Category Archives: 5 Constructed Realities and the Fabricated Image

Part 5 – Exercise 2 – Nicky Bird ‘Question for Seller’

The brief for this exercise was to answer the following questions about Nicky Bird’s ‘Question for Seller’ series of photographs; groups of old family photographs she had purchased from eBay and which had attracted no other bidders, the underlying premise being that they were unwanted:-

Old Family Photographs

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

No, I don’t think the ‘status’ of the photographs changed: they were still simply groups of old family photographs which may have belonged to a family at one point, but either the family lineage had ceased (through all branches of the family being deceased), or actually they were unwanted, discarded items within a family that still exists, but who, rightly or wrongly, may not value them; either because they didn’t know enough about the various subjects within the photographs (maybe nobody had explained the history through the generations),or maybe simply because they took up valuable space.

Families are generally more fragmented today, with family trees overlapping through multiple marriages; the idea of a single ‘line’ through the generations is less common. Also there is a concerted push to not live in the past, to live for the moment rather than be nostalgic; also to avoid ‘clutter’ and hoard less.

Perhaps as a series created by a photographer, the ‘groups’ of photographs are elevated in status because of the connectedness of ‘discarded family history’, but individual groups of the discarded family photographs would revert to being just that once taken off the walls, out of the exhibition and back to their original state.

Where does their meaning derive from?

I sense the meaning is about how we view our own family histories today. Is it important to preserve them as original photographs, which are somehow sacrosanct, and indefinably linked to the ‘death’ of a lineage?  Or have other ways to remember and document a family history superseded this? The study of family histories on-line is flourishing, encouraged by numerous documentaries of celebrities tracing their ancestors and finding out revelations. Have many of these ‘original’ images been digitally scanned and therefore are still ‘living’, perhaps in a more accessible, informative and useful format?

I know that personally the touch and feel of these old photographs in my own family, is very much part of my ongoing relationship with them in my thoughts and memories. Scanning in the photographs and using them digitally, renders them a bit further away from my original great grandparents/uncles/aunts. After all those original photographs had been handled by them; they had made postcards of some and posted them to show them they cared and were thinking about each other when they were not together. My family now very much reduced down, renders these objects much more extraordinary and precious.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Clearly the fact that the photographs were curated by a well-known artist/photographer renders them more expensive financially as ‘elements’ within an exhibition.  The extended story of them belonging to the series and being part of an exhibition, would, by its nature attach greater worth to them. Perhaps when they are moved around the globe again, losing that extra piece of providence/history, they will once again be reduced to ‘worthless’. It is the legitimacy of that known journey to exhibition status which has, possibly momentarily, increased their worth.


Many years ago I fell upon some images on FlickR which fascinated me and which I complemented the creator of, only to receive a somewhat aggressive warning not to swipe the idea and try and recreate my own versions. It baffled me why the photographer had decided to publish them on the Internet if she was so concerned about her idea being replicated!

Anyhow, when I researched the Nicky Bird series, I immediately thought of these photographs. The idea was to actually put some old images in a freezer, effectively ‘freezing the moments in time’. The images then took on a more ‘final, death-like’ quality having a sheen of ice on them, a possible ‘Cryogenic’ treatment to preserve forever:- copies of the images are shown below:-

I like how the photographs are given even more of an ethereal feel with the frost partially covering the images. This maybe takes the idea of photographic archiving to a whole new level!

Part 5 – Research – Gregory Crewdson

The reading materials for the course suggested watching the following YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson’s work: and then answering the following:-

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal?
Untitled, 2004

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

I think Crewdon’s work is clearly more than the creation of purely aesthetically pleasing images. There is so much natural beauty in the world, even in the mundane and ordinary, that it begs the question why he would not just go and take those readily available shots in nature, with all his production crew if necessary, if his sole reason to create his images was because they were beautiful.

Instead he chooses to go to extreme, elaborate and almost obsessive lengths to perfect even the minutest detail within his photographs.  Crewdson unashamedly wants to create an atmosphere in his shots however. His use of cinematic style lighting, artificial fog and deliberately wetting the road in the photograph above, makes clear his intention that building a particular ambience to his shot creation is crucial. But it seems that this is driven by the goal of evoking more of a response from the viewer. He seems to deliberately choose to capture those times of the day which tend to make us as humans more reflective, or where we might feel a sense of insecurity or danger – at twilight or dusk.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

All Crewdson’s images seem to be single stills, lingering moments captured within a much bigger, more complex story. There are human beings in all of his images but they are always characters within a plot which is often so ambiguous that Crewdson seems to be willfully challenging us as viewers to edit our own beginnings, middle sections and endings and make our own cinematic ‘take’ on the story. It was interesting in the video to learn that Crewdson’s rather was a psychologist and he would listen through the floorboards to his father’s conversations when he was treating patients. He is premeditatedly inciting us to look beneath the surface of the characters and draw our own conclusions. Interestingly his subjects invariably have blank expressions and are almost directed to act this way for the shoot – this appears to be so that we as viewers can project our chosen state of mind onto the subject rather than obtain any obvious clues directly from the look on their faces.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal?

I think that sometimes I take photographs to replicate the beauty I see in an object or a place; I want to create a photocopy of it so that I can own a bit of it, and have it to myself. I also enjoy the challenge of making a beautiful photograph from such objects or places and improving it from the reality of the object if I can. For example, I visited the well known ‘Tulip Stairs’ at the Queen’s House in Greenwich a couple of days ago. Looking up the spiral staircase creates a wonderful impression like the curl of a seashell. Whilst the location was clearly architecturally stunning and beautiful, the staircase design delicate, I wanted to improve on what I saw as I edited the images – increasing the contrast and de-saturating the images added a dramatic impact, and taking the shot as less standard angles also provided a different perspective.

To me there is nothing wrong with having the end goal of creating a beautiful image in sight when you make a photograph. It’s not to say also, that the image itself won’t evoke different feelings and memories in others when they look at the images too. For example, the shapes in the photograph remind me of the game ‘Spirograph’ I used to play with a sa child and the tiled flooring makes me think of a roulette wheel. An image is rarely just plain beautiful, it will always conjure up an idea, or a memory in someone’s mind and means that even the very ‘low level’ or basic images can evoke a range of feelings, not just aesthetic pleasure, and therefore should not mean they are in any way diminished in stature by not being ‘complex’ enough.

Part 5 – Exercise 1 – Goodfellas Scene Setting

The brief for this exercise was to watch the scene from Goodfellas on youtube and explain what the scene says about the main character and list the clues it provides:-

The main character is clearly a main man about town. He is sharply dressed in suit, with slicked back hair, the evidence points to him already being wealthy. As the couple approach the club, the Copacabana, the main character hands his car keys to a man who is going to park the car for them and the female queries this and he downplays it – it’s easier to get someone else to park the vehicle and save him the trouble.  They bypass the queue of people waiting to go into the club indicating his VIP status. As they weave their long way through the underbelly of the building he greets all the staff like long-lost friends, but each of them gets a cash tip. This a payment for his anonymity perhaps – definitely a loyalty tip of some description.   As he pushes his way through the kitchen there is applauding but it’s not clear who this is for. None of the chefs appear to be surprised to see him so he’s obviously a regular visitor to the club, even though he occasionally barges his way through, they are unperturbed and he greets workers, jokes with them and shakes hands along the way.

I sense that the winding route through the club which leads the couple deeper and deeper is possibly a metaphor for them entering the underworld. The initial corridors are dark red and brooding, and then the walk through the kitchens was clearly not the way the general members of the public enter the club. It’s almost as though the couple were entering through a unnaturally upbeat, but simultaneously menacing labyrinth towards a seedy underworld of probable mafia and organised crime.

As the tables are unnaturally quickly set up for the couple amid waves from fellow groups of males, the main character answers his date when she asks him what he does, as ‘I’m in construction’. The irony of the words hang in the air thickly and we feel like we want to shout at the woman to ‘get out!’ while she can.

This is a great scene and it has reminded me to watch the whole film again in its entirety.