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Criticizing Photographs

Criticizing Photographs
Paper instructions:
In Criticizing Photographs, Terry Barrett explains that description is the most necessary element to good criticism. It sets the stage for the writing and make sure that every element that he or she wants known becomes visible to the reader.
On pages 17-21, Barrett deconstructs Douglas Davis’s “A ‘View of the West’”, a review of Richard Avedon’s “In the American West” (the article is attached). Use this article and Barrett’s analysis of it as a guide in constructing your paper.
Visit the Special Collections Gallery where “N. Jay Jaffee: Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947-1998” is being exhibited.
Choose one of the images presented.
Using the descriptive information laid out on pages 21-32 of Criticizing Photographs, present a factual essay describing the subject, subject matter, form, medium, and style of a single image in this body of work. Do not specifically state these topics, but instead write about the work (I should not see phrases in your paper such as “The subject matter is…”).
Next, describe the role of this work within the larger exhibition. Compare and contrast this image to other similar works within the exhibit. However, do not interpret the meaning of these works nor pass judgment on them. The goal of this paper is to offer (as Barrett puts it) “careful descriptive accounts” using “carefully constructed language.” (Barrett, 38).
When you name the image within your paper, please use the title of the image (listed as the top line of the title card next to the framed print).
Use background information (i.e. research), including the information found on the walls of the gallery, to round out your writing. Remember, background, factual information is descriptive information. NO WIKIPEDIA!
Make sure to offer a bibliography and proper citation for any of your research. You may use MLA7 citation and bibliography styles (easily put into proper format for you at easybib.com). For information found on the gallery walls, use a variation on the MLA7 style for citing a memo (found at http://thewritedirection.net/drpaper/help/05-08-mlastyle.htm#MLA69). After consultation with the UMBC Reference department, I suggest for this exhibition:
Exhibition wall copy for “N. Jay Jaffee: Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947-1998”. UMBC Library Gallery. February 7, 2014.
At a minimum, your Bibliography should contain records for each image in the exhibition that you specifically address. For example:
N. Jay Jaffee. Woman and Young Girl in Subway. Photograph. UMBC Library Gallery, Baltimore.
Specs (each missing requirement lowers your paper grade by 10%):
1. Length:
2. Bibliography required, Citations as appropriate (quote, paraphrase, summarize).
there should be almost no reason that you cite or offer bibliography for either the Barrett text or the Douglas Davis article.
Remember to list each photograph you refer to in your Bibliography.
You do not need to cite the photographs in the paper but should cite summaries, quotes, and paraphrasing from other sources.
Newsweek September 23, 1985, UNITED STATES EDITION
A ‘View of the West’ BYLINE: DOUGLAS DAVIS in Ft. Worth
SECTION: PHOTOGRAPHY; Pg. 82 LENGTH: 729 words HIGHLIGHT: Avedon trains his fashionable lens on the hard life.
In the thick of the crowd of portraits on display in Ft. Worth by famed fashion photographer Richard Avedon to document the American West, there is one immensely ambitious — and revealing — triptych. More than 10 feet long, almost 5 feet high, it is the largest image in an exhibition dominated by life-size faces and torsos. Here we stand face to face with four grimy coal miners lined up across three separate photographs. The first miner on the left is seen twice: the edge of his face and his shoulder are repeated in the middle frame as his arm encircles a friend standing beside him. But our eye is drawn most of all to the bizarre “double face” of the tall miner to the right of this frame. His right eye stares out at us from the center picture, his left eye from the other side of the black line that divides the frames. This “split” result is hypnotic and arresting. To create it, Avedon asked the tall, enigmatic miner to return three months after the first sitting. He lined up the man’s face with the earlier image on the other side of the frame — but the “new” chin on the right is cleanshaven, while the other half is heavy withbeard.
In many ways, Avedon’s long-awaited new body of work, entitled “In the American West,” is as twofaced as this miner. On the one hand, the exhibit just opened at the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, after which it will travel to six cities — has been widely advertised as a direct and unsparing view of the West, as a decisive step by Avedon away from the mannered high-fashion style that first brought him fame in the ’60s. But look again. Beneath their seeming candor and spontaneity the 124 pictures on display here (reproduced in a handsome book published by Abrams) are as contrived as the salon photography of the 19th century.
Commissioned in 1980 by the Amon Carter to Provide a “view of the West” Avedon traveled the vast region in search of the antithesis of the celebrities with whom he is identified. The quest took him to the Rattlesnake Round-up in Sweetwater, Texas, to a rodeo in Augusta, Mont., to the coal mines in Paonia, Colo. Avedon held 752 “sittings” and shot 17,000 sheets of film. In quantity alone, his project rivals the grand documentary efforts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when governments and wealthy patrons commissioned photographers like William Henry Jackson and Edward Curtis to record for posterity entire regions and peoples. Avedon’s goal was more vague. But in the end he produced, almost in spite of himself, a survey of men and women engaged in hard, unsung, physical labor. There are ranchers, housekeepers, rodeo riders and oil drillers, pig men, meatpackers and an army of unemployed drifters.
Yet Avedon is no Jackson or Curtis. As always, he pursued style, manner and effect. When he shoots and reshoots the triptych, when he persuades a boy to pose with a snake wrapped coyly around his arms, when he has a barechested beekeeper stand before the lens with scores of bees crawling across his skin, the intention is obvious. Elsewhere, the artifice is more difficult to detect. Thanks to his methods, Avedon’s subjects seem to be relaxed and “real” in front of the camera. The backgrounds in each portrait — all enlarged from uncropped, unretouched negatives — are neutral sheets of seamless white paper. The light is equally natural. The big portrait camera, an 8- by 10-inch Deardorff, permits Avedon to
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stand free, close to the subject, conversing and snapping the shutter from afar.
Deadpan Stare: But in the end, particularly in a crowded show like this one, the “new” Avedon look — the deadpan stare into the camera, the slouch of the body, the cropped arm or head at the edge of the frame — becomes as fixed and predictable as any style. Some of the portraits, such as that of the burly lumber salesman holding his impassive baby upside down or the big coal miner whose face is painted with rock dust, are certain classics. But this is not what Avedon intended. He sought the illusion of nonpresence. In his own words, he wants us to believe “that the person in the photograph was always there . . . was not even in the presence of a photographer.” In this sense, Avedon’s exhibition is a failure. It documents not the West, not the worker, but himself, and his own determined, exhilarating pursuit of the perfect photographic style.

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