Genus Comune, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer.
The following sequence is primarily influenced by, firstly: Duane Michals’ Things Are Queer sequence in terms of narrative concept and the use of text with photography (even if Michals didn’t with his sequence, and I chose to use colour over B/W); and secondly, A. Moore and D. Gibbons’ seminal 1987 graphic novel Watchmen in term of visual sequencing and style.
The glue that amalgamates these main conceptual elements is undoubtedly André Rodchenko (his defacing of his own work during the Stalin Purges in 1937), and particularly Walker Evans’ work: both his Subway Portraits, 1938–41, and his work on the Penny Picture Display, Savannah. 1936 cover; as well as a small homage to the first edition of LIFE magazine, which was, serendipitously, also published in 1936 – the year being another unifying, homogeneous element to the assignment.
Presentation and format
I have decided to present this assignment differently to my previous assignments by using a magazine format inspired by the cover of The Penny Picture Display, and with the aesthetic touch of including adverts from the first edition of LIFE. This format, I believe, will help emphasize the narrative effect – staying faithful to that ‘surprise element’ so prevalent in Michals’ own sequences.
The choice of the title Genus Comune – first discovered in Image, Music Text (Barthes and Heath, 1978, p115), and later in Narratology (García Landa and Onega Jaén, 2014) – could be seen as highlighting the mixture of narratory styles (the narrator’s point of view with that of the subject – as well as the observer’s) which I feel are present throughout the sequence; or it could just simply be seen as a homage to both Barthes and Michals.
Why use text?
The idea of incorporating text is a contentious one as I’ve never really done it before for project work on this course, and also, I think it can make or break a photo. I have recently come across so many great uses (in my opinion) of accompanying text used with photography to heighten narrative effect in very different formats and with very different results – too many for this assignment, although, I have tried to include quite a few. I have decided to stick with a Duane Michals’ inspired poetry style under each photo; even accompanying text, not produced by myself, has been ‘rendered’ poetic by the way it is presented – to hopefully keep some homogeneity and cohesion both visually and conceptually. I feel the texts are exciting, challenging and engaging, just as they are distracting, invasive, and annoying even; I wanted to play with that power, clarify or confuse, and to toy with their subtle ambiguities.
I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this assignment, and, you could argue, it is a little crowded and over-thought to some extent; however, I feel that this is my project, my nod to many past/present inspirations that I have had for years (and have discovered recently) and that alone is surely justification enough. I feel satisfied that there’s clearly been thought put into this: developement of ideas, creative endeavour, revamping of concepts, planning and critical thought, merging of styles, awareness of past and contemporary artists, research and reflection, with a healthy dose of mistakes and a pleasant sprinkling of luck thrown in; all of which, I would argue, sit nicely within the brief for this assignment.
This fascinating journey into some amazing photographers as well as photographic techniques has really pushed me to define how I understand (and have understood) photography, particularly my own, up to now.
Duane Michals’ work – discovered fortuitously thanks to David Hurn – has really caught my eye (and mind); as has looking at Walker Evans’ work, reading through Barthes’ (tricky) analyses, and delving into the often murky (but glorious) waters of Russian Constructivism and Suprematism which I found particularly illuminated by Rodchenko’s art (and others such as Lissitzky, Klutsis but not forgetting others elsewhere such as, Bayer, Heartfield, Moholy-Nagy etc.).
All of this has helped me to appreciate photography as not just a Europe-centric, or American phenomenon, (although, respectively, that’s where it all kicked off for sure), or as some social media fad either, but rather a genuine visual and intellectual language that can be (and demands to be) presented and read in many different ways, and that is undoubtedly culturally bound, yet can (usually) cross those invisible borders with ease.
A fascinating, evolving, dynamic language that I will probably be (and look forward to) studying and observing and learning for many years to come.
Genus Comune, or, Where Things Are Most Definitely Queer.
“This city is afraid of me
I have seen its true face*
Of what Reinhart and Malevic didn’t see
And of which Robert Fludd left no trace.”
Shot-1: 1/6 sec., F/7.1, ISO-200, 42mm. *First two lines from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Watchmen, 1986-1987, DC Comics (p1, issue 1, caption one).
“If I were dim as the sun,
Night I’d drill
with the rays of my eyes.”
Shot-2: 1/40 sec., F/5.6, ISO-3200, 42mm; Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1916, excerpt from: To his Own Beloved Self The Author Dedicates These Lines; photo by A. Rodchenko and sketched over by me.
“Mapplethorpe’s anguish like Margaret’s smile,
Was De Mesquita’s pupil with no mathematical guile;
Volkmann’s impassiveness would make Kertész ask,
If, like, Gillian we’re always wearing a mask;
And if Moore opened the door to perception,
Would Ted Hughes’ muse be Godwin’s intention?;
Marjane’s stories and Andy’s construe,
Would make Rodchenko black you out too;
Then what of Peggy Sue in a Daguerreotype?
And Amelie in a Hollywood stereotype?
As Muslim girls dance in Amsterdam,
Was Strand more French than Uncle Sam?
From those amazing blueprints by Sir Herschel,
To Turk’s fake portrait commercial;
In awe of Cameron’s Iago with his downward gaze,
Never to see Gaiman’s gift to amaze;
Yet here I am to witness them stand tall,
On my train ride going nowhere, nowhere at all.”
Shot-3: 1/25 sec., F/5.6, ISO-3200, 42mm; text by K. Byrne, mid Dec 2016; image inspired by Walker Evans’ front cover of the 1936 Penny Picture Display, and Evans’ Subway series of photographs.
“Squealing under city stone
The millions on the millions run,
Every one a life alone,
Every one a soul undone:
There all the poisons of the heart
Branch and abound like whirling brooks
And there through every useless art
Like spoiled meats on a butcher’s hooks
Pour forth upon their frightful kind
The faces of each ruined child:
The wrecked demeanors of the mind
That now is tamed, and once was wild.“
Shot-4: 1/13 sec., F/3.5, ISO-3200, 14mm; text by James Agee, 1937 (Reuter, 2016); inspired by Walker Evans’ series Subway Portraits, 1938–41.
“I’ll use you when I want to – not when you do.
I’m so in control, so strong, so deluded it’s untrue.
A modern God making me the walking dead,
Who knows what it’s doing to my head.
I’ve become like a ‘mombie’ on the march,
But not me, no way.
No, no, you’re wrong”
Shot-5: 1/50 sec., F/2.0, ISO-800, 50mm (100mm Eq.); K. Byrne, mid Dec 2016
“Immediately I sprang into action,
experimenting toward realizing
Dressed up as a tourist, I walked
into a cheap cinema
in the East Village
with a large-format camera.
As soon as the movie started,
I fixed the shutter
at a wide-open aperture,
and two hours later when the movie finished,
I clicked the shutter closed.
That evening, I developed
and the vision
exploded behind my eyes.“
Shot-6: 2 sec., F/10, ISO-200, 14mm; text from, H. Sugimoto, Sugimotohiroshi.com. (2016).
“…What this one here?
she gave it to us years ago
when she last visited us
– can’t remember now when exactly
but it was years ago.
I never really liked it at the time, to tell you the truth,
seemed pointless to give us something like that.
I mean, we see that sort of stuff all the time here, you get me?
– ten to the dozen round here they are.
Don’t get me wrong,
we weren’t ungrateful or anything,
it’s just, you know, what could we do with it?
No disrespect or anything,
but we would’ve been better off
with the bleedin’ money,
you know? [laughs]…”
Shot-7: 1,6 sec., F/4, ISO-100, 50mm (100mm Eq.); In conversation with the author, late June 1989; later published in Madstock’s The Definitive Guide to Being Blatantly Screwed by the Local Community’s Ridiculous Take on Those Numbnut Tourist and Their Willingness to Part with Pots of Money for a Pile of Arranged Rocks, 2nd edition (C. Twat., 1990). [Bill Owens/Jim Goldberg/ inspired].
“Conscious of looking
not only at the clearly depicted subject
But also at the photographic form
into which they have been projected
Reveal much about collective cultural behaviour
Public yet strangely isolated and mannered
as they individually engage with the spectacle of history
the potential for including a marriage
of a contemporary moment and a historical moment
in one photographic plane
to retrieve masterpieces from the fate of fame
the depicted scene, deliberately and conspicuously engages
the idea of the physical permeability
Nothing more than a pictorial fiction
in the end almost actively indifferent
to her very existence
that sense of exclusion
the sense of uncommunicating realms”
Shot-8: software edit of shot 7; modified version of Thomas Struth’s Art Institute of Chicago 2 gallery shot; text from an amalgamation of snippets from essays re Struth’s shot [my selection from Cotton (2009, pp97-8); Higgins (2014, p60); and Fried (2008, pp119-121)].
“Evans explored the United States of the 1930s
—its people, its architecture,
its cultural symbols (including photographs)—
with the disinterested eye of an archaeologist
studying an ancient civilization.
Penny Picture Display might be interpreted
as a celebration of democracy
or as a condemnation of conformity.
Evans takes no side.”
Shot-9: software edit (crop) of shot 10; This text is taken from the MOMA website where you can see Walker Evans’ front cover of the 1936 Penny Picture Display from which I got the fictional cover (and magazine) idea used in this sequence.
“All these years of arseholes;
arseholes farting on and staining me with their putrid stenches;
Bitches and wenches, drunks and punks,
leaving their dust and tears to enter every part of me
like I don’t do enough for them as it is;
plastering me with their symbols, and images all of which come and go;
sad as it is, I am not alone,
there are the others with me – they too ripped from their duties,
stripped of their meanings, placed in this place,
put in the dungeon – this prison of nostalgia,
in this resource wasting waste of space;
gazed upon like freaks of nature, freaks in a show;
relics of your vanity, remnants of your passage through time,
watching your noisy brief journey, your wonderfully sad raping of everything;
we are glorified by your lights as ours have grown dim – you shelter us, this at least we accept; but let us decompose naturally as all things should, without your eyes, and photographs, without your pity or your pride;
I have wheels yet I cannot move,
let me move again, roar again; let me live again.
Or just leave me be.”
Shot-10: 1/25 sec., F/3.5, ISO-3200, 14mm; Excerpt from The Train Carriage Interviews (this excerpt: 1938 Northern Line London Underground Train Rant, edited version); thanks to the London Transport Museum for this photo opportunity.
“Variable 3 or 4
Rough, or very rough
occasionally very poor
or even black”
Shot-11: 1/25 sec., F/2.0, ISO-3200, 50mm (100mm Eq.); text inspired by Mark Power’s The Shipping Forecast series.
“Suffice is to say,
proud though we are of this work of fiction,
We humbly acknowledge that the truth
is infinitely more wonderful;
depressing though it is to consider
that Richard Nixon’s signature
is on the moon,
the fact that there really is a smiley face
on the planet Mars
is strangely heartening.
Shot-12: 1/200 sec., F/1.7, ISO-1600, 50mm (100mm Eq.); text from Watchmen (absolute edition, 1988), Dave Gibbons’ concluding comments.
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Alternative presentation of sequence without text (click through)