Scribbles about books (1) – Culture & Design

Art history is about investigating the circumstances surrounding an artwork. Under which conditions was it made? Which factors attribute to the end result of an artwork? Art history is about establishing the context of an art work. In order to do this art historians look at: the age of an art work, style, subject, artist, patron, etc.

When we look at the vocabulary of describing art and architecture we see many words that are relevant in other disciplines as well, not only in scientific disciplines, but also f.e. in commerce:

  • form and composition
  • material and technique
  • line & shape
  • colour & value
  • pattern & texture
  • space, mass and volume
  • perspective and foreshortening
  • proportion and scale
  • unity & balance
  • emphasis and focal point
  • rhythm & motion

Art works can be analysed from many viewpoints: social, political, philosophical, historical, and technical. Different people might come to different conclusions as cultural background and education will have an influence.


Some words more specific to photography, although related to/can be categorised under above mentioned vocabulary as well, are:

  • frame shape and dynamics
  • light & exposure
  • intent & post-production

There are many accounts on the social history of photography and there is just as many debate on those as well.

‘A great deal goes on the process of making an exposure that is not at all obvious to someone else seeing the result later. This will never prevent art critics and historians from supplying their own interpretations, which may be extremely interesting but not necessarily have anything to do with the circumstances and intentions of the photographer’, (Freeman, 2007:6)


For me if we talk art, everything can be summarised in two intermingled words: culture & design.



Kleiner, F.S. (2014), Gardner’s Art through the Ages 14th edition. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning

Lauer, D.A., Pentak, S. (2012), Design Basics 8th edition. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning

Freeman, M. (2007), The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes, East-Sussex: Ilex

Aperture #226 American Destiny

‘The magazine of photography an ideas’. This edition is mainly about social documentary photography. It’s the first version edition I read and the editors write ‘the projects in this issue are bound by an urge to explore the social and political landscape of the United States’. I hope other editions take other types of photography in account as well. I can’t place the claim that this magazine would be about ideas. Besides the sociale documentary character of the main articles the magazine is incoherent, sloppy, and pointless. Maybe that’s why they claim the magazine is also about ideas, No finishing touch needed.

Like the claim of what the magazine is about in general, the titel, American Destiny, is also too comprehensive. The Pictures have a social content or better I decode a social content. The exploration of the political landscape I can’t decode (except in the LaToya Ruby Frazier article)  or it must be that the intend is for me to be prejudiced in e.g. the political thoughts of a contemplating black worker portrayed in front of a factory. I can decode all kinds of messages from the pictures, but from most not a political one. The accompanying texts are about the photographers and the projects. In these texts I don’t find many clues relating to the exploration of the political landscape. Are the subjects liberals, socialists, democrats, republicans, Clinton or Trump voters, etc. ? The fact that most portrayed people seem to share a similar social status, although that’s a big generalisation and a prejudice as well, doesn’t mean they share political ideas. The projects itself might very well be about the social and political landscape, but the choice of pictures published in the magazine don’t show the political exploration enough. Another reason why the title is too comprehensive is that the main articles are only about a couple of unprivileged societies. That’s too limited to justify the title ‘American Destiny’.

To end with a positive note, the magazine introduced me to some contemporary photographers like LaToya Ruby Frazier, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Carolyn Drake, Mark Neville some critics and a re-introduction to Gregory Halpern. I wrote about him in a previous post.


Aperture 226 American Destiny

Saul Leiter – retrospective

‘retrospective of the work of Saul Leiter (US, 1923 – 2013), a pioneer of colour photography. Leiter was already using colour film in 1946 at a time when only black and white photography was accepted as an artistic medium.’, FOMU Antwerp (2016)


Fascinating how Saul Leiter photographed atmosphere. His images with raindrops on windows, mirror images, refracted light, a grey landscape and one colour accent like a red umbrella or green traffic light are amazing. His pictures tend toward abstraction, a derivative of his painting works. Saul Leiter’s use of colour is an aspect I’d like to incorporate in my own pictures.

‘I don’t have a philosophy, I have a camera’, said Paul Leiter. After seeing a documentary with an aged Saul Leiter I think he means he’s not aware of philosophy when he makes pictures during his strolls. He certainly has a life philosophy.

Fomu Antwerp (2016) At URL: (Accessed on 19 December 2016)

Coralie Vogelaar – Recognized / Not Recognized

‘For her project Recognized / Not Recognized, A comparative analysis of popular and unpopular news images Coralie Vogelaar (NL, °1981) explores the mechanisms of press photography. Every day, newspaper editors are inundated with thousands of images of one event, often in real time. One image will be destined to become iconic while others will vanish into oblivion. Vogelaar amassed an archive of 850,000 news images (including amateur footage) from the databases of international news agencies, such as AFP and Reuters, of the 10 most covered events of the past five years. Using image recognition software, she researched which images were used the most and the least on the Google indexed web and attempted to find the underlying patterns.

161217-antwerp004-2Recognized / Not Recognized is a two-channel video installation that reproduces these popular and unpopular images in the form of a performance piece created in collaboration with the choreographer Marjolein Vogels (NL, °1984). Nine dancers move from one frozen position to another: on one screen, they mimic the news photograph that was successful and on the other, the simultaneously shot but failed image.

Intriguingly, the successful images often show people in poses that we subconsciously recognise from western art, such as Michelangelo’s Pietà or Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. It would appear that from a vast ocean of photographic data, we have the tendency to favour images that confirm our visual frame of reference.

Recognized /  Not Recognized can be interpreted as an attempt to find the algorithm for a future camera – one that only captures the perfect shot, similar to the recent ones that include smile detection software. Vogelaar begins and ends the exhibition with a collection of “orphan” press images: photographs that are hard or impossible to find on the Internet as they are considered redundant data and therefore have been almost completely erased by the system.’, FOMU Antwerp (2016)

I visited the exhibition in the FOMU Antwerp on the 18th of December. I find it an intriguing concept. It shows how conditioned we are. We often don’t realize it. We see, we hear, we form opinions in a way that we’ve been taught since birth. We filter information in a preconditioned way. This exhibition related to news photography, but for other types it’s the same of course. Only think of the composition rules, or better guidelines, that work pleasingly on the eye and the conception of aesthetics. I think that’s the link between my own pictures and this project.

Fomu Antwerp (2016) At URL: (Accessed on 19 December 2016)

Gregory Halpern – ZZYZX

‘Gregory Halpern was born in Buffalo, New York. He holds a BA from Harvard University and an MFA from California College of the Arts.’, Halpern, G. (s.d.)

Pictures out of his book ZZYZX are on display in the exhibition INDIVISIBLE: New American Documents.


‘The exhibition brings works together of three of the most important contemporary American documentary photographers who explore the contradictory and sometimes paradoxical nature of America today. I visited the exhibition in the FOMU Antwerp on the 18th of December.

In ZZYZX, Gregory Halpern lyrically investigates contemporary California, where the sun-kissed beauty of the American Dream collapses into the reality of poverty, instability, and inequality.’ Fomu Antwerp (2016)

Strong, stylish, symbolic photos of people, objects and places in and around Los Angeles. The photographer says he hasn’t really got a message. It’s not social photography. I can’t see a clear message either in the pictures, but the pictures do give the feeling a message is to be read. It are not just very nice pictures. Beautiful they are. Form equals content, I think this is what I like in my own photography.

Gregory (2016), Halpern, G. At URL: (accessed on 19 December 2016)
Fomu Antwerp (2016) At URL: (accessed on 19 December 2016)