Commenting On Modern Society

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Contemporary Photographers often use different techniques and ideas to critique modern society. Photography can be used to capture a moment in time that can then be witnessed by all. Using it to critique society is interesting as it is a direct and mirror like way to showcase the perfect, stylised and imperfect perfect within our society. Also it can show what is real and what is fake within our society. Personally, I am fascinated by how photographers utilize kitsch, hyperrealism and irony to critique modern society. Martin Parr, David LaChapelle and Andreas Gursky, use different techniques to create their own unique and modern judgments of society. Parr’s and La Chapelle’s work uses kitch, making some of their work is garish with saturated colors creating a nostalgia and giving shots a vintage, stylized appeal (1) La Chapelle and Gursky’s use of hyperrealism means that they take and create images of everyday ordinary moments and turn them into ultra, stylized realism that are almost more than we can take in and believe. (2)

Martin Parr working from the 1970’s to present, uses digital and film photography to achieve his images. His work shows the mundane world, but from a unique perspective. At first glance, his photographs can seem exaggerated or even grotesque. He has an international reputation for his innovative imagery and unique approach to social documentary, both within the UK and abroad. image8.jpg image5.png

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‘Italy, Venice 2005’. Presents a woman, a typical tourist, photographing every minute detail of her holiday. It is almost as though she has stood still long enough to become a statue for the pigeons to rest upon. The colors in the image are almost flat and toneless, giving the shot a documentary feel.

Parr’s approach involves social documentary, and with his input to photographic culture creates these fantastically unique images. Parr’s subject matter shows the world from a close up and individual perspective. Also it gives a familiar feeling to anyone who goes on a British summer holiday. Parr’s work has been labeled as ‘entertaining’ “I want the pictures to be accessible to a wider audience. I don’t want people to be mystified or puzzled by what I’m doing,” he says. “I want the pictures to be bright and cheerful. Well, they may not be cheerful but certainly bright.” His work is appealing, amusing and what you see is what you get. (19) The motifs he chooses are typical, but with the colors being garish and the perspectives different gives them a different, almost strange aspect. He frequently shows our facinaction for tacky touristy mass-produced goods, or weighed down with the boredom of shopping and tourism. He goes for brash, lurid and saturated color. He chooses the unique moments of human behavior that capture the “inner tourist” in us. “My black and white work is more of a celebration, and the color work became more of a critique of society” (3)(4) In his collection of ‘The Last Resort’, you begin to see how his color work becoming a “critique of society”, within ‘West Bay’ 1996 the influence of saturation is clear making the colors vivid and retro. This image shows a quintessentially British seaside scene with seagulls and chips. The colors are saturated enhancing the 1950’s feel which makes it more retro. The collection uses irony to aid his critique, he seems to be suggesting that the seaside brings people from all walks of life to enjoy the same basic things such as chips out of polystyrene tray, sandy beaches and deck chairs. The way in which he captures potentially mundane moments, but gives them a purpose, meaning and romance that helps to influence classic childhood memories. We find ourselves saying “remember that time on Brighton Pier when …” When the collection was released the reaction suggested he was “A gratuitously cruel social critic who has made large amounts of money by sneering at the foibles and pretensions of other people“. I think ‘sneering’ is perhaps too much of harsh judgement as we all have a secret fascination with those tacky seaside shop with the souvenirs which can be a love hate thing. However, the modern reaction is different, Parr’s work has been called ‘loud’ due to his garish use of saturated colors, but it shows how he sums up quintessential Britain in the 1980’s society. (4)(5)(6)

David LaChapelle worked from the 1980’s to present and used a mix of digital photography and photoshop to create his images. His subject matter is hyper-saturated, theatrical, surrealistic and a combination of art history and contemporary pop culture. LaChapelle’s highly polished, saturated and intricately composed photographs possess the “imagery of celebrity, eroticism and then spiked with religious allegory and forebodings of doom.” LaChapelle’s work is heavily influenced by Christian imagery and Renaissance painting, he references these repeatedly, when it comes to composition and ideas for his photographs. His recent celebrity works seem to have “popular people doing unpopular things” and with the compositions linking back to Pop Art culture, this would have been influenced by his early days working with Andy Warhol. This can be seen in LaChapelle’s ‘Nicki Minaj, Superbass 2011’ which is similar Peter Phillips work ‘Custom Painting No.5’. These both represent and influence pop art in modern society showing contemporary images, culture and street style composed in a colorful, energetic and kitch way. The colors used in both images are representative to the time in which they are created. La Chapelle’s piece has modern colors of teal blues and pinks which were not really created when the Pop Art movement was around. They both also have kitch elements as they are very stylized, using garish, loud colors and with La Chapelle’s piece it is almost a nostalgic yet modern representation of popular culture today. Also I think both Phillips and La Chapelle both ignore the rules of perspectives and create a canvas as one layer. One of LaChapelle’s most famous collections of work was bringing Jesus into modern downtown LA life. This shows Jesus in a whole new perspective. With the main style of his work being kitsch pop surrealism and with the meaning of consistently ironic commentary on the world around him. In ‘Behold’ it is clear to see the image has loud enhanced colors creating a sense of hyper-realism. The picture was taken in a forest area and then LaChapelle photoshopped a halo and changed the color of the model. This image is bold and exaggerated and the use of Photoshop fits with contemporary pop culture and kitsch pop surrealism. LaChapelle is considered to be ‘out there’ and wacky. He clearly enjoyed playing with color, but also he liked to create images that showed the power and influence of Photoshop. Unlike Parr who enhances and celebrates the moment, LaChapelle creates the moment. Stage manages it, poses the characters, lights it and says ‘freeze’ before taking the shot. He said ”People say photographs don’t lie, mine do.” this implies his use of Photoshop and how he liked to manipulate images to enhance and create. His collection ‘Jesus is my Homeboy’ uses these pieces to critique modern society’s opinions and beliefs. LaChapelle wanted to show a fundamental view of what he thought Jesus would have been like in modern society and also to dispel the judgemental attitudes that come from modern preachers, who try to situate Jesus in modern society. LaChapelle’s motivation for this collection was that he saw a t-shirt with ‘Jesus is my homeboy’ and it started his venture into the background of Jesus and his fascination about how he might fit into modern society. In modern day Jesus’ closest friends would have been the poor, the homeless, prostitutes, drug dealers, gangsters, and so on’. This showed the society outcasts of today, LaChapelle’s collection tries to ‘suggest that rather than shun these people or else just shrink away from them, we need to invite them into our community and show them the same tenderness and compassion that Jesus showed them’. When he released his collection there was much controversy over showing Jesus in an urban setting as part of a community of outcasts, however, now this collection has become more acceptable, however, it still has its religious critics. (7)(8)(9)(10)(11)(18)image2.jpg image6.jpg image1.jpg image7.png

Andreas Gursky who worked from the 1980’s to present, used a mixture of processes to achieve his work, such as large format camera, scanning, digital manipulation, image layering and early photos from his career were taken in annologue (film). Gursky is known for his large-scale, often spectacular pictures that portray emblematic sites and scenes of the global economy and contemporary life. He creates monumental and consumer culture digitally enhanced photographs. His images have no single focal point with everything in those images being in focus and of equal importance. His images all have a compressed flatness creating less depth of field which also apply formal compositional strategies such as the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Triangle. Some of his work such as ‘Rhine II’ has been likened to Mark Rothko’s simple abstract pieces such as Orange and Yellow 1956. I can see why as his work is similar, with the flat large planes of color that represent the minimalist and stylized works that Gursky produces. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant photographers of our time. Driven by an interest and insight into ‘the way that the world is constituted’, as well as what he describes as ‘the pure joy of seeing’, Gursky makes photographs that are not just depictions of places or situations, but reflections on the nature of image-making and the limits of human perception. The main subject matter and themes of his work often taken from a high vantage point, make use of a ‘democratic’ perspective that “gives equal importance to all elements of his highly detailed scenes”.image3.jpg image4.jpg

In his image ‘99 cent’ which Andreas Gurksy produced in (1999) of an American 99 Cents Only store. We see aisles in a store with shoppers walking around. These represent abstract or impressionist paintings rather than a contemporary photograph. The process of this is a single large scale image digitally stitched together from multiple images. The high view vantage point gives you the sense of voyeurism; almost like you are watching on the stores CCTV. “The content of Gurksy’s work was considered to be a pioneer of contemporary photography who furthered the possibilities of scale and ambition”. Gursky clearly liked creating pieces on a large scale, using a high vantage point, giving the viewer a chance the see the image in its full proportions. Gurksy said ‘I am never interested in the individual, but in the human species and its environment.’ Which I believe is clear to see in all of his work as he takes everyday scenes and turns them into iconic pieces of art. Also because of the images’ large format, Gursky subtly enhances and adjusts the structure of his photographs, enabling viewers to consume more of the image at once. Gursky’s urge to play with the size of his images as in ‘Madonna’ (2001) is impressive. Most photographers would make the world famous singer the focal point of the picture. Madonna would be nothing without the crowd of fans so therefore this is probably correct. However, Gursky decided to make her a small part of his much larger image almost as though she is less significant than the rest of the picture. This image is 9ft tall. Within his work you can see how they perfect and critique society by removing elements of the pre-edited image to create this perfect world that almost doesn’t exist. He’s almost made the 99 cent store romantic. This can be seen in his best selling piece ‘Rhine II’, Gursky removed the house that was in the background which gives the image a perfected feel of just stripes for green and grey almost like an abstract painting. Gursky planned to test the boundaries of modern photography by mostly creating his work in the studio, digitally designing spaces and scenes that don’t actually exist. The curator of the Hayward Gallery explains how Gursky alters his images by “pumping up the color sometimes or combining several different images in order to get this really even perspective, where you can see everything and details that aren’t available from just one perspective are suddenly made available to you”. (12)(13)(14)(15)(16)(17)image9.png image10.png

Parr’s work uses childhood memories and almost romanticized them. He produced images that could be iconic postcard moments that represent British seaside memories. LaChapelle used a style of mixing and juxtaposing facts with fiction. Such as showing Jesus in the modern environment. Cleverly creating shots that question morals and values of society and how everyone place Jesus as this level above anyone else. Whereas Gursky highlights contemporary sights and events that influence today’s world, from another perspective, view and size. We look at his work as if we’ve never experienced a concert or a 99$ shop before. Parr, LaChapelle and Gursky continue to contribute to the world of art as a document of ‘our time’, but rather than just being documentary and respective they enhance, question and change perceptions. They evoke memories, challenge values and make the ordinary extraordinary.   

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