Contextual Influences

This week we discussed image appropriation. From the iconic Andy Worhal’s Pop Art to Sam Taylor Wood’a Still Life images. The definition of appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.

Over the weekend I visited the National Portrait Gallery and The Photographers’ Gallery. Unfortunately the later was closed as they were preparing for their upcoming shows, so I took a peek in the print sales gallery which featured black and white prints from Sebastiao Salgado and a particularly strong image (see below) from an up and coming photographer, Tamas Dezso, who will be appearing at the gallery on 15th October for a book signing.


Tamas Dezso, Victor.

So with appropriation in mind, I explored the Simon Schama’s Face of Britain at The Natonal Portrait Gallery, a mixture of portraiture paintings and photography. I discovered a good example of Angus McLean depicting the Greek god, Neptune (see below).

by Angus McBean, bromide print, 1939

by Angus McBean, bromide print, 1939

This particular image was one of many Christmas cards which he created by constructing elaborate sets, along with detailed props and miniatures (see below), often taking weeks to produce.


Within the same collection were a group of images of Militant Suffragettes, which i was particularly drawn to. Shortly before the First World War, a new type of portraiture was born: the surveillance photograph.

The images displayed were official documents issued to institutions by the police to identify potential risks. Most of the images were captured undercover while the women were in the exercise yard in prison.

Whilst this type of photograph lacks any of the understanding between artist and sitter necessary in a portrait, the images are themselves striking and sometimes unintentionally heroic.

by Unknown photographer, Criminal Record Office memorandum, Issued 24 April 1914

by Unknown photographer, Criminal Record Office memorandum, Issued 24 April 1914

by Criminal Record Office, silver print mounted onto identification sheet, 1914

by Criminal Record Office, silver print mounted onto identification sheet, 1914

I find there is an element of voyeurism in surveillance photography, the act of watching someone who is unaware of you. Street photography has similarities as you may wish to capture your subject within their natural environment, without engaging or being influenced by you.

Reference from a previous exhibition at The Tate: Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera:-

More recently, photographers have taken surveillance technology as their subject, turning the camera back on itself. Andreas Magdanz has documented the surveillance cameras and look-out points of Pullach, a village in southern Germany from which the US spied on the Eastern Bloc, while Jonathan Olley has photographed the invasive watchtowers built by the British Army in Northern Ireland. Other photographers make visible what is usually hidden from public view. Mark Ruwedel’s photographs of sites on the US/Mexico border show evidence of attempted illegal crossings; while Simon Norfolk has photographed the almost invisible web of wires that enables governments to capture mobile phone conversations


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