A Note on Alexander Gronsky

*This post forms part of my preliminary research for Part Four “People Interacting with Place”.

Linking back to my reflections on my learning experiences from Part Three, I conducted some preliminary research to maintain the momentum gained from assignment three. One of the locations I covered in this assignment to demonstrate the function of buildings in use was a fairground in Coney Island, New York. Although it was a loose interpretation of the assignment brief, I feel I was successful in showing the viewer the function of the space and temporary structures in my images. The use of place for leisure and recreation is a subject that has intrigued me, particularly in light of the brief for the upcoming assignment four.

‘Pastoral’

One photographer I identified as relevant and worthy of discussion is the Russian landscape photographer Alexander Gronsky.

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a) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Pastoral’ (2008-2012) 

Gronsky is a former press photographer who covered events in Russia and the former USSR in the 2000s before moving into advertising and commercial photography for corporations and humanitarian organisations. He has placed more emphasis on personal projects in recent years and conducted a series of exhibitions, published a book and received awards for his work. He is known for his photographs of Russian landscapes, using a Mamiya 6×7 camera with colour film.

One of his series ‘Pastoral” caught my eye immediately (see image above). The series observes Muscovites at leisure around seemingly man-made lakes and industrial wastelands on the edge of Moscow in summer-winter months. What is very striking about the images is how his human subjects make use of a space – neither city nor countryside – not intended for recreational activity. We see people swimming in a river of questionable water quality, people sunbathing among dense entanglements of weeds and thorns, and families playing games next to heaps of sand dug up by industrial diggers. The series has a penchant for the surreal, we glimpse someone shooting an air rifle and someone undressing in some trees. As a kind of backdrop to these leisure activities, which seem to make up the majority of the activity, there is the ever present industrial landscape that overshadows this man-made natural landscape.

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b) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Pastoral’ (2008-2012) 

What this series shows is that recreational activity does not necessarily have to take place in a place intended for leisure. For the Muscovites living on the edge of Moscow, perhaps located a significant distance from the nearest park or unable to afford to travel far, this is the only space they have to make the most of their days off. Although we don’t see the people in his photos up close (often appearing as figures in the distance) we get the impression that the people are enjoying their surroundings. The full set is a long term project that consists of a final 40-50 images and can be found on Gronsky’s website here:

http://alexandergronsky.com/#/portfolio/works/pastoral-2008_2012/26

‘Mountains and Waters’

Linking back to my conclusions from assignment three, another of Gronsky’s projects is also worth looking at. It is interesting to note how he presents his work in the series ‘Mountains and Waters’, a set of images that examines the changing landscapes of China.

Gronskyc) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011) 

What is interesting about the series is the presentation of the works in diptychs, that is two images set beside each other. In the exhibition notes he links the idea behind the series to the word for landscape in Chinese – a compound of two symbols for mountain (山) and water (水). This duality in his presentation is evident in the use of the diptych to exhibit the resulting images. He also links this choice of presentation to Shan Shui painting tradition, where the intention of the artist was not to represent one single place or landscape, but rather to present a ‘metaphor of a human journey through a constant shift between nothingness and form.’ (Gronsky, 2011) It is apparent that although Gronsky presents two images together, there is an element in both that creates a visual narrative (see image above) that unifies and blends the two into something resembling a panoramic landscape photograph (see image below).gronskyd) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011)

While Gronsky was not primarily concerned with leisure or recreational activity in this series, his choice of presentation is something to consider for the future assignments. It is clear that Gronsky thought deeply about his presentation and researched traditional Chinese art and the philosophy behind it. This tradition influenced his choice of presentation, and it works very well in seamlessly contrasting old and new (c) and placing his distant human figures within huge environments that are neither totally man-made nor wholly natural (d). He also cleverly uses the diptych to hint at a story or narrative – has the figure on the boat in (d) become the figure in the smaller boat under the bridge? He also sometimes knits together his panoramas, often loosely as in image (e) as the two images were taken at different times. He is not bothered about disguising this and yet the images feel like they are in perfect harmony.

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e) From Alexander Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ (2011)

What his presentation does is consistently ask questions of the viewer and again, as with the ‘Pastoral’ series, has a penchant for the surreal and the eccentric. The ‘Mountains and Waters’ set is again an extensive series and can be found on Gronsky’s website (follow link below):

http://alexandergronsky.com/#/portfolio/works/mountains-and-waters-2011/3

Reflections

A major point I will consider in future submissions is how my final images are to be presented – should they be presented in the same format? With the same aspect ratio? Should one image be made bigger to emphasise a subject? Could an image work better in a diptych or even in triptych? Or do the images work better in a sequential set?

It is clear that the way in which the photographer presents the final set of images could be considered before even a shot is taken, and in Gronsky’s ‘Mountains and Waters’ series the presentation was at the heart of the project. Considering whether you would like to present your images sequentially with forms of visual punctuation (such as emphasising one subject over another), or whether you would like to juxtapose your subjects in diptychs can inform the photographer’s approach to a location. This could be described as a very measured approach to photographing a place, and it could be harder to include the spontaneous event or the unexpected. It is certainly an approach I will consider for the upcoming exercises and in my research for assignment four.

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A Note on Alexander Gronsky

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Merrywalks2

For the third part of Assignment Three, I chose the location of Stroud’s Merrywalks centre. A shopping, cinema and multi-storey car park typical of 1960s town planning, I walked around the centre on a Saturday afternoon. I aimed to find a function beyond the obvious shopping and cinema going function, and looked to show how the complex fits into the everyday life of Stroud’s town centre. I again selected my Rolleiflex camera with Kodak Portra for natural colour reproduction, and also for subtlety as I was aware that I would be shooting on the street.

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Stroud is a small market town in the Cotswolds, so Merrywalks is somewhat of an eye sore when placed next to the quite picturesque buildings of the small centre. The complex is so big in comparison that it actually obscures the view of Stroud when you drive in. The construction of the cinema and, much later, the McDonalds saw strong opposition from locals. In the 1970s the Stroud District Council attempted to destroy much of the town’s old centre to make way for further developments alongside Merrywalks. It was thanks to action from local people that much of this was averted but the centre has survived well into the 21st Century despite being somewhat neglected (except for the cinema).

Merrywalks1

The interior of the shopping area in the centre feels empty next to the vibrance of Stroud’s centre which is especially busy on a Saturday thanks to the Farmers’ market. The position of the centre right on the main road through Stroud (and so all the bus routes) and the popularity of the cinema of course make it a natural point of congregation in Stroud. Despite its somewhat neglected appearance, it still retains its function as a transport hub and car park for shoppers and market goers headed into Stroud. Being the school holidays I noticed large groups of school children congregating in the half empty car parks and shopping areas of the centre, a telling sign perhaps of its neglect but also of its position in the town centre and proximity to residential areas and bus routes.

Merrywalks4

Assignment three: Buildings in use (Set 3)

Inspiration: Tom Wood “Bus Odyssey”

Tom Wood1

While researching possible angles for the Part 3 exercise “From the User’s Viewpoint”, I had the idea of shooting from the viewpoint of a user of public transport or a moving vehicle. My tutor pointed me in the direction of Tom Wood, a British photographer who created a series of images whilst on buses in the Merseyside area during the 1980s and 1990s.

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When examining the series one of the most striking things is the changing nature of the environments, that is the interior of the buses he was shooting in, the exterior landscapes, and the changing styles and fashions of the people occupying his frames.

 tomwood3

Another thing that I noticed was his creative approach to composition. This creates strong visual interest and there is a somewhat chaotic, busy feeling the viewer gets from the images. The above example with the tilted angle of the bus creates a sense of movement and conveys to the viewer that the bus is on the move and not a static object.

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He not only shot people inside the bus but also subjects passing by outside the bus (as the last image sample demonstrates). The interplay between his subjects and the reflection in this image is something I will consider for my own set of images for the next exercise, as is the variation in composition and viewpoints. As is exemplified in Tom Wood’s series, mixing up you approaches keeps the viewer interested and demonstrates creativity and thought on the part of the photographer. Whilst I may not have the time to show changing social dynamics as Tom Wood has done through his series as he was shooting over a long period of time, I am looking forward to putting into practice some of his techniques and creative approaches for my own images.

Inspiration: Tom Wood “Bus Odyssey”