Tuesday, 7 October 2008

'Taking a photo

is like an assault, a mugging.'

That was a line of the text that accompanied Laurie Anderson's Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity) project at the Tate's Modern recent exhibition Street and Studio: An Urban History of Photography.

Anderson, in 1973, made an analogy how a photo - or rather: a camera stuck into someone's face - really does resemble an assault, when she got fed up with the chat she got off blokes on the streets of NYC. So, Fully Automated Nikon is the result of her asking for a photo, in response to any stupid/aggressive/annoying chat up. So, there's a series of guys, white guys, black guys, young guys, old guys, with other guys, with their girlfriends; and a couple of lines of how they responded to her assault of taking a photo.

It stuck - or rather linked up with a series of other things: notably, my hesitation to take pictures of strangers. Something my PhD examiner remarked on in response that photos labelled 'young skaters in the city centre' don't really have that many young skaters in them, similar 'builders during a break' requires the onlooker to look hard for the builders. LOL.

Now: a picture, a snapshot is really something done reasonably quick, inconspicious.

But, what on earth about a sketch, a portrait??

My parents fell victim in August to my determination of sketching people. And after my mum was mortified about my (admittedly poor) sketch, I deliberately did not try to sketch my brother when sketching him... so as almost on purpose not to produce any similarity.

Now, a long lead-in to this: stealing sketches of unsuspecting people. I still - and in fact probably before I stumbled across Anderson so wonderfully single-minded let's turn the table kind of take on mugging - think of taking something not offered by sketching strangers.

At Central Station
At Central Station
Ink in Moleskine, 18x13cm

But: here are some takings: at the train station on the way to the sea a few weeks back; and this afternoon while waiting on an appointment.

At the coffee shop
At the Coffee Shop
Ink in Moleskine, 18x13cm

The woman on the bench in profile found her way into my printmaking project: it needed some life drawing; and the outline worked reasonably well, it probably needs a bit more colour (how about a trusted orange); but the backdrawing - sketching on the back of the surface which lies on a thinly inked print plate - works well. It effectively produces an old-fashioned carbon copy of the sketch.

Print Project 1.3 Waiting
Print Project 1.3 Waiting, 20x25cm
Monotpye with backdrawing on blotting paper

Print Project 1.3 Waiting
Print Project 1.3 Waiting, 20x25cm
Monotpye with backdrawing on blotting paper


Kari Gibson said...

I know it is so hard to sketch people without staring at them in a scary way, isn't it, lol?

I find the best way is to glance and memorise as much as I can, it takes practice, but it works in the end.

These are just great - love the last one!

daviddrawsandpaints said...

As you know Gesa I do a lot of sketching of people in a variety of public situations. It's an exercise I started way back and continue to this day. However, I never think of this as "stealing" whereas pointing a camera at someone, to my mind, definitely is. In fact I have found that most people are interested to see what I am doing, and sometimes even get asked if I will sketch them. But I don't do 'portraits' in the street!
If you use a smallish sketchbook most people won't even know you are doing it, and the exercise in capturing the fleeting movements improves your observational skills.
These sketches of yours show a great and determined start. As Kari says "glance and memorise".
Keep at it - it's good fun!

Anonymous said...

I did manage a quick sketch on the train a couple of days ago, A lady was reading "To Kill A Mocking Bird" by Harper Lee and was a student as there were stickers marking the pages she would probably quote from.
She was almost opposite and if you scribble away people just do not look.
A Mobile phone taking a photo or even video is the worse form of mugging!
But in the street anything goes if it is part of the photo.
Children are another triky area of

Gesa said...

hi everyone and many thanks for your thoughts. staring at people scarily - lol, kari - i was conscious of that at glasgow central station and just picked unscary people to sketch in return ;)

rather than memorising i am trying to look hard (but not scary) - i do a lot of memorising normally, but try to observe more - so that's where david's points on speed are coming in usefully. but then again: i tend to be pretty fast with my sketches (ask my mother, she'll have plenty to say ;)), so i'm trying to be slower. ;)

well - all these challenges make in indeed good fun: but as all of you say, it simply needs doing...

hahaha... the video comment made me laugh - i am used to one of my friends just taking endless photos when i see her, but this time round i found that i'm not simply pulling odd faces at her on photo but she captured plenty of my rants on film - though thankfully none has made it onto youtube yet. that doesn't make it any better... i agree with you, chris.

cheers, again.