Monday, December 22, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Turner Prize - Bastion of MalenessThe Turner Prize is given out annually to a British visual artist under the age of 50. It is a Very Big Deal in that country and raises a fair amount of controversy. One of the issues is whether the prize is dominated by men.
I am by no means a "feminist." Nor do I subscribe to the automatic assumption that men do terrible things to women while women are blameless and never injure men. At the same time, I'd prefer to examine a charge before I react. So I went to look at the list of Turner winners over the years.
That list is, to my eye, overwhelmingly male. I'm not suggesting at all that there must be awards ruled by gender parity. But you have to wonder the state of the judges and the decision process. Since the award started in 1984, with no prize given in 1990, there have been three women who won, versus 21 men. I would be suspicious of a perfect 50-50 split, but seven to one? Are male artists really that much better than female? Not from what I've seen in photography, painting, sculpture, video, and other art forms.
There have also been only three years in which the majority of judges were women (though not the same three years as when womeen won). I know that critics, curators, and academics are supposed to be above gender bias, but I think it becomes something that is culturally and even biologically hard-wired. For example, I'm a writer, and I enjoy the work of many writers. But I probably have a closer affinity in general to the work of male writers because they have a tone and approach closer to my own inclinations. I suspect the same might be true in any craft. (Consider your own social circle and how men and women often divide on gender lines over some types of popular entertainment.) If the committee stays generally dominated by male sensibilities, then I wouldn't be surprised if the prize continued to be awarded more often to men. That is wrong and also foolish.
To be fair, I understand that putting together a panel of experts can be difficult. I once moderated a panel on narrative non-fiction at a writing conference and was accused of gender bias because all of the panelists were men. As it happened, I asked a number of leading publications if they could send a representative, and those happened to be the people available. But when that happens 70 percent of the time, you must wonder whether it continues to be accident.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Technique: Using Reflections in ImagesReflections can take an ordinary image and open a door into a new visual dimension. You can try for the most obvious, like reflections off a lake or pool of water, but look more carefully and you'll see possibilities everywhere. In the photo on the right, I had driven into Boston to do a shoot with a model who was a no-show. So I used the time instead of getting overly irritated. It had been raining, which meant wet streets and another reflective surface. In general, expose for the primary scene and not the reflected copy. Some light gets lost and so it will be a bit dimmer. The one condition you should watch is a light that gets reflected directly from a surface into the camera lens, causing flare and throwing off your exposure calculations. Just reposition yourself or frame the shot a bit differently to get that out of the scene.
If you are using a body of water as the reflector, you might be able to disturb the surface, maybe by tossing a stone, to get a second effect and image after you've shot with the smooth reflection. You can see many more examples of reflection as a compositional element by clicking on the link to a feature in Smashing Magazine. Some of these are outstanding, going beyond reflection as an element of mood (like I did in my photo) and using it to create unworldly scenes, where the original and the reflection meet and turn into abstracted patterns. At the bottom of the feature are additional links to other collections of reflection in images.