How Do Portraits Communicate Cultural Identity Part 2


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Portraits have been used to portray people from many cultures. The photographer can play an important part in how the person is perceived through manipulation of the subject, the setting or the camera's controls. How do portraits communicate cultural identity? This essay looks at the history of portraiture specifically where it has been used to present cultural identity.

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How Do Portraits Communicate Cultural Identity Part 2

  1. 1. demonstrate that he belonged to this movement. One of his most famous images is of the two lovers walking past the Hôtel de Ville, in a passionate embrace. Doisneau may have been one of the influences for a number of young photographers of the time. There appears to have been a number of photographers whom adopted this style and genre. During the 1970’s in the U.K. the photographer David Hurn was making a photographic study of Wales. The book was eventually published to celebrate the millennium exhibition organized by the National Museums and Galleries of Wales. Over a period of twenty years, Hurn photographed the changes taking place in Wales. Hurn’s family were Welsh whilst he was born in England. Hurn refers to this fact as a spectre permanently hanging over him. He cites the exploration of this dichotomy as the driving stimulation in trying to understand his culture. Hurn explains, ‘I have wanted to discover my place in Wales and explore my contact with fellow Welsh’. (David Hurn, 2000, pg12). The book is a form of portrait of Wales and the Welsh. It is as such a portrayal of the people places and items, which make up the Welsh Identity mirrored through the lens of a photographer searching for identity. The images are a record of the old and the new. Looking at the images one can recognise specific characteristics peculiar to the Welsh. There are stereotypical symbols such as the leek, rugby, mines, sheepdog trials, chapels, steelworks and choirs, etc. Alongside these are images of Japanese hi tech factories and Welsh Assembly elections. The writer Patrick Hannan has written the preface for the book. Hannan recognises the importance of Hurn’s photographs as a portrait of Wales and the Welsh. He sees them as capturing the nature of Wales and its people. Hannan describes how in 1994 he was asked to travel to Seattle to deliver some bad news to the Welsh Association. Hannan’s message was that Wales had disappeared. Hannan suggests that the image of Wales the Welsh exiles were carrying around was erratically familiar: ‘Of a nation of Welsh-speaking, chapel-going, hymn-singing, rugby-playing, coal-mining, iron- making, slate-cutting, sheep-farming, look-you-troglodytes peering truculently through a permanent light drizzle’. (Patrick Hannan, 2000, pg6). One could argue that many of these things still exist in Wales but to a lesser degree. The Welsh man or woman today may feel more comfortable relating to an image of themselves as an hotelier, a computer programmer, a television producer, etc. 1
  2. 2. Patrick Hannan briefly refers to the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff in his preface. He describes it as ‘hectic, cosmopolitan, tumultuous, vivid and dangerous, in the way the world’s great sea ports are’. (Patrick Hannan, 2000, pg9). There are no visual depictions of this in the book. The people of Tiger Bay have been glossed over in this portrait of Wales. One could justifiably agree with anyone with the view that the portrait is incomplete. There are a number of characteristics, which have been omitted. Within Hurn’s book, there is a distinct lack of images representing the presence of other cultures within Wales. There is one image of a group of Asian women on the beachfront at Rhyl. Hurn notes, ‘My exploration is personal, thus many aspects have been ignored. What is passed over is mainly through lack of time and space’. (David Hurn, 2000, pg 12) He goes on to say that he is inspired by love and directed by intelligence. He states that his own truth is the ultimate criterion. David Hurn has recorded this transition and change of National cultural identity. The image of big pit with French students and their teacher dressed in miners clothing epitomises the decline of one industry, mining, and the rise of another, tourism. Cultural identities become entwined. The French look like the Welsh. Welsh culture has undergone an identity crisis. The Welsh language, which is seen as central to the culture declined under English rule. School children were punished for speaking their native tongue. This lasted to the point where the language became threatened. A resurgence in the language and success through sport, celebrity and other avenues has meant that in recent times Wales rediscovered an identity. ‘Cool Cymru’ became a buzzword based on the success of Welsh celebrities. Wales was no longer an outpost of England, Great Britain. Through politics and the mass media it found a new voice and devolution. Post-modern Wales and the Welsh are now concerned with self government, the internet, feminism, equal rights, the environment, heritage, self image, immigration and hi tech industries amongst others. Hannan believes that it is only through our history that one can discover the present condition. ‘We live in a museum culture and what we once were is in the process of being tidied away. Except in old photographs, how can I discover, any young person might now ask, the land of my father’. (Patrick Hannan, 2000, pg9). Hannan believes that the answer lies in the photographs of David Hurn. In 2000, David Hurn returned to the Butetown area of Cardiff to photograph the changes. 2
  3. 3. Ian Berry was born and raised in Preston, North of England. Berry made his reputation as a photojournalist with his reporting from South Africa. In 1960, he was the only photographer to document the massacre at Sharpeville. His photographs were subsequently used in the trial proving the victim’s innocence. In 1962 while based in Paris he was invited to join the Magnum Photo Agency. He moved to London in 1964 to become the first contract photographer for the Observer Magazine. Assignments have taken him worldwide documenting Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, conflicts in Israel, Ireland, Vietnam and Zaire, famine in Ethiopia and apartheid in South Africa. In the 1970’s Berry set out to make a professional photographic record of England and the English. The images represent the photographer’s personal exploration of English life. Most of the photographs were taken at around the same time as David Hurn started his project. This genre of documenting cultural identity had been showcased during the late 1950’s when the ‘Family of Man’ exhibition travelled the U.K. Both photographers would have been starting out in their prospective careers at this time. Berry was given an Arts Council Photography Bursary to complete the project. In the foreword to the book Berry writes, ‘I set out to record what I saw professionally. But in spite of a journalistic purpose I am drawn to visual situations. Many areas of life are difficult to access to a photographer. I have had to select my favourite photographs and that must militate against a comprehensive view. In the end such a book can only offer a personal and partial view of what one has seen. Readers must draw their own conclusions about the photographs and what they add up to’. (Ian Berry, 1978, inside cover). There is a different feel to Berry’s pictures of sheep farmers and working men and women to those of David Hurn’s. He comments, ‘I was in the odd situation of being English and knowing very little about England, having spent much of my life abroad’ (Ian Berry, 1978, inside cover). Berry’s images give a sense that the land and agriculture is the prerogative of the landed gentry. We see the English dressed in tweeds and hunting attire very much in control of the land and the working classes there to assist them. Hurn’s farmers and workers stand shoulder to shoulder as equals. 3
  4. 4. The images in the book juxtapose the contrasting lifestyles of the working classes as opposed to the upper classes. As with David Hurn’s book, land of my father, we see stereotypical images of working class men and women at work and during recreation. We see depravation, Squalor and harshness of life. The working man and woman are both black and white. There are also significantly more images of black people in Berry’s book. Hurn’s portrait of the Welsh has a slightly more romantic appearance. The only harshness we see is a girl in a lavatory injecting herself. There appears to be a distinct divide within the English identity that Berry presents. These juxtapositions are apparent in many of Berry’s images. The porter struggling to push a heavily laden trolley whilst the toff elegantly strolls by without noticing him. The man in waistcoat and bracers trotting the horse in front of its owner. These are images, which many inside and outside England would recognise as representations of the English identity. Essentially divided between the haves and have-nots. The quintessential Englishman at home in his castle with a plethora of working class servants to maintain his empire. Remnants from a colonial empire long lost and redistributed to the civilised natives. Berry himself spent a considerable amount of time in other countries. The photo book describes Berry as someone who was in a position to look at England from the outside. One could argue that his portrayal of the English is not how the native English man or woman would want to see him or herself. Martin Parr took up the baton and presented the U.K. warts and all in glorious colour. Parr has documented life in a variety of social classes within the U.K. His early work documented life in Hebden Bridge, a Northern town. Parr went on to document life at New Brighton a working class resort in Liverpool. These bright and garish images received both praise and criticism. Praise from the photographic fraternity and criticism from the liberal upper and middle classes. In answer to his critics, he turned the lens on the middle classes. Influenced by photographers such as William Eggleston, Bill Owens, Joel Meyerowitz and Gary Winongrand, Parr has been prolific in his recording and collecting imagery from around the world. His images have defined social classes, cultural identity and mirrored the peculiarities of every day life. His use of colour for documentary photography was a welcome change to the traditional black and white imagery. He used a ring flash, which rendered the colours to extremes. 4
  5. 5. Val Williams writes the introduction to the book ‘Martin Parr’. Williams suggests that Parr is a product of suburbia in the 50’s and 60’s, an outsider, belonging nowhere, with no allegiances and hardly any preferences. This description appears to sit well with a number of social documentary photographers. Williams refers to the climate of the 1970’s as confronting a legacy of bad post-war social engineering and poor quality building. As with Berry’s English and Hurn’s Welsh, Parr was recording the disappearance of industrial communities. Williams defines Parr’s photography as, ‘a visual extravaganza; a large and skilfully honed collection of aesthetic devices that are used not just to define a social point or to underline a cultural statement, but for their own sake, in celebration of photography’s singularity as a still, two dimensional image acting as a mirror to the way we live’. (Val Williams, 2002, pg10). Martin Parr’s approach could be likened to the German photographer, August Sanders. Parr and Sanders photographs are concerned with typology and resemble a scientist studying a species. In Parr’s case, this could be attributed to a childhood of bird watching followed in his youth by train spotting. In documenting these types like Sanders, he has emphasised the individual’s identities. Parr has created a cultural portrait of the British with all the realities of how we dress, eat, work, play and interact often with an uncomfortable honesty. Parr has also travelled extensively around the world and documented the absurd using his unique style. Recently he has collaborated with John Shuttleworth on a film about people up North. He has also returned to the upper classes documenting the Cambridge May Ball. Parr is seen as the darling of the U.K.’s documentary photographers. He says of his style ‘I go straight in very close to people and I do that because it's the only way you can get the picture. You go right up to them. Even now, I don't find it easy. I don't announce it. I pretend to be focusing elsewhere. If you take someone's photograph it is very difficult not to look at them just after. But it's the one thing that gives the game away. I don't try and hide what I'm doing - that would be folly’. (Martin Parr, 1989, British Journal of Photography). In the series, The Last Resort, he documents life at a working class seaside resort, New Brighton in Liverpool. The images have an extremely raw quality. We see people spending their leisure time amongst piles of litter, polluted water, decaying buildings machinery and queuing for endless amounts of chips, hot dogs and ice creams. Parr comments that ‘I looked around at what my colleagues were doing, and asked myself, 'What relationship has it with what's going on?' I found there was a great distortion of contemporary life. Photographers 5
  6. 6. were interested only in certain things. A visually interesting place, people who were either very rich or very poor, and nostalgia’. (Martin Parr, 1989, www.photoquotes). From the 1970’s onwards post modernism explored issues of personal identity. How it is constructed and understood. This has included relationships between individuality, social role, cultural, sexual and gender stereotypes. Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman were completing a series of self-portraits exploring these themes. Shearer West suggests that in terms of portraiture ‘there has been a greater self-consciousness on the part of artists about age, gender, ethnicity, nationality and other signs of their sitter’s identity. This was evident in the work of a number of artists during this period including the Artist Ingrid Pollard. Pollard’s ‘Pastoral Interlude’ was commissioned for the group exhibition of black British photographers, which toured Britain in the late 1980’s. Widely exhibited since it comments on prevailing forms of representation. Pollard comments that ‘It is really a metaphor, a skeleton on which I explore ideas about place, space and where we all fit into the world scheme… I see myself as a representative of a world majority culture. I may have a fixed idea of my place and identity but this changes depending on the context I am placed in by others. That flux is fascinating and a major concern in my work…’ (Ingrid Pollard, 2002, pg197) art and photography During the eighties there was social unrest in some of Britain’s largest cities. There were civil disturbances in Brixton, London. The miner’s strikes and Poll Tax marches saw public clashes with authority. The Punk movement was calling the Queen a moron. Tensions were running high amongst the black youth and the police. A white policeman had been hacked to death reportedly by a black man. The Tory government were advocating short sharp shocks for young offenders. The media were struggling to print any good news relating to Black culture. In this photograph by Sonia Boyce a black female is about to kiss or be kissed by a white male. The image can be interpreted in any number of ways. It may shock some whilst being inspirational to others. Boyce explains ‘Being a black woman is a perpetual struggle to be heard and appreciated as a human being’. (Sonia Boyce, 1996, pg58). Boyce has said, all of her work since the mid 1980’s examines the common experiences of black people, from South Africa to Surrey, questioning why society and the media consistently view black men and women as belonging to a separate, if neighbouring world. Mixed marriages have now become commonplace. An image of this type today would not be deemed as subversive and considered more as a true type. 6
  7. 7. Channel 4 was launched in the 80’s and was heralded as the alternative cultural channel. Powell suggests that this gave rise to a greater presence and an emergence of black media companies. He believes that these companies had their roots in the ideologies of postmodernism and cultural studies. Powell suggests that the films and videos that the companies produced reinvigorated an artistic cross examination of identity, culture and history. The 80’s also saw a rise in the representation of black artists and performers. Lenny Henry was warmly welcomed as one of Britain’s funniest men. Frank Bruno was taken to the hearts of the nation in his boxing career. Trevor MacDonald became the anchorman for News At Ten. Black families were appearing in television soaps a world away from the stereotypical 70’s programmes such as Love Thy Neighbour. One could argue that the positive presence of black people in the media and on our television screens ensured a smooth absorption into British culture. This transition is by no way complete and there is a media view that a black subculture is still newsworthy. The British public as a whole more readily accepts these images. There is a greater black presence than ever within government and on T.V. screens. Black politicians, supermodels, film stars, pop stars, etc. We have now become accustomed to seeing more black people being represented as successful unless presented as a subculture. Subcultures are cultural groups within a main culture. Often they define themselves by opposing that main culture in various ways. For example, Rastafarians see themselves as disagreeing with at least some of the values of mainstream British culture, and certainly have distinct characteristics of their own. The stereotypical view is that they have dreadlocks, smoke ganja and listen to reggae music. Thus a portrait of a Rastafarian may include some of these traits. A portrait depicting the Rasta as an Oxbridge don in hat and gown may not be the perception of many but it may exist. In his book, More Than Meets The Eye, Graeme Burton defines the true stereotype as, ‘a simplified representation of human appearance, character and beliefs’. (Graeme Burton, 1990, pg830). He believes that the stereotype is established through years of representation in the media. He also attributes assumptions in everyday conversation as a contributing factor. Burton claims that the stereotype is a distortion of the original type because it is an exaggeration and simplification. He argues that the stereotype is instantly recognisable through key details of appearance. Burton states that, ‘It has attached to it implicit judgements about the character (covert value messages). (Graeme Burton, 1990, pg83). Burton supports the theory that stereotypes are not necessarily bad. He makes the point that, ‘It depends on how they are used and what value judgements 7
  8. 8. they unlock’. (Graeme Burton, 1990, pg83). The portrait can also be subverted to counter stereotypes associated with an individual’s cultural identity. The photographer Jason Evans worked with stylist Simon Foxton on a set of images for the 1980’s magazine I-D. The magazine had pioneered the expansion of fashion photography into social documentary through portraiture of young people on the streets. Evans produced images where the subjects pose and setting subverted stereotypical associations. This was an experimental approach, which combined portraiture, documentary and fashion photography. In this image, a young black male stands confidently outside a reasonably large house. He is dressed in a blazer, cravat and brogues. He appears the epitome of an English gentleman. One can see how this would present as a subversion of a stereotype in the 1980’s. The photographer has succeeded in presenting a subversive image. It remains to be seen if this was the preferred reading. Preferred reading refers to the way in which an article is so written or a programme is so constructed that the audience is subconsciously pressured into preferring (reading) one meaning into that material rather than any other meaning. Representations of people are constructed through image signs in the media. What those images mean or stand for is also represented. Making no apologies for her style and form of representation, the New York Photographer Coreen Simpson was producing portraits of black youth. Simpson was responding to stereotypical representations of blacks. The young men and women she photographed were considered outcasts, the written off. She captioned the portraits with “The Soul of Our People”. In the late 80’s the fashion model and singer Grace Jones used music, video and photography to shatter mainstream expectations of black popular culture. She worked with the photographer and video director Jean-Paul-Goude. The videos ‘A One Man Show’ and ‘A State Of Grace’ called upon the earlier imagery including, Minstrels, l’art negre, Carmen Miranda and Harlem zoot suits. Powell has compared Grace Jones’ exhibitionism, persona and posture to the African American dancer, Josephine Baker. Richard Powell also suggests that the work of the artist Renee Cox was preoccupied with a perceived progression towards a market driven blackness. 8
  9. 9. ‘Throughout the 1990’s this artist exhumed (and frequently laid bare) society’s racial, sexual and gender-informed stereotypes in her large photographs’. (Richard J. Powell, 1997, pg231). In one of her photographs titled, The Liberation of Lady J. and U. B. 1998. Cox plays the part of a super hero, ‘Raje’. The super hero is seen escorting a young and liberated Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben from their food package. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are probably the most successful commercial black advertising characters. They appear on the packaging for Uncle Ben’s rice. Powell suggests that Cox is ‘commenting on the ‘thin line’ between stereotypic characterizations and idealized depictions’. (Richard Powell, 1997, pg231). This image epitomises the Post-modern movement in that it is a reaction to modern art containing an element of humour. Post Modernism does not necessarily have to contain humour. An artist might be responding to a specific incident in cultural history. The Bogside artists painted enormous murals on houses in Northern Ireland during the eighties. The murals had titles like ‘The Petrol Bomber’. They remain a testament to the troubles of the not so distant past. Another artist who responded to an event in cultural history was Sue Coe. Her drawing ‘Woman Shot In The back’, 1985, depicts the shooting of Mrs. Cherry Groce, Mrs. Groce was shot by a white policeman. Powell suggests that this incident precipitated the urban uprisings in London. Powell also refers to the inequalities and atrocities in Britain under Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Another characteristic of Post-modern portraiture is the presence and representation of film stars, pop idols and celebrities. Shearer West suggests that these popular icons have replaced the traditional iconic figures of monarchs and religious leaders in portraiture. West argues that these new idols are so well known that their portraits become globally recognizable. The Beckham family are a solid example of this. At a local level, the Llanelli photographer Terry Morris has been creating a travelling exhibition called ‘Cool Cymru’. Morris has busied himself taking photographs of what he sees as epitomising this dated catchphrase. The people he photographs are not the ordinary man or woman on the streets of Wales. They are not the hidden heroes and heroines whom perform amazing tasks every day without any fuss or publicity. There are no authors, artists or poets or protesters. The majority do not even live in Wales. The media has promoted them as representing the cultural identity of ‘The Welsh’. They are celebrities predominantly pop stars. One could argue that it is the photographer himself whom is seeking global celebrity on the backs of the success of his subjects. This may suggest that the photographer lacks the confidence and style to create an original form of image. An image, 9
  10. 10. which does not require celebrity to give it status, power and social acceptance. The presentation of these images on a world stage as representative of Welsh cultural identity could be seen as a false one. There are photographers whom still attempt to represent the man or woman in the street as iconic whilst providing clues to cultural identity. Philip-Lorca diCorcia made a series of street photographs using long lenses and flash mounted on scaffold high above a New York street for his ‘Head series’ the pedestrians below walked into a theatre of lights. They were unaware that their movements were setting of the flash, which in turn allowed DiCorcia to photograph them. What we see is an image, which presents everyday people with a cinematic appearance. The portraits are devoid of any fussy composition because the subjects are unaware that they are being photographed. They are powerful examples of portraits which were non negotiable with the subject. One could argue that this form of portraiture is the closest representation of both likeness and type. The images in the Hollywood series are particularly interesting in relation to Shearer West’s notion that all portraits contain a form of negotiation and an unseen patron. DiCorcia had won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in America. The NEA had come under attack for supporting the work of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe. His open references to homosexuality had offended people in office. Specifically, Senators associated with the NEA fellowship award. The brief that DiCorcia was given stressed that any work made under the fellowship should not be obscene. The series that ensued were carefully staged scenes set on or near the Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. DiCorcia sought men on the street and offered to pay them for appearing in the staged scenes. Some, if not all, were male prostitutes. DiCorcia had found a way in which to include contemporary subject matter into a restrictive brief. He had managed to distribute the money for the fellowship to the very people that the Senators in office had deemed to be obscene. Only the name, age, place of origin and amount of money paid gave any indication as to the conceptualised work of art. This conceptualised approach is one, which is frequently occurring, in contemporary photography. Photography is a representation of a moment captured through the lens (Photo-realism). Painting used to be the medium, which visually represented and interpreted the world. Photography was seen as a medium, which could not be manipulated and therefore was a truer representation. Subsequent images have proved this theory wrong. Images have been manipulated in camera, in the post printing process and at the printing and exhibition stages. The use of digital media to enhance, alter or subvert images 10
  11. 11. has forced us to question the content of photographic images per se. Newspapers have published front- page images; these have proven to be faked. Photographers have embraced the software available and used it to distort images to include metaphors for the world beyond their control. The photograph is no longer seen as the representation of truth. Television and the Internet have taken its place. 24-hour news coverage provides the masses with a representation of world events. With the coverage of the war on terror, one could argue that it has deflected much of the racial tensions historically aimed at black people towards the Muslim world and its culture. Culture is a collection of beliefs, values and behaviours that are distinctive to a large group of people, and which are expressed through various forms of communication. It is common to see culture in terms of nations, but in fact culture can cross national boundaries (e.g. Jewish culture). Culture is represented through dress, religion, and art forms in particular, as well as through language. Philip Yenawine defines culture as follows; Culture describes the human-made world. What it looks like, what people surround themselves with, what they believe, and what they value. (PhilipYenawine, 1995, pg10). The media shows these things and so also become part of the culture. There are things that the media in some countries prefer not to show. The former Soviet Union and some of its breakaway republics are still subject to media restrictions. Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov has been a photographer since the 1960’s. His background is in engineering photography, photojournalism and recently in contemporary art. In the 1990’s, he began his case history. With more than 500 photographs of ‘Bomzhes’ homeless people in his hometown of Kharkov. In common with DiCorcia, he paid each of the subjects to pose for him. They re-created personal histories or Christian iconography, or undressed to show the ravages of poverty and violence on their bodies. In this image a man is being carried half naked by what appears to be three women. His arms are outstretched as if representing a crucifixion. The ground is snow covered but reddish browns of the Earth show through. This could signify the blood of Christ. His eyes look straight into the camera but look lifeless. The people Mikhailov photographs represent a new social class within the republics of the former Soviet Union. They are marginalised people much as were the followers of Christ. They are definitive images, which document economic conditions as they take effect socially, psychologically and at the level of the body. They are staged portraits, which the photographer has carefully crafted with composition, colour, tone, texture and light. His subjects are clearly identified as belonging to the subculture of the homeless. This in turn reflects the cultural 11
  12. 12. identity of the Ukraine as a country. We not only discover the terrible conditions of the ‘Bomzhes’ but we are witness to the way in which a whole country’s social and economic structure has created them. The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and opened Europe to a new generation of migrants from the Eastern Block. The face of cultural Britain is changing rapidly. It is now home to a multitude of people from many of the cultural backgrounds of the world. The peculiarities and traits which were of interest to the photographers of the sixties and seventies are being blurred or else fading out of fashion to be replaced by the need to redefine the identity of the English, the Welsh, the Scots or any other nation undergoing such rapid change. Contemporary photographers using portraiture in this way include Celine van Balen. Van Balen’s image of a young Muslim girl emphasises the deadpan portrait. We are aware that she is a Muslim because she is wearing the headdress associated with Muslims. Her skin colour also identifies her as belonging to a Muslim country such as Turkey or Iran. We are also more aware of her cultural identity because of the continual presence of similar imagery in the media. It may have been more difficult to pin down this young girl’s cultural identity prior to the mass media’s inclusion of images of Muslim people. In her series, Secret Shadows, the photographer Dinu Li made portraits of illegal immigrants in the North of England. Due to the nature of their presence, Li had to guard their identities. She turned her lens toward their personal possessions as a way of visualising the values, practicalities and memories that form the identities of these workers. The portrait in this instance is devoid of a face or being. Instead, we are asked to consider visualising these absent people through their possessions. A bag of soil brought from China and the cardboard box, which housed their possessions, utilised as a bedside table. The irony being that the box contains the words, ‘lucky boat’. The photographer Margareta Klingberg sought out unprotected immigrant workers working for jam companies in the fields and forests of Northern Sweden. The depiction of marginalised groups forms the basis for a documentary approach. These portraits would not be acceptable to the directors of the jam company. They may even prick the conscience of the Swedish nationals. This group of people belong to a sub-culture. The development of 24-hour news has pushed documentary images out of newspapers and magazines and into galleries. 12
  13. 13. The digital revolution means that the masses are once again accidentally or otherwise engaged in making history with an infinite number of freely available digital cameras. Portraiture today is wide ranging and includes items, which can represent cultural identity. Globalization means that it is becoming more difficult to pin down specific cultural identities on the basis of a portrait. The baseball hat once the exclusive attire of the American is now seen on the heads of millions of individuals the world over. Mass-market forces have delivered a one size fits all identity to our door through the Internet. Wherever you go in the world you are never very far away from the latest news. This new technology has been grasped and utilised by the youth culture around the globe. The Internet sites Myspace and Youtube have taken the art world by surprise. They have become the new galleries from where careers are launched and radical ideas are exchanged. As with any new technology, the pornographers, security forces and the terrorists have also ensured that they have mastered and infiltrated it. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 signalled a vulnerability we all face. The government and media reports would have us believe that we are living in uncertain times. In his book, The Search for Meaning, 1996, Charles handy suggests that we are moving into a time of uncertainty. He likens this to the Renaissance period. Handy suggests that the Renaissance was an exciting time for creativity but also a violent time of wars and feuds. Handy believes that we are seeing something similar today. He sees Television, radio and the Internet as encompassing the world. Handy also suggests that ‘Presidents, Kings, Queens, prime ministers and princes have lost some authority and that everyone can know as much as they do. (Charles Handy, 1996, pg53). We now have DNA portraits, which bring into question our own perceived, cultural identity. We consider ourselves to be Welsh, English, Scottish, etc. These notions stand to be challenged and possibly shattered linking us to other cultures which we may or may not approve of. We have to acknowledge that we are truly universal citizens first and work backwards from there. With continual research and developments in science and space exploration the future is rewriting our past. One can see a pattern, which has emerged from the turn of the last century. From the late 1800’s photography develops through advances in technology. Photography heralds the death of art. The artists expand its potential. Pornographers are amongst the first to embrace the new technology. Celebrities are idolised in photographs. The public use it to document every day events. Cameras and accessories are improved leading to greater freedom for photographers. It is used to document war and the plight of the man on the street. Governments are undermined and artists establish new movements. Youth culture finds a way of subversion. Specific cultures become demonized leading to racism. Inequality persists and we see refugees and immigrants photographed. 13
  14. 14. From the turn of this century photography develops through advances in digital technology. Digital photography heralds the death of film photography. Artists expand its potential. Pornographers are amongst the first to embrace the new technology. The public use the technology to document every day events. Celebrities are idolised through mass representation. Cameras and accessories are improved leading to greater freedom for photographers. It is used to document war and the plight of the man on the street. Governments are undermined and artists establish new movements. Youth culture finds ways of subversion through technology. Specific cultures become demonized leading to racism. Inequality persists and we see refugees and immigrants photographed. At the turn of the last century, photography democratized art. At the turn of this century, the internet has democratized art. My hometown Carmarthenshire is rapidly becoming home to Russians, Romanians, Poles, etc. Romania and Bulgaria are about to join the European Union. One idea for my major piece of work involves photographing first generation migrants & immigrants in Carmarthen. Having lived in London and relished the diversity that these communities produce. I thought it would be interesting to document the arrival in the early stages. Record their stories. I am intrigued as to how and why they came to Carmarthen. I can understand them wanting a change of life and admire their courage. Controversy and ignorance surrounds their presence. The media jumps on any story about migrants or immigrants and headlines it. There is also a growth in illegal people trafficking for the sex trade. Local headlines read ‘Half of class is Polish’. (South Wales Evening Post, 2006). There is a worry that thousands more immigrants will flood to the U.K. ‘Britain’s 500,000 Illegal Workers’. (Daily Mail, 2006). There is a huge amount of respect owed to these people for their will and determination to improve their lot and risk all by travelling to a ‘strange’ land. They may be oblivious to the anti immigrant rhetoric throughout British society however it is there. Their very presence within our cities, towns and villages is at best seen as a necessary evil to fill jobs that ‘we’ don’t want and at worse, a blight on society. I wanted to portray them before what I perceived would change in their visual persona. I have made some test shots. For this portrait a simple background and lighting set up was established at their English class. They sat as if they were in a passport booth. Something, which they would have had to do before travelling. The circle of light behind their head is my own personal symbolic gesture of iconizing them. I also wanted to look at a contemporary way of displaying my images, which would also contain an element of meaning. For this reason, I have chosen to present the images on colour 14
  15. 15. transparency. The scale is very small and so demands that the viewer gets closer to the image. In turn, they are getting closer to an immigrant. The frames resemble the catholic icon frames found in churches throughout Eastern Europe. They are lit symbolically from behind which is also representative of the candles within the churches. The black recessed frames also resemble the early cameras and viewing devices. The simplicity also represents the way in which the immigrant lives. The small scale within a large space such as the gallery symbolises the way in which an immigrant might feel. Overwhelmed, isolated, alone, vulnerable, lost, unnoticed, ignored and marginalised. The images were achieved in the early stages of our relationship. Over a period of time, I have visited their homes. They range from shared houses, bed and breakfasts, hotel rooms and hostels. This image was taken in a terraced house in Llanelli. Six adults were sharing the house. Most of them had left their spouses and children behind. They were earning the minimum wage and working the graveyard shifts at food processing plants. Half their money was being sent home to their families. They attended English classes twice a week. It has been enlightening to have shared and observed their plight and cultural identity within the bounds of my own. Most of the photographers in this dissertation have something in common. They acknowledge that they have been outsiders. One could argue that this has allowed them to be more objective and non judgemental in who, what, when, where and how they portray an image representative of cultural identity. It may be the case that one needs to be detached from a cultural identity in order to represent it through a visual medium. Portraiture challenges notions of culture, identity, gender, wealth and other representations. Portraits can communicate cultural identity through representation in the photograph or other medium. It remains to be seen whether or not the image is interpreted as such by the viewer. The written and spoken word can be used to define a cultural identity and form a title or subtext to the portrait. One has to question whether this retains the impartiality of the visual representation. The same photographers may be harder pressed to give a written or verbal representation of a cultural identity apart from their own. Even then, it may be biased toward a favourable interpretation. I have attempted to give a verbal and visual representation of my own cultural identity.‘I am a universal citizen. I was born at a latitude and longitude, which placed me within political boundaries and invisible borders. The only borders I accept are the landscapes, waters and gravitational pull of the Earth. I have never been in a position where I have not been able to communicate with my fellow man because of a difference in language. After 43 years on this planet, I have come to the conclusion that we are all equal but different. Bibliography 15
  16. 16. Berry I. (1978), The English: Penguin Books Burton. G, (1990), More Than Meets The Eye Campany D. (2003), Art And Photography: Phaidon Press Collins, Collins Concise Dictionary Of The English Language Cotton C. (2004), The Photograph As Contemporary Art: Thames & Hudson Cutts, J & Smith J. (2004), Van Gough, Exclusive Editions Daily Mail, Monday, Oct 2nd, 2006 Fisher A. & Beckwith C. (1997), Men of the African Ark: Pomegranate Ford B. (1989), Early 20th Century Britain: Cambridge University Press Handy C. (1996), The Search for Meaning: Lemon & Crane Hopkins D. (2000), After Modern Art 1945-2000: Oxford University Press Howard M. (1991) The Impressionists: BCA Hurn D. (2000), Wales land of my father: Thames & Hudson Jenks C. (1960), What is Post-Modernism? St. Martin’s Press National Geographic Society (2004) In Focus: National Geographic Society Parr M, (1989), British Journal of Photography interview Phaidon. (1997) The Photo Book: Phaidon Phaidon. (1996), The 20th-Century Art Book: Phaidon Phaidon. (2002), Blink: Phaidon Press Powell, R J. (1997), Black Art A Cultural History: Thames & Hudson South Wales Evening Post, Sept 28th 2006 West S. (2004), Portraiture: Oxford University press Williams V. (2002), Martin Parr: Phaidon Press Yenawine P. (1995), Key Art Terms for Beginners: Harry N. Abrams, Inc Images 1. “Discrimination Is A Growth Industry”, Frances Gibb, 2007 16
  17. 17. 2. The Banjo Lesson, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Circa 1900 3. All Coons Look Alike To Me. Ernest Hogan Circa 1900 4. Candle Lightin Time, Leigh Richmond Miner, 1901 5. Carte De Visite. Swansea Studio Circa 1850 6. New York Tenament. Jacob Riis. Circa 1890 7. The Soldier. Edward A Harleston. Circa 1919 8. Josephine Baker, Paul Colins, 1927 9. Goldfinches ride on the head of a woman in Khabul, Thomas J. Abercrombie, 1968 10. Sardinian Girl Smiling, Clifton R. Adams, 1923 11. Peru, William Albert Allard, 1982 12. Migrant Mother. Dorothea Lange, 1936 13. Afghan Girl. Steve McCurry, 1984 14. Judging Sheep, David Hurn, 1983 15. Pub Sing Song, David Hurn, 1973 16. The Gorsedd Procession, David Hurn 1974 17. French Students, David Hurn, 1996 18. Elizabethville, Ian Berry, Circa 1960 19. Burghley Horse Trials, Ian Berry, 1975 20. Brixton, Ian Berry, 1975 21. Royal Ascot Races, Ian Berry, 1975 22. New Brighton, Martin Parr, 1983 – 1986 23. Pastoral Interlude, Ingrid pollard, Circa 1980 24. Untitled (kiss), Sonia Boyce, 1995 25. Strictly, Jason Evans, 1982 26. B Boys, Coreen Simpson, Circa 1980 27. Grace Jones, Jean Paul-Goude, Circa 1980 28. The Liberation Of Lady J And Uncle B, Renee Cox, 1998 29. Eddie Anderson; 21 years old; Houston, TX; $20, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, 1990-92 30. Untitled, Boris Mikhailov, 1997-98 31. Case History (detail), Boris Mikhailov, 1998 32. Muazez, Celine Van Balen, 1998 33. Untitled, Dinu Li, May 2001 34. Lövsjöhöjden, Margareta Klingberg 2000-01 All Others. Alan S. Evans 17