Seeing through Photographs – MoMA

Coursera P8CNFSKALYKZHo concluso il corso del MoMA “Seing through Photographs”. Condivido in questo post il testo che ho scritto per  l’assignment finale.

I’ve just concluded the MoMA course “Seing through Photographs”. I share in this post the writing  I proposed for the final assignment.

Photography in a cultural frame

It is very difficult for me choosing only one module of this course since they are very much interrelated one with one other.

The first module for me was very enlightening. In particular, I found it very useful the teachings and the reasonings made by John Szarkowski both for taking and reading pictures. At its base there is the crucial importance of making choices when you have to take a picture, from one side; but also the importance of taking into considerations several aspects, when you are going to read an image. Therefore, starting from the image in itself, looking to details (that can be trivial but they still have a meaning), paying attention to the frame and to what it is included or excluded in the picture, the use of time and the perspective chosen by the photographer. I think that these basic “rules” and specific lenses through which a picture can be observed are very important and useful for people (in particular students) which are starting their journey in the photographic world. From these very simple angles of observation it is possible to clearly understand why photography cannot be considered as an objective practice, which report the reality as it is. Instead, as it is evident going on with the following modules, photography has to do with choice, interpretation and subjectivity. Even when we talk about “Documentary photography” the different ways in which a photographer can deal with the same subject and the ways in which a body of work is presented and communicated, influence the conveyed meaning.

As a sociologist, I have been using photography as a tool for studying and understanding reality. For this reason, I found myself very much in line with the modules talking about documentation and portraiture. On the contrary, I had to work harder in order to fully understand the use of photography as an artistic form, which doesn’t necessarily represents what we can see with our own eyes. The use of photography as a means to recombine reality or to make one’s own reality (as the other artistic practices do) was more struggling for me. I think that in Italy, where I come from, we are not very much used to see photography as a –let’s say- pure artistic form. In our photographic history, we have many great photographers who clearly take the distances from the definition of photography as an art form (Ferdinando Scianna) or even refuse anything else which has not to do with the process “film-camera-print” (Gianni Berengo Gardin). In my experience, I found examples of this limitation for the possibilities of photography in some curators approaches. Indeed, young photographers are always asked to go through a traditional paths before experimenting, because it seems that experimentation is allow only if you already are successful enough. When I finished taking the last module, I thought that some projects of mine which have very few chances in Italy might be appreciated (or at least considered) in other countries, such as USA. This final consideration, again, underlines the importance of setting photography inside a specific cultural frame.


Empathy and belonging
Senza titolo

I choose the photograph Amira and Her Children by Ivor Prickett (2014). I saw this picture at the National Portrait Gallery in London, as part of the exhibition for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, 2015.

I think that this picture can fit into the third module “Documentary Photography”.

This picture has a purpose of witness a specific historical moment through the representation of the personal situation of a mother with her children. The portrait was taken in a refugee camp in Iraq. Nowadays, all over the world we are questioning and struggling with contrasting feelings of belonging to our culture and empathy with the tragic experiences which people, from countries we feel “threaten” by, are experiencing.

Lange-MigrantMother02In my opinion this picture wants and it is able to balance these two sentiments which cannot be exclusive but are both present when we read our past and present history. Choosing a mother with her children might be an easy way to provoke a reaction in the viewer. This picture easily recall to our mind Dorothea Lange photo of the Migrant Mother, even if the reasons for the exile are different. The purposes of both Lange and Prickett pictures are probably similar: they face with a social cause which also have a political meanings and origins. The role of documentary photographs and in particular of Amira picture is that of reading reality in a different way, from a different point of view. The use of the colour and the sharpness of the details make the picture very present and contemporary. We immediately understand that we are talking about today and therefore our identification it’s higher than for Dorothea Lange’s mother. In addition to that, I found this picture very strong because of the stance and attitudes of the persons represented in it. The composition puts the mother in the higher side of the triangle drawn by the three subjects depicted; her gaze is strong, even if tired and this is slightly different from Lange photo, where the mother represented was most tired and worried than resolute. The caring and affectionate attitude of the daughter to his brother underlines the strong role of women both in this picture and probably in facing the troubles these countries are experiencing. At the bottom, the son looks straight in the camera, with the calm, that the embrace in which he is cuddled, allows him to have.

This tender and calm image let us understand our closeness and similarity to these subjects; it also helps us to brake a distance that sometimes we have in judging and reading history and our place in it.



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