Photography – A Beginner’s Guide – Conceptual Photography [Christopher Williams] – An article by Goff James

Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and another update in my photography Beginner’s Guide to Photography.

This week I will be, again, taking a look at Conceptual Photography and looking at an image by Christopher Williams.

As I have stated in previous articles one can learn so much about photography by looking at; and, talking about other photographers’ work.

Conceptual Photography may be defined as;

  • a means to stage a false reality, or capture an idea.

  • being the idea (or concept) behind a work is more important than the finished art object.

  • concerning theconcept of a photo, its message whether it be political, social commentary or an emotional outcry,
  • as possessingsome level of abstraction,
  • as not being an explicit example of a concept, but a general expression of an idea.

Christopher Williams, Kodak Three Point Reflection Guide © 1968 Eastman Kodak Company, 1968 (Meiko laughing), Vancouver, B.C., 2005

The image, close cropped within the frame, presents a female model with one yellow towel wrapped around her hair and another around her bust.

The model is offset to the right side of the frame and takes up two thirds of the vertical and horizontal space.

The image presents a staged  re-photographing of a Kodak illustration taken from an instruction manual for amateur photographers published in 1968.

The image overtly displays the typically hidden device of the Kodak colour bar—the “Three Point Reflection Guide”  which was used by photographers to measure the trueness of a colour in a coloured image.

Consequently the dynamic tension within the image is accentuated with its inclusion in the portrait of the model.

The dominant colour within the image is the vibrant yellow an acknowledgement to Kodak’s advertising signature colour.

The pose echoes the functionality of catalogue shots, but invests the subject with the unreal sheen of advertising.

The relative pristine simplicity of the compositional elements of the image – the minimalist light palette of colours and the subject isolated against the jet-black background reveals the unexpected beauty and cultural resonance of commercial, industrial and instructional photography.

The immediate appeal of this image is the subversive manner in which CW draws attention to both photography as a process and the portrayal of an ideal feminine image. CW  parodies aesthetic conventions of photographic representation, in particular, advertising imagery.

On first glance, this image appears to be a pristine, even sterile, commercial photograph, its model flashing the clean smile fetishised by contemporary advertising as if culled from brand fashion catalogues and magazines.

Once the image has been divorced from its original function, the first thing that is observed is not a photo that shows a woman who has just washed her hair; but, one that shows a model undertaking her daily strenuous job and the strains and pressures that she has to maintain to keep the artificial facade of ideal beauty for the length of time a photoshoot takes.

Upon closer inspection the image, with its shallow depth of field, reveals the artificiality of the scenario.

This is accentuated through use of the older subject and the minor imperfections that remain on her skin.

The creation of shaped shadow under the nose of the subject and under the cheeks and chin indicates placing the main light source above and directly behind the camera.

The angle of the shoot appears to indicate that the photographer was positioned underneath the light source and is use particularly for creating glamour style shots as it flatters the complexion of older subjects as it emphasises wrinkles less than side lighting.

Using these various devices the subject is released from her commercial moorings and appears both ordinary and vulnerable.

The image is technically precise recalling pre contemporary imagery and advertising, as well as invoking histories of art, photography and cinema.

The subversive nature of the image explores the use of photography as a medium in modern commercial advertising through questioning the stage sets of the art world and the publicity structures on which they rely.

The image’s provocative narrative draws the viewer’s attention to question photography’s integrity in a commercial orientated society: what it is, what it does and what it means at a time when it is so ubiquitous, covert and taken for granted.

Through the image’s narrative the viewer is led to review their own stance with regard to why there was a need to use a picture of a semi-clothed woman as an aid to learning how to take a picture – and whether this concept remains in situ in today’s modern world.

I trust that you find some of these ideas useful within the context of your own photography.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and allow different ideas to develop as you go along.

Remember what I referred to in previous articles about taking photos and creating photograms; the same applies to considering your own photos, other photographers’ work as well as applying different artist’s ideas too.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

Remember there are no right or wrong answers or ways of doing it.

Your photographs are your world.

You can do what you like. 

Don’t worry about the theory and trying to remember everything about how to take or consider how to look at or stage a photograph.

Don’t worry about what you might think is right or wrong in talking about or taking photographs.

 Make mistakes. Laugh. Have funJust enjoy the process.

Happy Photography. 

Thank you for your visit.

Art Photography Poetry

Reference List