Saturday, October 22, 2011

#CMC11 Visual Culture

With somewhat of a researchers background I am motivated to try to define the study of the photographs and other images that I possess.  It seems to me that being able to define such a study in acceptable research terms would give it more credibility.   With that aim in mind I came across the term “visual culture.”

Visual culture is defined in various ways:
According to Nicholas Mirzoeff' is perhaps best understood as a tactic for studying the functions of a world addressed through pictures, images, and visualizations, rather than through texts and words.  Here is a link to an article by Mirzoeff on visual culture.

Another term that came up during my search for meaning is semiotics:  According to Daniel Chandler in his online book on the subject:  Semiotics represents a range of studies in art, literature, anthropology and the mass media rather than an independent academic discipline. Those involved in semiotics include linguists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, literary, aesthetic and media theorists, psychoanalysts and educationalists. Beyond the most basic definition, there is considerable variation amongst leading semioticians as to what semiotics involves. It is not only concerned with (intentional) communication but also with our ascription of significance to anything in the world.

I questioned whether this is the appropriate method as it seems that semiotics would be more the study of language and text however it is also defined as follows:   Semiotics provides us with a potentially unifying conceptual framework and a set of methods and terms for use across the full range of signifying practices, which include gesture, posture, dress, writing, speech, photography, film, television and radio. Semiotics may not itself be a discipline but it is at least a focus of enquiry, with a central concern for meaning-making practices which conventional academic disciplines treat as peripheral.  Here is a link to an article  by Irit Krygier, that provides photography with a definiton in todays digital age.

One could argue that I cannot do an adequate study of the photographs I possess unless I understand the intent of the photographer.  What is the context of the photo being taken?  Was it vacation, for a study, for a business reason…this anonymous collection of photographs may not provide worthwhile data in that regard.   These photos are an expression of human life, the way we live, and how we capture on film and what we deem important.  Reviewing hundreds if not thousands of photos of home life, vacations, landscapes, and celebrations provides a rich in-depth study of life in the United States but through travels abroad.

I am currently review several photographs of a travelers experience in Russia.  These photos were probably taken in the 1950’s and are actually slides:






Not sure where these photos were taken:

scan0071 scan0082 scan0098
I can put pictures that other people take and study them in the context of what motivates or inspires me to take pictures:

July 2011 trip 020

I love to take pictures of old farm buildings, abandoned farms and capture these symbols of a fading way of life.

July 2011 trip 307
The above photo was taken in Silverton, CO at the Durango/Silverton Train.

July 2011 trip 445
The above is a photo of ruins in Mesa Verde.  To me this is somewhat symbolic of how we capture other cultures through photography.

July 2011 trip 025
Another abandoned farm picture.

July 2011 trip 042
Sinclair, WY I believe..a semi abandoned town with an interesting history.

July 2011 trip 156

We spent the night in a Hostel in Grand Junction.  I thought I would be uncomfortable in the postage stamp sized room but I immediately fell asleep.  The picture above is of the lobby, lounge space at the hostel.
July 2011 trip 261

On the Durango/Silverton train.

If I were to do a post like this every week for the next five years I doubt that I would get through my collection of photos, one which I continue to add to either via scanning or my own photos.  It is a fascinating study for me.  I am struggling with how to define or frame this study and analysis.  Knowing that will help me a great deal to identify the context in which to place this analysis.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#CMC Cultural Studies

As a sometimes researcher and “studier” of people I have to give a name to the study of photographs that I am proposing, in essense this is a cultural study.  This means, according to Wikipedia;
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its historical foundations, conflicts, and defining traits. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural anthropology and ethnic studies in both objective and methodology. Researchers concentrate on how a particular medium or message relates to matters of ideology, social class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, and/or gender.[1]
Cultural studies approaches subjects holistically, combining feminist theory, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand the ways in which meaning is generated, disseminated, and produced through various practices, beliefs, institutions, and political, economic, or social structures within a given culture

Furthermore the study of the photographs that I possess is actually defined as:

Visual anthropology is a subfield of cultural anthropology that is concerned, in part, with the study and production of ethnographic photography, film and, since the mid-1990s, new media. While the term is sometimes used interchangeably with ethnographic film, visual anthropology also encompasses the anthropological study of visual representation, including areas such as performance, museums, art, and the production and reception of mass media. Visual representations from all cultures, such as sandpaintings, tattoos, sculptures and reliefs, cave paintings, scrimshaw, jewelry, hieroglyphics, paintings and photographs are included in the focus of visual anthropology. Human vision, its physiology, the properties of various media, the relationship of form to function, the evolution of visual representations within a culture are all within the province of visual anthropology. Since anthropology is a holistic science, the ways in which visual representation are connected to the rest of culture and society are central topics.[citation needed]

To further summarize Banks and Morphy state that visual anthropology state that the focus is on recording visual or visible phenomena and obtaining visual data.  They caution that this broad term may be ambiguous and too broad.  The further go on to state that visual anthropology services that much can be learned from a culture through photography.  Morphy and Banks provide a cautionary note in that we should not over look photography by not considering this medium in it’s totality as a contribution to the study of cultures and that researchers must understand the medium within the context of data itself.  (1999,  Rethinking visual anthropology. Yale University Press.  Banks, Marcus and Morphy, Howard)

Visual anthropology may give some sort of framework to what I am trying to address and it does seem to recognize photos as data, which ultimately I am trying to state..that photos and vintage photos are data to be studied as sources for determining cultural traditions, life, and activities of people.   Sandra S. Lee, Ph. D. conducted an “ethnographic study of old Italian neighborhoods from the 1880's to the 1950's, she interviewed and collected vintage photographs from individuals and families.”  Unfortunately I have the photographs but not he people to interview for a similar ethnographic study.  In order to conduct a study of the photos I must have knowledge of the history of the time period when the photos were taken, a knowledge to be able to judge the time period of the photos, if not dated, and the ability to analyze the photos to extract the period in which they were taken.
I can also solicit comments from people on the web to engage in a discussion or dialogue regarding the photos that I post.  To gain their analysis, knowledge and expertise on providing an analysis of the photos that I post.   I propose to present different photographs to study in the areas of dress, hair styles, jewelry, expression, architecture, cars, and machinery.  As this study evolves there will be different details to study, I will present photos that I feel are most illustrative of the topic.  Please join me on this study! Your in put will be valuable. I will continue to define the context of this study as I learn more about the research methodologies.

My photos for your consideration today are below and are differing styles of architecture:


From Russia photos:




China 667

Our churches, our towns and how we have  lived:


This actually is a picture of Boy's Town/home?


You will note that these are buildings being moved:


To contrast a city scape (circa 1950 or 60’s):


An auditorium or arena..I am sure state of the art for it’s time.  Sorry about the dirty photos these are actually slides that are speckled with dust and dirt.  Normally I clean them using Photoshop, depending on the nature of the photo and how I am going to use it:


Another city skyline..very dirty:


Another city view:


I welcome comments, thoughts and ideas! As always more to come!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#CMC11 My creative journey

I have been wondering what this MOOC would mean to me and I think what I would like to do is give definition to the reason why I have amassed a large collection of pictures, images and artifacts of people lives.  This collection come primarily in the form of photographs.  Photographs from all sorts of people at all stages in their lives.  My collection is large I gather these photos from online auctions, thrift stores, antique shops and garage sales.  There is  a term for this..they are called vernacular photos.  Some are taken professionally others are taken by friends, family members, and even strangers.  After all who hasn’t been on a trip when you haven’t been asked to take someone’s photo with their spouse or you haven’t asked someone to do so for you. I saw this frequently on my trip to China. 
At heart I am a researcher of people.  I love they way they chronicle their lives through their photos, it is indeed art, illustrative storytelling.


This picture totally captures this woman’s life.  Her face tells her story.  A widow, yes, note the dark garb, the plain ribbon.  A wit, a captured sparkle in her eye, I think it is there.   A spirit and a dream and high standards they are all there in her face, her eyes and her hint of a smile. It is a fascinating story behind this photo.


The photo above of the three children also came from the same collection as the one of the woman.  I can’t help but wonder ..are they somehow related?  Grandchildren perhaps. You have to love those tense frozen faces..I hope they had a lot to smile about in their lives. Think about the contributions they may have made to this country, having families themselves..maybe they were YOUR relatives.

Having such a vast collection of photos, unplanned, unstaged and perhaps a bit wonky lets you see the world through a different lens than the glossy touched up photos in magazine.  I recently acquired an old set of slides of Russian buildings and other things: (at least I think this is Russian all too often these slides or photos are unmarked)


Sometimes I look at a picture and I wonder what they saw, what was the picture takers story when he/she showed the picture to friends:  (this photo actually did come from a box of photos marked Russia)


Photos are like brilliant flashes of one line quotes, frozen in time, with meaning and a story.  We rush through our lives capturing moments in our minds, and now so freely,
digitally. We flash these vignettes around the world, telling our story.

I understand the story behind the picture below.   I know this man yet I do not know him. But I understand that he was probably a cowboy, that this horse was part of his life and his livelihood, perhaps something he took a lot of pride in showing and riding.

  October 9 20110006

Here is my story, or part of I feel this photo illustrates the world from which I came..


So far on this journey of sifting through these artifacts of the lives and stories and people I have been alone, with the thousands of pieces that make up my collection, a collection I started several years ago and fascinates me today.  Only through the context of my experience have I been able to make define the meaning of it, what does it mean to me ..what would it mean to you?

Some of these are of recent experiences:


Examples of a past that is still relevant to our lives today.  The farm machinery above exist as a tribute to the time when machinery that was needed was simple and functioned much upon the strength and hard work of the people who owned the land.
This photo below  is a mystery to me ..the Bell in the background is fascinating.. any ideas?  These slides are dirty, it’s going to take some retouching to restore them..I am just starting to dive into this collection.   (the great thing about the web is if you do a google search you will find this is Ivan’s bell in Moscow)…

I visited Mesa Verde this past summer so you can imagine my delight when I found photos such as this one below  in my collection:


You may be scratching you head and wondering..don’t I know what is in my collection and the answer to that is no, my collection is not catalogued or sorted according to any rhyme or reason, it is vast though.   The photo above was scanned into my collection in July of 2007.  Initially I started just focusing on Wyoming and in particular on Yellowstone, wanting to chronicle the changes in that area via amateur photographs.  I have acquired hundreds of photos of the area:




At first I shunned pictures of people, however over time I began to study them, becoming fascinated with them and the storyteller in me started to come out. Questioning and wondering over the lives of the people who came before me to this area, to live their lives, and the contest of their lives.




I love thinking of the surprise of where this road will take me and I hope you as well.  Let’s write this story together.  I welcome your comments, your insight and your guidance as I being to share my collection of photos with you.  I hope this fulfills the purpose of CMC#. Through this we all learn.