Lisa Barnard’s lecture this Monday covered so much ground I hope that I can do it some justice. Although I took notes I feel sure something will have slipped by. She is a known as a contemporary documentary photographer who makes work which is mainly photography based but involves installations, publications and time based media. Barnard somehow finds time to teach at University of South Wales as well. Her current work explores the relationships between the military, entertainment and technology which therefore leads her into problematic territories of conflict and politics. This lecture also introduced me to a variety of photographic techniques and ideas that were new to me and I am not sure I understand them all very well. Lisa was really clear at explaining the theoretical basis of her work which made it really interesting.
In the initial series we looked at Barnard explained that in this early work she was interested in the relationship between the art, artist and viewer and she used a camera with a large negative 5/4 (inches I assume) in which the plane of focus is tilted. The effect is curious and one does have to make a much more careful look which is her intention. She showed us a series of portraits in which quite large parts of the composition were out of focus whilst the subject and some of the background and foreground were totally in focus – this is totally new to me and I found it fascinating.
Looking at Theatre
At this earlier stage in her career her concern was to make art photography about photography. She was concerned with the idea of art as expressed by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy in which Apollo and Dionysus unite. Apollo bringing order to the Dionysian chaos of art. She got a residency at the Unicorn theatre where she set up a black box by one of the seats and photographed children immersed in watching the theatre. Only the photographs of children who were really immersed worked as they had to remain completely still for the long exposure necessary. This creates a psychological depth to the images making them very strong and intense.
Tahira from Looking at Theatre
Blue Star Moms
However, Barnard realized that her most compelling aim was to work in the realms of documentary photography. The Blue Star Moms is a support group in the USA for mothers of US military who are in active service overseas. Barnard worked with this group and made a series of portraits. She also made 3 series of ‘care packages’ in some cases these are what they send to their loved ones and also anonymously. In one case this is a series of items that were given to a bereaved family which Barnard explained felt very banal but were items aimed at making things easier for a grieving family. For some of this work she also worked with a support group in the UK.
Community Project – Polska by The Sea
Barnard showed us examples of work she made as part of a community project in Eastbourne. The idea was to work with 1st generation immigrants from Poland to this coastal town. She explained that she made series which are typological, a term used for series of photographs which are formally similar. This culminated with a large series of portraits displayed at the railways station and smaller object based images produced as free postcards.
Polska by the sea installed in the Eastbourne railway station.
32 Smiths Square – HQ of the Conservative Party
This building had been the Conservative party HQ until 2004 and was subsequently blamed for the party’s downfall. It had been the HQ for decades and was strongly related to Margaret Thatcher. Lisa made 3 series related to the Space, Margaret Thatcher and abandoned objects she found in the building.
She produced a publication ‘Chateau despair’ and also exhibited the photographs in installations. She gave us an example of the way she showed the series of Margaret Thatcher photos using light boxes and which were based on old photographs she found stuck together and ‘ruined’ with chemicals.
Barnard explained the relationship between her work and the ideas of Bertolt Brecht. She wished to make her audiences aware of themselves and not to identify too much with the protagonists of her images making it more probably that they will be critical. Speaking specifically about Mother Courage she described how she doesn’t want them to feel too comfortable with their response and therefore she hopes to inspire action.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Another residency lead Barnard to ICT (The Institute for Creative Technology) who use virtual reality to investigate war and gaming. Through Virtual Iraq they also experiment with gaming techniques to help ptsd victims she learnt how serious a problem it is for many who engaged in warfare and about how little it is understood.
Virtual Iraq is a program for which you wear uniform and a display attached to the head. This is combined with simulations of explosions from movements and audio. The theory is that this experience will stimulate memories.
Finally Barnard introduced us to her most recent project about Drones in which she uses photography and other technology to focus on the Drone pilots’ relationship to the screen. These images are based around the relationship of the pilots who work in Las Vegas and the area where their aircraft are fighting in Waziristan. We saw a short film with a split screen which had the drive to work on one side in Las Vegas and the other side driving in Pakistan.
too thin too blue is a series which alludes to the saying ‘the thin blue line’
they are aerial photographs that are accompanied by a short factual text as to the fatalities committed in that area. Drones are claimed to aim at only military targets but this is disputed
Barnard really uses theories and she explained her interest in Paul Virilio and his ideas about speed and technology; the technological sublime, which I believe continues from Kant’s ideas about the sublime and would like to read more about; and how you are more powerful if you control the skies. To sum up she introduced us to so many ideas relating to a variety of disciplines which give much food for thought.