Reflective tasks for the Camera Never Lies Course: Week 1

Task 1: Review the photographs which are special to you, and consider to what extent the circumstances in which those images were taken give them importance.  Now stand back, figuratively, and consider one of these images on its merits as a photograph.  How far does that image have meaning to you because of its history, as opposed to its aesthetic as a photograph?  Many technically ‘terrible’ images are prized because they capture ‘that moment.’ 

StellaMy reply: As I rummaged through my mental drawers for images I realized that all the images that are significant to me have either me or one or more of my family members or friends on them. I was present at some of the historical events, e.g. during the fall of communism in 1989, but none of the images that I took or know of are as important for me as of the ones with my personal circles.

One image that comes to mind as significant was taken a few hours after my first child was born, see on the right. It is not a particularly sharp picture. The lights are not perfect either. The composition is OK, I think, because I cropped the image after I took it. But it captured a moment when my life changed. She, my daughter can always count on me from this point on. If she needs a finger to suck on I am there for her. Even if she doesn’t know what she needs.

Task 2: Consider memorials and images which have meaning to you from a cultural and historical perspective – buildings, murals, paintings, statues, etc.  Consider why they are important to you, and what they are evocative of: are they tapping into an older heritage of images which are important to your national, community or individual identity?

Hungarian Republic of CouncilsMy reply: This statue, based on on a poster, used to stand close to the high school I went to in Hungary. It memorialized the short lived era of the Hungarian Republic of Councils in 1919. I was a product of the Communist, Hungarian education system, which romanticized this era and emphasized only its positive accomplishments, while not mentioning the negatives. Hence, as I grew up, I enjoyed the dynamic nature of the poster and the statue. I remember climbing onto its knee too. Then the system fell, and the statue was moved to the outskirts of Budapest, along with other similar statues, to a “Memento Park.”

I think the question was supposed to make us think of memorials that provide a cohesive narrative for a group/nation. But with the history of Hungary it would be hard to pick one, because people remember and think of the communist era differently. My memories are mixed too. I had a happy childhood, and being around this statue was part of it. But now, as an adult, I cannot deny that both the 1919 era and the later version of communism was guilty of ruining the lives of many. Yes, this image evokes issues of identities, but these are complex ones, not possible to summarize in a short paragraph.

Boling: Guernica (2008)Task 3: I rather ducked the issue of interpreting Picasso’s Guernica … mainly because Gijs van Hensbergen does such a good job.  Please review his piece in on the BBC website and comment upon it.

My reply: Reading that article gave me context for the painting. It helped understanding the origins of the details, like where the horse or bull or head… evolved from and what they might mean. It also reminded me that art appreciation is much more than analyzing a picture (its colors, composition) on its own. Pictures always exist in a larger context and come from the personal experiences of artists. The more we know about these the more we can appreciate the nuances of possible meanings. I saw the original of this. I was impressed by its immense size as I mentioned it in my review of Dave Boling’s book Guernica.

Task 4: Review the images of advertising in Four and Six – either those in the lecture, or from the rest of the site – are you surprised that some of these have been altered for commercial purposes?

My reply: No, I was not surprised. However I never considered before that the covers of political magazines, e.g. Times, Newsweek are also part of the advertising scene. I knew and accepted the magazines directed to men or women specifically are using altered, sexy” images of their topics (scantily dressed men/women, muscle cars, weapons, tech gizmos…) But it didn’t occur to me that the covers of “serious” magazines need to play the same role: create a desire in the target audience to buy the product. One way to do that is to crate emotionally provocative images, see the Reagan with a teardrop pic.

Task 5: In viewing the photographic reportage in newspapers, magazines and news organisations pages on the web, to what degree do you take the pictures ‘on faith’ as being authentic and unaltered?  Can you think of an example where something ‘just didn’t look’ right?  Consider what this means for future researchers using this material as a resource for the writing of history in twenty, thirty or forty years hence.  This will be a theme we will return to.

My reply: I used to visit regularly sites that show “photoshop disasters”, e.g. psdisasters.com. I enjoyed the deconstructions of and snarly remarks on examples of photo manipulations that are obviously went over the top. However it got repetitive, so I rarely do now. But when you ask for an example these sites come to my mind. In current context and for educated mind it is obvious that these magazine images are altered. However it is quite possible that not everyone is aware of these, particularly in the target audience. I wonder whether 20-40 years from now ,if historians look at these pictures the digital changes will be obvious or not.

I don’t have to go that far. I remember the marches that we had to participate as kids during Communism. The official photos show smiling faces, rows of happy people after rows. Then I also remember a friend of mine who who was kicked out of high-school because he showed the finger to the tribune where the leaders of the country were standing, during one of these marches. Not all was well back then, even if the pictures you can find would suggest so.

*This blog entry is part of my series on the “The Camera Never Lies Course” course I am taking.

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