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Research: Annie Leibovitz

February 5, 2012

Annie Leibovitz photographer her close friend Susan Sontag, an intermate moment before she sees her friend for the last time, the last memory. So I found this research and how it is similar to h0w Nan Goldin also captured her friends when they were dead. One photograph becomes a big part of someones life and them saying goodbye. I think I was looking at this as it something that is really upsetting to see but the others it is their way of portraying a person, a piece of their own life involved.

As a writer Susan Sontag located herself behind her subject. After her death it is her personality that is memorialised. Angela McRobbie deciphers this use of a great intellectual’s legacy.
About the author
Angela McRobbie is professor of communications at Goldsmiths College. She has also written extensively on young women and popular culture.

The unseemliness of Annie Leibovitz, one of the world’s best-known photographers, publishing (in the Guardian), intimate portraits of her lover Susan Sontag in the months before she died in December 2004 and then in the immediate aftermath of her death as she was laid out in the mortuary gurney, is perhaps only explicable in terms of her mourning, anger and outrage at being abandoned.

In this respect it outflanks an article by Sontag’s son David Rieff published some months earlier. At her bedside, he presented an account of her dying which also might better have remained an important private moment between mother and son. It surely cheapened her stature to describe what seemed to be her sheer disbelief and fury that she too, like everyone else, was having to face extinction. “I’m special”, she appeared to be saying, “so special”.

Even earlier, Terry Castle, a Californian-based writer and sometime friend of Sontag’s wrote a particularly scurrilous, indeed spiteful memoir which was published in the London Review of Books (“Desperately Seeking Susan“, 17 March 2005) It was a well-rehearsed piece, as though the author had been saving up for this opportunity for many years, having been sidelined by Sontag despite some period of friendship and even intimacy.

Sontag it seemed had never reciprocated with sufficient warmth and zeal, the abundance of emotion and admiration displayed by the repudiated Castle; but so self-pitying and moralistic was Castle’s account of her years of servitude, that this reader at least sympathised fully with Sontag’s sudden and unexplained disappearance into a taxi, midway through an evening out with Castle, leaving her friend bewildered on the pavement.

Love’s work

Love is invariably shot through with ambivalence, and in death an opportunity arises to castigate she or he who has done the leaving. But what is surprisingly conventional about these outbursts in print or in image is the revelation of personality. It is unimaginable in contemporary life not to “have” a personality and, in possession of such a thing, not subsequently to project this authentic self in the context of one’s other attributes and capacities.

Sontag has been endlessly berated for many years by gay and lesbian activists for refusing to wholeheartedly take on a lesbian identity, and again it is only on her death and the publication of some of her diaries dating back to the 1950s that her self-description as queer really surfaces. But still this refusal to project identity or personality, a refusal which is now being so busily countered by these biographical sketches, undermines what was surely one of Sontag’s most marked contributions – which was to refute the position of writer as dogmatic personality; as the person who presided over the text, who was its owner as well as its author.

Sontag spent a good deal of time in France in the early 1960s, at that moment when literary modernism (Samuel Beckett, Antonin Artaud) with its insistence on divided selves was just about to be supplanted by the even more forceful undermining of the magisterial, authorial self which semiology, structuralism and then post-structuralism inaugurated.

Sontag’s writing at that time reflected both these trends, her short fictions I Etcetera and indeed her foray into film-directing each revealing a cold, erotically-charged modernism, with few, if any, traces of authorial personality; while her introduction of Roland Barthes to a wider public demonstrated her enthusiasm for his “death of the author” stance, and for his crisp analysis of those structures set in place which merely had to be activated by the writer. The work writes you, Roland Barthes said, and this permitted a kind of downgrading or removal of the author-God from the scene of the narrative and from the whole burden of originality, inspiration and uniqueness.

It is ironic then that Susan Sontag is now being deified in a way which counters the sensibility of her own style, which was invariably to locate herself behind the work which she wrote about. Her much-quoted comment about mind as passion, her commitment to seriousness, her disavowal of the chat-show circuit, and latterly, her stance on the stifling of dissent in the United States after 9/11, as well as her late return to the portrayal of suffering in the photographic image, all mark her out as an intellectual for whom social and cultural critique are forms of public service, a kind of dedicating of one’s intellect to the principle of democracy.

Of course the outpourings of those who loved her most will also bear the signs of the wish that she be remembered, as well as being their staking of a claim to her emotional world. But it is Leibovitz’s images which are most disquieting, if only for the reason that they almost ask to be deciphered as Sontag would herself have surely, with enthusiasm, set about doing.

The claim of intimacy

This makes them strange, uncanny, uncomfortable to look at, but not because they have the capacity to illuminate beyond the frame of the domestic world which they show. Ostensibly they could be considered a treatise on the impending death of one who has both written magnificently about the cultural meanings which are invoked in response to life threatening illness, and who has therefore been well prepared as it were for mortality.

But much more prominent is the narrative they tell about the complexity of love, the rivalry, and anger of abandonment and loss, and the betrayals and disloyalties which also comprise the “psychic life of power”. By so inflating, in her death, the stature of Sontag, those who were closest to her produce a kind of grand fictional identity which dwarves the painstaking nature of the work itself, a good deal of which was actually dedicated to bringing to the attention of the world, great writers who like Robert Walser, Leonid Tsypkin, Juan Rulfo or even the filmmaker as well as writer Alexander Kluge, all of whom would otherwise have remained obscure, untranslated or overlooked in the English-speaking world.

If one was to sum up an underlying ethos in Sontag’s oeuvre it was to overturn and angrily contest the drive towards simplification and anti-intellectualism, little Englandism and self-congratulatory Americanism, and the cult of the personality in literature, autobiography and confessional life-writing, all of which shape and police the landscape of literary culture today. (It was widely known to those in the field of European and world literature that often the only possibility of having work translated was to send Sontag a copy requesting that she submit a letter of support to publishers, which invariably she would do).

Most of the pictures printed in the Guardian merit consideration primarily on the topics of love, intrusiveness, publicity and exposure. This includes a banal shot of Sontag in her hotel bed awake, but covering most of her face with a white sheet, as though to ward off the unwelcome gaze of the camera, a moment of private vanity, the desire not to be snapped without having time to compose oneself, having not yet got up and brushed one’s teeth, as it were.

Pictures in her office or walking on a beach with agent Andrew Wylie, or sitting amidst pyramids or again looking weary and tired over a hotel-room breakfast, have little to say other than that there is a claim being made by Leibovitz in terms of proximity, intimacy and of she having-being-there with Sontag, sharing her bed, one assumes, sitting with her at breakfast and accompanying her on trips (see the photographer’s interview with Emma Brockes, “My time with Susan”, Guardian, 7 October 2006).

Those which show Sontag suffering, and undergoing chemotherapy, especially the shot of her on a stretcher on a cold-looking open tarmac about to be carried onto a waiting plane, and also those of her corpse laid out, further extend this act of claiming. We are meant to be impressed by Sontag’s courage in the months before she died, but the publication of these images conveys instead simply a kind of resignation, sadness and fortitude on Sontag’s part.

What else, after all, can one do when having to undergo chemotherapy, which may or may not work? The green-tinted image of her body laid out, wearing a pleated dress, serves primarily to ask the viewer to reflect on the nature of love and its claims on the other. Leibovitz is doing here what only she can do, this is her privilege. And so the pictures are as much about possession and about being dispossessed in loss, as they are about any social commentary on dying. These pictures suggest that the taker is temporarily “out of her mind” with grief.

A gift to life

There are only two photographs where the intensity of the dialogue between Leibovitz’s work and Sontag’s thinking is realised. The first is the cover image (in the Guardian supplement), a marvellous dark orange-tinted shot of Susan Sontag standing against the stern of a ferry, wrapped in a blanket to ward off the chill air, seemingly at dusk. There is a lifebelt attached to the rail, and the coastline can be seen in the distance. Sontag is tall, slim, and her beauty still proud, animated and engaged. She is undefeated, though it would seem fully aware that this is also for her, a ferry journey to the other side of life. This is so effective as an image of portending death that Leibovitz could easily have omitted the hospital scenes.

The other photograph which transcends the boundaries of domestic intimacy is one which shows Sontag naked, in bed, still sleeping it seems, and shot from the side, amidst the bed clothes, and with a pillow over her breasts, though revealing in a gesture to the life of sexuality and eroticism, even in middle age, part of a large, dark nipple.This is an extraordinary sculptured image, conveying the intensity of an emotional partnership, as well as the power of love and erotic passion to create art from the passage of life as it is inscribed on the body. Sontag’s thighs are sensuously open, as though in invitation, they are heavy, marbled, and the pubic hair is still black.

There is what looks like a Caesarian scar-line, and her stomach is neither smooth nor shapely, her waist almost disappeared, yet the overall sense is of voluptuousness and sexual energy. Also total self-confidence and disregard for a world otherwise beholden to narrow and tyrannical definitions as to what constitutes female desirability. If Sontag moved uncomfortably around the word feminism, as she also did lesbianism, in her life, then in her death she makes here, of herself, something of a gift, that art and politics can indeed be productively intertwined.

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An article of the gas explosion in Shrewsbury

March 12, 2011

Twelve people injured in ‘gas’ explosion in Shrewsbury

Blast aftermath 

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One witness spoke of “horrendous” scenes following the suspected gas blast

Twelve people were hurt, two seriously, when a suspected gas blast destroyed a building in Shrewsbury town centre.

One woman was airlifted to hospital with burns to her head, neck and chest, and a man suffered spinal injuries in the explosion in Bridge Street.

Five people had been trapped in a car under rubble but they were pulled free by bystanders and emergency crews.

Supt Peter Lightwood, from West Mercia Police, said it was a surprise no one had been killed.

He said officers were on site within two minutes and the scene was one of “total devastation”.

“The cause of the explosion is unknown,” he said, adding: “We are aware the casualties woke to the smell of gas.”

Scene (pic: Christopher Hobbs)  

Two people were seriously injured in the explosion

The building, thought to contain living accommodation and an empty shop, was completely flattened.

A woman in her early 20s believed to be a resident of an upstairs flat was “blown clear of the building”, police said. She was airlifted to the burns unit at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

The man with spinal injuries was found partially trapped in the rubble and was undergoing surgery at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

Five people who had been trapped in the crushed car were said to be “very lucky” and were also taken to hospital. Fire crews are still searching through the rubble but said they were almost certain no-one was trapped.

A fire service spokesman confirmed there had been “quite a significant gas leak” but said this could have been caused by the explosion.

He said: “If this had been prior to Christmas, when the shops and the streets and the pubs were a lot busier, then it could have been a significantly worse incident.”

The explosion happened at a property on the corner of Bridge Street and Smithfield Road, near Welsh Bridge, just before 1130 GMT.

Scene of Shrewsbury blast 

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Stewart Harbold-Suffield filmed the aftermath of the blast

Jim Grindley, who was working nearby, said: “I ran down, the side building was on fire, loads of people [were] getting dragged out.

“I just ran straight over to the rubble, just saw a hand come out the rubble so I just grabbed them and pulled them out. I got told to move away then. It smelt of gas, it was a horrible sight, horrible sight.”

Jane Harrison said she had just driven over the bridge and onto Smithfield Road when the explosion happened.

She said: “It just felt like somebody had hit me. I’ve never heard a bang like it. The car went sideways, that’s how it felt.

“The car behind me was hit by a traffic light and her back window was smashed.

“There was lots of debris all over the road. I saw smoke and flames and there were people there clearing rubble, looking to see if there was anybody in there.

“That traffic light from the car behind could have gone through the windscreen and that could have been me. I feel very lucky indeed.”

She said she was shaken by the incident, but the only damage to her car came when glass from elsewhere hit the vehicle.

Scene (pic: Thomas Winckley)

Christopher Hobbs, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the site, said he saw two casualties.

He said: “We were in the house watching TV this morning. We heard this huge explosion.

“It sounded like the chimney had fallen off our house or something. It felt like the whole building shook.

“The building that used to stand on the corner is nothing but a pile of rubble. There was smoke billowing from the area. They brought two casualties through – one on a wheelchair and one on a stretcher.”

Performances were cancelled at the Theatre Severn, which is across the river from the explosion site.

BBC reporter Tom Warren, at the scene, said National Grid engineers had started digging up the road, there was rubble on the street and fire crews were on site.

He said: “I heard a loud bang while shopping in the town centre and came down to see what it was.

“It looked like there’d been an explosion, because there was rubble strewn outside. I saw lots of ambulances and the air ambulance arrived.”

Smail Bachene, manager of the Source Vodka Bar, said he was in bed when he heard the explosion.

He said: “It was a big blast, the noise was unbelievable. I think there was a flat over the shop but I don’t know how many people lived there.”

David Hillard

January 24, 2011

DAVID HILLIARD creates multi-paneled color photographs, often based on his life or the lives of people around him. His panoramas allow the artist to direct the viewer’s gaze across the image surface letting narrative and time unfold. David received his BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1992 and his MFA from Yale University in 1994. He worked for many years as an assistant professor at Yale University where he also directed the undergraduate photo department. Additionally he taught at Harvard University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He’s currently an assistant professor in Boston at the Massachusetts College of Art. Hilliard exhibits his photographs both nationally and internationally and has won numerous awards including a Fulbright Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Yancey Richardson Gallery in NY, Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston, Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta, Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, and LA Galerie in Frankfurt represent his work. In 2005 a collection of his photographs was published in a monograph by Aperture. He is currently the artist-in-residence at the Cranbrook Art Academy. I like also how David Hillard focuses on capturing his life. I like that the images he captures are very intimate with others but what I like the most is how he uses seperate frames of the same place to show the final piece of the person who is being captured. I feel the braking up of the images makes the photograph look more intermate. When looking in to each frame it ends with a really unique story of the person he is capturing, it shows a very good visual look of what the place is also like around these different people.

Imogen Cunningham

January 20, 2011

Imogen Cunningham began to take photographs in 1901 while she was a student at the University of Washington. She was attracted to photography by the work of Gertrude Kasebier, an internationally known pictorialist. “I kept thinking all the time ‘1 wish I could be as good as Gertrude Kasebier’” Her career began with a part time job in the Seattle studio of Edward S. Curtis, more famous for his remarkable documentation of the North American Indian than for the portrait work from which he made his living. There she learned to make platinum prints in both quantity and quality.

She won a scholarship for foreign study and attended photographic courses at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden Germany, in 1909. The school had recently revived its photographic department under the direction of Robert Luther, a photo scientist of international fame. While abroad she visited Alvin Langdon Coburn in London and upon her return to America in 1910, Alfred Stieglitz. From both she gained great inspiration.

On returning home she opened a studio in Seattle, and soon won national recognition not only for her portraits but for her pictorial work. A portfolio of these pictures was published in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine in March, 1914. There she stated a philosophy which has guided her ever since: “One must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit so as to be able to draw out the best qualities and make them show in the outer aspect of the sitter. To do this one must not have a too pronounced notion of what constitutes beauty in the external and, above all, must not worship it. To worship beauty for its own sake is narrow, and one surely cannot derive from it that esthetic pleasure which comes from finding beauty in the commonest things.”

I have been looking at Imogen Cunninghams work, from her book called on the body. The images in the book are really fascinating to look at, it shows these women and also men aswell as childer very naturally. I like mostly how her work is set in the natural woodland, the natural life really shows the beauty of nudity in each of the photographs. I also like how she capture close ups of the models faces as they pose naked, these photographs each show the persons expression in their face as they pose so confidently. She also uses lighting focusing on the nude body and also outlining the body.

Duane Michals

November 18, 2010

Duane Michals merges writing and photography into highly distinct and original bodies of work. Fed by literature, poetry, philosophy, film and art history, Michals moves between a melancholic gravity and a fanciful humor. Born in Pennsylvania in 1932, Michals settled in New York in the late 1950s. With no formal training, he recognized his artistic aptitude while touring the U.S.S.R. in 1958. By 1960 he was earning his living through commercial fashion and portraiture photography. His first exhibition was held at the Underground Gallery in 1963; and in 1970, his works were presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He continues to exhibit in museums and galleries across the United States and Europe.

I like in Duane Michals work how he adds text to each image, making a photograph to make sense and to add a feeling of what he wants to show, in with this text he uses poetry and thoughts. I am going to use text to tell stories to each of my photographs that I am going to capture but I am also thinking of using text with in the photograph but I will have to wait and see which one works better, but I do relly like how Duane sets his layout of the text to go well with the photograph.

250MC Research: Nigel Tomm

November 18, 2010

The photography of Nigel Tomm is rather captivating. Within his collection there are moments of ingenuity where the crumpled photograph is positioned cleverly with a live model.

I particularly enjoy this type of photography as it distorts the look of celebrities and unbelievably good looking models and brings them down to realistic level of beauty.
As the photographs are distrupted you can not see the real identity of these people as the distortion focuses on the human body. Nigel Tomm takes famous photographers photographs and makes them in to his on style as he corrupts the image giving it a totally different style to the original.Nigel Tomm creates the photographs by using a programme caled art installation.

250MC Research: Anni Leppälä

November 17, 2010

My interest towards photography is closely related to time in the past tense, to the possibility of being able to make a moment motionless, to make something stand still. That something has existed, and has now been set in static state. There is a certain aspect of lost moments and a feeling of letting go when looking at photographs. They exist at the intersection of the momentary and the constant, between the fleeting feeling of being alive and consciousness of the moments passing by.

In my pictures, attempts in recognising and lighting of obscure and vague movements, are made visible. I want to approach the momentariness of living through constancy. The paradox is that when you try to conserve or protect a moment by stopping it, by photographing it, you inevitably lose it at the same time. I am interested in exploring these contradictions and borderlines between things, how distance relates to closeness.

Symbolic meanings are essential in my works. I am interested in how the concrete surface of reality and photographs relate to metaphorical things that can be found underneath. I try to trace those kinds of occasions of seeing when words dissolve and scatter apart, objects and incidents intensify into symbolic language, silent information and intuitive interpretation. What fills the room behind the picture, allows one to step closer. Thoughts of incompleteness and insecurity are also important to my works.

Objects and spaces can occur to be like transparent routes between the inside and the outside, between the seen surface and unconscious content. Museums and miniature rooms become entrances to each other. Balance and its fragility, delicacy are present simultaneously.

How to stop a feeling, a memory? By binding it to visible objects, facades of material things, attaching it to a room´s walls, the surface of photographs. Like translucent skin with unforeseen memories beneath.

The photographs look emotional as the people that have been photographed are not captured looking straight in to the camera, there is a sense of lost, feeling of emotion and hurt. The time stops and the memorys go through the mind, you cant tell what these people are feeling but the way that there is no direct look to the camera, there is feel of sadness and it adds dullness to the feel of these photographs as these people look like they are lost in hurt.
The style of the photographs is similar to Jeff Sheng that I have shown in my research as he photographs people as they look away from the camera, you cant feel the emotion that they are feeling as you can not see their expression but you know they cant show their real identity because for some it is a hidden secret that they are gay, lesbian or bi sexual and they feel they cant let others know, as they look away to not showing their face you know there is hurt and emotion straight away, it makes the photograph feel very sad to me but it lets you want to find out more.

250MC Research: Petrina Hicks

November 17, 2010

I like in Petrina Hicks work how she has photographed these women beautifully, each of the photographs shows this porcelian look of skin but the way in which I think it would reflect my project as in each of the photographs Petrina hides the identity of the woman as he covers the face with a piece of material, all you can see is the body but not the real identity of this woman as she hides behind of the material.

250 MC Research: Erin and her transgender life

November 17, 2010

A documentary about what it’s like to be transgender. The documentary covers what it’s like to grow up in the wrong gender and eventually transition. It also discusses the youtube transgender community and how that has affected my life in a positive way.

I found after watching all of these videos it relates to my subject that I am photographing for my project as I will be telling the secret life of a crossdresser but this man hides it as a secret, he will be opening up to me on his past, the life that he has had. Erin relates with that as she opens up to feelings that he has felt, family problems and the life that he has had but his secret and the confession of his life he only likes to tell online when he produces his videos as he feels it is not something you can just tell people. From watching the videos I think that my project and the guy I will be photographing there will be alot more feelings than Erin has right now as I will be photographing a man that has felt the feeling he has wanted to be a woman for many many years, I think the stories he will tell me will be very emotional and upseting to hear, but I really want to know exactly what he has felt.

250MC Research: Rupaul’s Drag Race

November 17, 2010

RuPaul, the world’s most famous drag queen, as the host, mentor and judge for season two of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Logo’s hit reality series which will be the ultimate in drag queen competitions.

The race is back with an all new season. The top 9 drag queens in the U.S. will vie for drag stardom as RuPaul, in full glamazon drag, will reign supreme in all judging and eliminations, while the debonair Mr. RuPaul will help guide the contestants as they prepare for each challenge. Contestants include the nation’s hottest most glamorous drag queens, including one voted in by you online!

Each week, joining RuPaul on the judges panel, are fashion journalist and best-selling author Merle Ginsberg and Project Runway breakout star and designer Santino Rice, plus a bevy of celebrity guest judges including: Bob Mackie (Designer), Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child), Lucy Lawless (actress), Maria Conchita Alonso (actress/singer), Robin Antin (creator of The Pussycat Dolls), Debra Wilson (Mad TV), Jenny Shimizu (model/actress), Tori Spelling (actress), Dean McDermott (actor), Howard Bragman (Author of “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?”) and Frank Gatson (choreographer).

Each cast member must embody the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that made RuPaul an international drag superstar. The judges will determine the bottom two contestants of the week. Those contestants then compete in a show-stopping battle-royal “lip-synch for your life” performance that will determine if they will “shante” and stay and who will “sashay” away until one is crowned America’s next Drag Queen Superstar!

This programme has now come to the UK and it really is an interesting programme to watch, the programme really documents each Drag Queen, it is showing the life of a Drag Queen on a new media level, showing it on the television in the UK to me makes others that have not seen Drag Queens a very new experience for them, they get to see the lives of the men, the men as they wished they were always a woman. Throughout the programme the men are very confident with in themeselves when in drag and not in drag but you really find out abouts these mens lives as they talk about the confession to familys, how they find it as they change their gender and they discuss their past, watching the programme tells you more about each of the Drag Queens intermatley as they are documented as they talk in confidence to each other but also it is telling the world, the feelings that are held in and how those feelings feel to each of them. This programme is also showing the older generation the change that is going on in the future, but the feelings that they talk about shows that these men are not to be judged, because they are just wanting what they have always dreamed to be.