Picture Analysis – Sophie Calle

Again, regarded as a ‘conceptual’ photographer, Sophie Calle’s work challenges what we want from a photograph – what we think a photograph is and can be.

The textbook makes the point about her work sometimes raising ethical questions – and it does – but I don’t really have any ethical problems with anything she does – which probably says more about me than it does about her and her work. To me, this kind of work  and most kind of work are pretty much all up for grabs, so this doesn’t bother me. She  is very open about her own life. Her work is rarely ‘obviously’ aesthetic in the pictorial sense (however I do like them), but stems from her curiosity at realising an idea or action. Suite Venitienne (1979), mentioned in the textbook, I find a really interesting work. It appears to me like undercover, ninja street photography – paparazzi work of the un-famous and the unaware. So rather than wandering the streets waiting for something to happen, the action of actually following someone loads the photograph with potential.

I probably should have great moral outrage at this stalking, but I find it rather interesting and less of an outrageous concern than I feel about more technology based modern stalking. Both government, corporate and personal information and on-line stalking fills me with greater dread and moral uncertainty than someone actually following me on the street. I avoid a lot of social media, but as the parent of young children who will one day soon be on-line and Facebook active, I have greater concern regarding the information we give away without any real awareness of who is accessing it.

To show how divided my moral outrages can be, I am actually considering how I could do something similar. How could I find my victim, what I would need – what I would do if they caught me!! My self-centred outrage is more of how I would feel and cope with the embarrassment, then any ounce of concern for the person I was following. Agh can you imagine in the shame!!!

Child like curiosity with life and people.

” Its not so much about making art as allowing herself to be taken on an adventure by an idea”. She establishes the idea, the boundaries, the constraints she will work by. She questions identity, intimacy, interaction. Photographs by their nature are regarded as proof, as ‘fact’, and her images allow us to form views and opinions on the identities of her subjects, even though we have never met them. They become documentaries – which I guess we must assume have a truthfulness about them – though it raises the questions of how or whether we should do this. Outside of Calle’s work, I like this blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, based on the evidence shown to us by certain documenting forms such as the photograph, a book, newspaper etc.

I liked her idea of taking her mothers possessions to the North pole. We talk about making a snow-globe from my mothers ashes, but are worried they will clump. She isn’t dead yet, so we may have changed the plan to an egg-timer before we get our hands on them. These very personal actions by her, show her all encompassing blending of art and life in her work – the “first-person artist”. Plus they also protect her from criticism when accused of intrusion on other peoples lives for her art.

Her work l’Hotel, where Calle took a job as a chamber maid, using this access to take images of each hotel room. These images contained the beds, the clothes and the belongings of unsuspecting guest – but who were these guests? Calle then wrote texts, imagining the lives of the people whose personal space she was inhabiting. I like these imagined texts – this is something I have been working on aligned to a project for Assignment 3.

Her work with Paul Auster (of New York Trilogy fame), in which he invents a fictitious character that Calle will then aim to become, again blends this line between fact and fiction. Calle even created an art work as the fictitious character – so how she separated the creative process in her mind is intriguing.

Can you think of an adventure you could go on – however banal it may seem – that would put you in a different subjective position than you are accustomed to when making photographs? I like this idea and may use this soon. Going on a train journey and taking stills of people surreptitiously seems rather tame now – I should probably go to the airport and queue up at the ticket desk and buy the exact same ticket as the person in front of me – see where it takes us.

Is there a job you could take that would give you access to a certain kind of subject that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to? I would imagine the Bin Men of Beverly Hills would have access to quite an interesting montage of some interesting lives. Then again, by the sound of it, they probably have their own TV show on TLC.



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