Rinko Kawauchi Influence

In an earlier post I was talking about the photogram’s I have created in relation to photographs, such as the one below. I was wanting to include some photographs because I think they add something different to the body of work that photogram’s don’t, which is more of an emotional response. The photogram’s are clinical in their appearance whereas the photograph here creates more of a reaction.

Lee Hassall Image 1This idea of using a series of photographs to stimulate emotion as a way of telling a narrative, is something I experienced at an exhibition of Rinko Kawauchi’s work a few years ago. It was at the photographers gallery, when Kawauchi was nominated for the Deutsche Börse photography prize 2012. The body of work featuring in this exhibition was ‘Illuminance’, which has also been published within a book format. I thought the experience of viewing the book was translated successfully into an exhibition display, as in the book there are pairings of striking photographs, a mixture of abstract and figurative subjects that take the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions, which was apparent in the exhibition as well. One moment you may be looking at an abstract image that has a soft colour palette, causing you to transcend into a dreamlike state and in contrast to this you are met with a grotesque picture of bloody eye balls pulling you out of this peaceful state.

The writing accompanying the photographs in the book talks about how Kawauchi’s photographs are reminiscent of a child’s curious perception of the world. Focusing on small, easily overlooked details within life and bringing them into question, presenting the viewer with a dilemma as to how something as repulsive as a dead bird could look beautiful at the same time.

Kawauchi 3

So I am going to try and replicate this method Kawauchi has used as a way of stimulating emotions out of the viewer. For example I have taken another photograph (below), which I would like to include in the series as I think it says something different to everything else I have at the moment. The bird appears quite majestic and hopeful, something I think will be read similarly by others as it’s quite a universal sign. It’ll be an interesting contrast within the body of work that is all about the discrimination of a demographic.



Seascape Series

In an earlier post I discussed a diptych I had created (below), which was inspired by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascapes. Originally I thought the boat disrupting the tranquil, secure environment of the seascape (as Sugimoto describes it) was an appropriate analogy for the way countries such as Uganda are hindering the progression of equal rights for the LGB community. But recently I have noticed more disturbing oppressive behaviour much closer to home.

Seascape Diptych Low resFormer Labour minister David Lammy responded to numerous homophobic and racist comments coming from the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) members, Lammy said ‘the country was “on the cusp of a serious bit of self-mutilation”in backing UKIP. “Many of its candidates are saying terible things about people who are gay.”

One of the first oppressive comments that I came across from a UkIP member was from UKIP counciller David Silvester who had blamed the storms across Britain earlier this year on the governments decision to legalise gay marriage. But the most recent comment made by a UKIP member was from Paul Forrest, a local election candidate in Liverpool, who had ‘linked homosexuality to pedophilia’. Forrest had said that ‘gay men are “ten times more likely” to be child abusers than “normal men”‘. Not only has this candidate made oppressive comments regarding gay men he’s also targeted religious groups, describing the catholic church as “the antichrist” and the “end of Islam is coming and that it’s followers who refuse to turn to christ will be gone”. It has also emerged that a stockport UKIP candidate refereed to Islam as ‘evil’ and “Pakistan should be ‘nuked'”.

UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has consistently made homophobic comments, stating that same-sex relationships are not worthy of the same respect as ‘traditional’ relationships and that the public should be aloud to openly dislike gay people. Roger Helmer says “marriage is defined by history, culture and reproductive biology and deserves special respect in society. (I am) perfectly relaxed about other relationships but they don’t justify the same respect”. Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, has attempted to defend the views Helmer has about homosexuality. The reason for this being that ‘”most” over 70’s feel uncomfortable about gays’. Farage has attempted to justify Hemlmers comments by saying grew ‘grew up with a strong christian bible background’ and that he grew up in a time when ‘homosexuality was actually imprisonable’.

For the leader of the party to try and excuse these comments made by an MEP is quite worrying for the LGB community, especially as they are growing in popularity. It appears that these comments are being overlooked  and brushed aside, seeing as they carry on to gain power. The affects of a political party who have these views gaining power would be devastating to gay rights in this country.

In response to this I have developed the diptych above to the series of photographs below. Extending the seascape so that this horizon is exaggerated, as a result exaggerating the secure environment as described by Sugimoto. But still having the boat within the scene to disrupt the seascape’s clean, perfect horizon. I’ve decided to print the photographs small so that the viewer is tempted to step in close to the photographs and become immersed within the seascape.

Panaramic View

I have also experimented by making an animation with the two original images in the diptych, as a way of representing this coming and going of a secure environment. But I have decided to use he series of photographs to address the topic discussed within this post.




Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascapes are a peaceful vision. Very simple photographs made up of just water, air and a horizon the divides the image in two, this is the entirety of the image.

Seascape 1 Seascape 2 Seascape 3

“Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract
attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence.
The beginnings of life are shrouded in myth: Let there water and air. Living phenomena
spontaneously generated from water and air in the presence of light, though that could
just as easily suggest random coincidence as a Deity. Let’s just say that there happened
to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right
distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly
inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe,
we search in vain for another similar example.
Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view
the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a
voyage of seeing.” – Hiroshi Sugimoto

In this quote Sugimoto talks about the seascape having a calming secure affect on the viewer. About knowing you are safe and belong in this place because the conditions on this planet are perfect for our existence.

The part ‘I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home’ refers to the seascape as being fixed in time. It remains a constant throughout time and is the same sight that the ancient world looked out upon and remains undisturbed.

I have recently visited the North East of England, staying in a place not far from the coast. Seeing the seascapes here reminded me of this series by Sugimoto, and that calming security that is conveyed in his work.

This seemed appropriate to include in my own work, as advances are being made in our society where it has become easier to live openly gay. Yet this isn’t a progression that can be seen in other countries that seem to be taking a backward approach to the liberalisation of the LGB community.

This report from The Guardian shows anti-gay activist celebrating the passing of anti-gay laws in Uganda. This ‘Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act’ sentences gay people o life in prison, within this bill the death penalty was first proposed before settling with life imprisonment.

This is why in the seascapes I have taken (shown below), I have included a disturbance upon the horizon. As a diptych you get that sense of a wide open, undisturbed space with this slight imperfection to the right of the horizon. Within this almost empty and peaceful image that tiny imperfection is magnified by the fact nothin else in the frame distracts from it.

My interpretation of this seascape is that it is peaceful and comforting and that ship on the horizon is a distraction from the security the seascape offers, as described by Sugimoto.

Seascape Diptych Low res


Photograms of Insects

Following on from an earlier blog post I have carried on an idea, which has led me to create this new series of photograms (shown below). It was inspired by the photograph below it. This photograph had reminded me of the way in which homosexuals are portrayed within Russian society. Being an inconvenient pest, that are treated poorly and have very little rights.

Insect Grid

Lee Hassall Image 1The reason for choosing to create photograms is because I feel it offers more of an objective representation of the subject, free from a photographers vision. It’s a lot simpler and standardised in how it is represented.

Gerry Badger describes the photogram as being both “figurative and abstract at the same time”. What seems like a contradictory statement actually makes sense. The forms of the subjects depicted in the photograms are familiar to real life objects that we can recognise as being insects, yet the harshly contrasted black and white aesthetic of the photograms are far from being realistic.

This departure from a photographers interpretation of the subjects, I believe offers more of a clinical distant view of the subject. Whereas the photograph below the photograms provokes more of an emotion out of the viewer; it appears sad, isolated and insignificant, which I don’t get as a reading from the photograms.

The photogram and the photograph offer different things, which I want both of in my final piece. I want the objective, universally recognisability of the photogram and I want the emotional reaction you can get from a photograph. It is because of this I am now starting to consider exhibiting a mixture of photograms and photographs in my final piece.

In an earlier post I discussed the conditions within Russia. How hatred is encouraged to be fueled towards the LGB community. This being done in several ways, for example the outlawing of making neutral comments about homosexuality and only allowing negative expressions to be made about the sexuality. Or the fact that homophobic attacks go unpunished, making it appear acceptable to abuse people from this community.

Russia intends to depict homosexuality as scum, pests, insignificant beings worthy of extermination. Something that can easily be exterminated, a pest within society. So if you think about their hierarchy of society, homosexuality (like insects within the food chain) are at the lowest level.

Lee Hassall Image 1I came across this image I have that reflected this issue to me, how insignificant a life can be treated. It’s easy to almost miss the bug, and could easily be mistaken for an imperfection within the image, a smudge on the lens perhaps. Once realising the subject, you notice how fragile the insect is, and even though you notice it’s life has left it you feel very little (if any) sadness, because it’s so insignificant. It’s life is not worthy of any emotional remorse.

The cold distant response I get from the subject in this photograph is how I feel the conditions are currently within Russia. A similar lack of respect for this insect reflects the lack of respect for people within the LGB community. The casual act of exterminating a pest seems reminiscent of the ease in which homophobic attacks are carried out in Russia.



Felix Gonzalez Torres Interview with Robert Storr

Thoughts I’ve taken away from an interview I found on this Felix Gonzalez Torres website, between Torres and Robert Storr.

Art and politics are inseparable. There are those works that appear more political and so you list them off as being political artists, but all art is making some comment or interaction with society. Therefore on some level art is political.

From reading this interview it appears that Torres is a gay activist, but not as obvious and blatant about it. He doesn’t flaunt work that is obviously referencing gay men. He talks about being a spy, about disguising yourself in a mask in order to get at the center of a group, and once you’re in this position you can really effectively create change and make your impact. Because “The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack”, which is a perfect quote taken from this interview that sums up what he is attempting with his work, and the enemy in this case being the artist making work referencing homosexual desires. By not making something obviously offensive, the viewer is going to find it hard to attack it and be critical of the work. He describes his work as being more inclusive, so that everything ends up have a “sexual mission, the walls, the pavement, everything.”

He talks about when Senator Stevens comes to the opening of one of his exhibitions. Calling the senator one of the “most homophobic anti-art senators”, and that he came to the show looking for offensive images of phallic symbols of penises and asses. Looking for very limited ideas about objects of desirability for gay men, but was encountered with ordinary objects that don’t have these associations with homosexuality. It would be very difficult to explain how two clocks on a wall side by side is pornographic and homoerotic.

And whilst these works weren’t overtly homoerotic they infiltrated the mind of the viewer, and every time they look at a clock or pair of curtains from now on they are going to be confronted with these connotations of homosexuality.

Torres Clocks

Torres Curtains

In my proposal I talk about wanting my work to speak to people outside of the gay community, not wanting the message to be restricted to this relatively small demographic. What I also realise is that other gay people are already included in these issues, it is already happening to them and so it would seem pointless to create work that facilitates them. I want my work to make people outside the community feel as if these cases of inequality relate to them, to make it their problem as well as ours. After all it is fellow human beings that are being attacked by these prejudices, not just that separate social demographic that has nothing to with us.

In order to do this I have to be careful in choosing the subject matter in my work, making sure not to choose ones that only relate to homosexuality. So far I have shown keys in my work, as keys are free of associations with a sexual orientation, they are as Torres puts it ‘inclusive’.


Nicholas Nixon: People With Aids

From very early on in the outbreak of the aids epidemic it was known as a ‘gay plague’, because the gay community was one of the first within well developed countries to catch the virus. Visual representations of aids often featured gay men as victims and this is exemplified in Nicholas Nixon’s body of work ‘People With Aids’.

This work gave aids a body, an image, that showed victims as being weak and defenceless against this disease and some of his subjects, such as the ones below were gay. Nixons portraits show that the issue wasn’t a social one, which could affect anyone, but instead he individualised it and showed these suffering individuals as the face of aids. This led to them being portrayed as ill outcasts, stigmatised for their illness.

These visual representations of the gay man are what Felix Gonzalez-Torres was challenging with his work, mentioned in a previous blogpost.

Nicholas Nixon Nicholas Nixon 2

Duane Michals: The Unfortunate Man

Duane Michals: I am Gay from Leslie-Lohman Museum on Vimeo.

During this talk that Duane Michals gives at the Leslie & Lohman museum of gay and lesbian art, he discusses many of his photographic series, but there is just one he mentions that I am focussing on: ‘The Unfortunate Man’

The Unfortunate Man


“The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved.
It had been declared illegal by the law.
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet.
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain.
It never occurred to him to break the law”

This is the text that is written beneath the photograph in the artists handwriting. Duane Michals doesn’t just photograph the surface of the subject and accept it as fact, instead his photographs display more of an insight. He talks about wanting to penetrate beneath what is being shown and understand the emotion and feeling of a scene.

When he is discussing this photograph he talks about not letting other people define you, because if you do then you will never be free. Not to let the law, the church or the public define you or else you will be limited to what they say you are and want you to be.

‘The Unfortunate Man’ is used as an example, for a situation which many gay people find themselves in. Because “it never occurred to him to break the law” this character let the law define him, restrict him, stopping him from being free.

This work has helped to clarify the direction my research is headed. Challenging beliefs and ideas of gay people through various representations, is a re-occuring theme throughout the research I have been doing. From analysing the characters Charles Hawtrey and Rock Hudson and how they challenged the notion of masculinity to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s attempt to dis-associate the the homosexual body from the Aids epidemic. There are still areas that gay people need further representation, and I have already identified the lack of representation within sport, which could further challenge beliefs.


Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Untitled

In 1991 the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres created a photograph of an unmade bed, featuring two pillows that still had impressions left upon them as if someone had just lay there. This photograph is a memorial to the artists partner Ross Laycock, who died of aids in 1991, and has been left untitled.

In 1992 this photograph was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but the image didn’t remain within the confines of the gallery space, it had also been displayed at the same time on 24 billboards around the city.

Torres 3

Torres 2

Torres 1

(Keating 2009) Discusses the effects this work has had, explaining how these photographs displayed upon billboards will have appeared quite ambiguous to pedestrians passing by, a screen usually reserved for displaying images used to sell a product is instead exhibiting an artwork. Of course it’s context doesn’t suggest its an artwork and with no prior knowledge of the artist the viewer would be completely unaware of its purpose. Instead they would have to rely upon what the image signifies in order to construct a meaning. A bed could mean several things and could change depending on who is reading the image, for example it could be a place of solitude, relaxation or sexual activity. But the impressions left upon the pillows and the crumpled sheets suggest a body has just left the scene, and this absence of the body could suggests loss or even death.

From the start of the aids epidemic the gay man was depicted as a helpless victim of the disease. When the disease was first noticed within gay men “our homophobic culture produced an illness which was restricted to the (homosexual) body and it’s engagement in deviant sex.” – Kelly T Keating

“The British historian Jeffery weeks states: On a world scale most people living with HIV and Aids are not gay. Most are poor, black and many are women. But despite all the government sponsored education campaigns, the scientific papers and the documentaries, and common sense perceptions, Aids and gayness are indissolubly linked. To be diagnosed HIV positive, to live with HIV disease, is to risk being diagnosed as homosexual.”

During the Aids epidemic the association between the disease and the homosexual body became so strong they conflated into one. But what Gonzalez-Torres did with ‘Untitled’, by leaving the bed absent of a body was leaving Aids without a body to associate with. He was beginning to disrupt that link between the disease and the homosexual. The loss, grief and death, which is signified within the photo, becomes the product of Aids, not the homosexual body.

Picbod Summary

Going back to the first weeks lecture on the self portrait and looking over the Phillip Gefter quote, about whether or not the portrait is in fact a self  portrait of the photographer, I am able to gain a new understanding as to what my project is about. I have been thinking of this project in a very structured way, in that I’ve been seeing the pictures i’ve taken of a certain person as portraits of that person, but in fact they are all portraits of myself and they actually tell you very little about the people within them. They are just documents of exterior shells that aren’t very revealing.

Creating the digital artefact was a very refreshing process as it added another layer to the project and gave me a new perspective on it. By adding in moving images and sound taken from these environments it gave another sense to the project and for me it completely changed the narrative of the series. Viewing the finished piece came as a bit of a shock as I realised I didn’t fully understand what I was creating until it had happened, as it was quite an organic process a fully thought through end product. I knew I wanted to incorporate video and sound with the images to show what my project had evolved out of but I get quite an eery sense from viewing the video, which wasn’t my intention but  quite like.

I started out by photographing my tribe, a theme that was defined by Nan Goldin, who also heavily influenced my project. Her work titled ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ has been something that I have referred to numerous times in the past and feel it has inevitably fed into the way I approached this project. Her work documents an intimate connection with the people closest to her and when viewing Goldin’s work it becomes very difficult to separate her from the people within the photographs, as she is so attached and has a strong relationship with them. I find when looking at the physical artefact of my project it is difficult to separate myself from the photographs as they are an autobiography.

Through the action of taking these photographs I was making a comment on myself, or trying to make sense of myself. Through developing my understanding of ‘The Tribe’  I was able to make these discoveries, as it enabled me to see the intimate connections and that I had a unique insight into my own life. Nothing any one has or can ever see. People may be able to relate to it, having had similar experiences but the unique aspect of the project is that nobody will view these spaces and these people with the same perspective I have. This is because I shape and bring about these moments, I control the response I get from my subjects, whether I am conscious of it or not.