‘Talk about a picture’ takes viewers and readers on a stroll through some of the social and visual issues which surround ‘interpreting urban photography’
Australian Mark Brierley is an award winning professional photographer, with the proudest achievement to date his first exhibition “meretricious” in July 2018 in the Epson Print Gallery at Team Digital; he is currently working on his next project “Is This Not Art?”
Firstly, for myriad reasons the images chosen here fall into the genre of ‘art’. Secondly, this is not an exhaustive enquiry into Mark Brierley’s work. Rather insights (albeit in two parts) into some of the issues alluded to and some photographic aspects which are of interest to me.
I can’t pinpoint what it is about industrial urban photography (man implied but not physically present) that captures my imagination, it is partly to do with the fact that these images give the appearance of ‘random, universal’ shots on one hand yet on the other they are distinct and detailed: the artist has ‘especially chosen’ these aspects of the broader subjects.
Moreover, the ‘subject’ of the pictures selected here owe their existence to people: they relate very specifically to people we don’t know and will probably never know. But their lives (and sections of wider society) are intricately connected socially, culturally and economically to these images. A kind of stretching continuum of ‘unknown activity’ that keeps the world engaged; people involved in labouring, retail, commodities, and everything in between.
Embedded in every photographic image is social and cultural information, some of it obvious, some of it implied and some of it hidden.
Brutal honesty – I love containers – they resonate with me. They make me stop, look and dream! Apart from a predilection for geometric patterns, explicit in this image, I have a ‘romantic’ attachment to containers because they connote a sense of adventure, far-away places with rich cultures and histories: akin to reading Isabel Allende’s ‘Daughter of Fortune’ in a flash.
Invented in 1956 by American Malcolm McLean, generally, most people viewing containers would connote voyaging, trading, sailing, cargo ships, wharfs and ports, in a rapid slipstream of thought processes. Yet, because most of us don’t have containers lying about in our back yard and many of us associate them with the ‘romance of voyaging’ they hold a certain mysterious power.
So, what’s in this picture I will call containers.
While containers is packed with social, cultural, economic and environmental references (more on that later), two pictorial elements stand out. The first thing is the strong sense of man in communion with nature. Secondly, the viewer is presented with a flat façade of containers, disrupted by a depth indicator (the ‘long side of a brown container’, top middle). The generalised mellow light makes this one depth indicator (apart from the sky and clouds) just discernible as a pale pink shape.
This unique and subtle element disrupts the ‘flatness or thin veneer’ of the container façade. In conjunction, the viewer imagines the containers ‘filled with stuff’ rising up-and-up-and-up in greater and greater numbers; the height potential implied in the obvious void, and upwards projection of the white containers.
The containers are hard-edged, robust commercial boxes; their real purpose largely esoteric (this notion enhanced by the ‘intricate and peculiar workings’ on the front of the white containers) set against a diaphanous innocent sky, populated with soft floating clouds. Concomitantly, a powerful sense of man’s manipulation of and intrusion into nature.
While Brierley’s image speaks explicitly to ‘corporate trading’ on the ocean, not a bad thing in isolation, implicitly and by definition the image is associated with the exploitation of the ocean for profit.
Moreover, in the present day the impact on the health of the world’s oceans by large container ships is an issue of great concern to environmentalists and conservationists. For example, the Hong Kong Express travels 12,500 miles in two months, transporting up to 1.4million tons of cargo,
More than any other single innovation, the shipping container…epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works.
All this comes at a cost to the health of our oceans. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) cites many issues associated with cargo ships and their negative impact on the environment, including: ballast and consequential ‘invasive species’ discharge, as well as oil, sewage and garbage, and the ‘striking of marine mammals’.
Containers are directly connected to the concepts of urban growth and to ‘progress’ and ‘civilisation’, albeit the latter need qualification, meaning different things to different people.
I am interested in the impact we have on the environment and the idea that we have a responsibility to the world around us.
The photographer draws the viewer into the connotations of voyaging across the ocean, of ports and adventures. At the same time the containers remind us of trading, commerce and the manipulation of the ocean especially, and nature in general, for profit.
These combined attributes create an unresolvable tension in the viewer that taken to its logical conclusion, propels us to consider our role in all of this. We consume much of what the containers transport and as a consequence we are also complicit in the manipulation of nature for personal gain, either monetary or identity based.
The work labelled here, triangle with mop evokes some of the same impressions.
Patterns of interconnectedness spark off in many directions; physical and psychological, operational and visual: plus opportunistic and determined.
Among a number of things, firstly, is the explicit authority of the green door (all roads lead to…) and the secondary importance of the mop which points to the door: the door dominates the mop. Visually we are struck by strong verticals in the door, the pipe and the ‘imaginary rectangle’ made up of the mop, footpath and pipe ‘drawn out’ to repeat the shape of the door. The rust drips on the wall upper right mirror the obvious and imaginary rectangles. In this rational order, the mop cuts decisively across the strong verticals. The mop forms part of a ‘triangle’ as well as, half an implied pyramid.
Pyramids and triangles have powerful social implications.
An obvious example is mother, father child; another is ‘society, economy, environment’, and Karpman’s relationship triangle. Additionally, many corporate hierarchies exist within ‘pyramid’ structures: CEO at the tip of the pyramid with numerous intervening levels between the few at the top and the large numbers of minions making up the broad base. There is often a wide discrepancy between what those at the top are paid compared to workers at the bottom. The mop tells the viewer which end of the corporate pyramid the mopper occupies. This notion is enhanced by the fact that the mop has been placed opportunistically on the pipe outside the building; it is not important enough to steal. By association the viewer is reminded that the ‘mopper’ is at the lower end of the economic and social strata.
There are both static and active elements. The mop implies action, movement, application; it is either poised waiting to be taken up, or has just been discarded. There is the physical impact of water in the rust marks, as well as water implied in the drooping mop head.
All my images are left untitled so the viewer can form their own interpretation based on how they see and react to the image.
The above quote is key to the next point. There is an aspect of desolation or loneliness to triangle with mop which may be a consequence of ‘implied but absent people’, or ‘absent people implied’, and is a strong impression derived from my personal experience.
In spite of that, the drooping mop head owes its reason for being to use by people; captured in the generalised, dull light the ‘discarded mop creates an inverse sense of ‘abandonment’. The symbolism continues to include the ‘mopper’ having to mop when the building is deserted, away from ‘their family’ thus encouraging a sense of loneliness. The two white squares pop within our vision as subtle ‘corporate markers’, indicative of the fact that ‘corporate life’ goes on irrevocably; rain, hail or shine, the floors will get mopped by someone irrespective.
blue wall with traffic cone is a simple formal division into three sections; it is visually complete in this sense. The alternating symmetries and patterns are disrupted by both the shot of colour and the form inherent in the cone. I can’t remember where this phrase comes from but it is almost as if the artist is ‘memorialising in picture’ moments in time. The picturing of ‘life as increments’; little events that have both commonalities and contrasts. Once more the soft generalised light and languid blue contribute to a feeling of solitude and contemplation.
Inherent in this work is the random-ness of beauty: the stretch between ugliness and loveliness irrespective of place, form and reason: concepts which are uniquely personal and open to interpretation. Aesthetically, the image projects quiet beauty; ‘drenched’ meditative blue and alternating yet satisfying patterns. The cone is similar to ‘innocent photo bombing’ – both natural and accepted. Patterns of social convention can be altered with the slighest change in focus or intent.