes a different approach, perhaps biding his time patiently until all sense of the camera’s presence has disappeared, rather than following people around snatching at shots on the move as I did.

Verene’s work put me in mind of Alessandra Sanguinetti’s photos documenting a five-year period in the life of two young cousins, and also Sally Mann’s images of her own children.

The third artist my tutor referred me to was Tina Barney, whose work I have seen before and who is also very successful at creating images that give the viewer a sense that we are seeing real life in progress, that we are part of the scene and experiencing it directly through our own eyes.

References and resources

Galerie (2017) Tina Barney’s Strikingly Intimate Photographs of American Life. Available at https://www.galeriemagazine.com/tina-barneys-strikingly-intimate-photographs-american-life/ [accessed 20.02.20]
Mann, S. (nd) Sally Mann. Available at https://www.sallymann.com/new-gallery-1 [accessed 20.02.20]
Sanguinetti, A. (2000) The Adventures of Giulle and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams. Available at https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/alessandra-sanguinetti-the-adventures-of-guille-and-belinda-and-the-enigmatic-meaning-of-their-dreams/ [accessed 20.02.20]
SFMOMO (nd) Larry Sultan discovers his family through photography. Available at https://www.sfmoma.org/watch/larry-sultan-discovers-his-family-through-photography [accessed 20.02.20]
Verene, C. (nd) Family. Available at http://chrisverene.com/work/family/ [accessed 20.02.20]