Keith Arnatt (1930 – 2008)
Keith Arnatt was a conceptual artist and photographer, born in Oxford in 1930. He studied at the Oxford School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London and later taught in the Fine Art Department at Liverpool and Manchester Colleges of Art and Gwent College of Higher Education.
In the 1960s and 70s Arnatt exhibited widely as a conceptual artist, documenting performances in film and photography. In 1967 Arnatt began to make what he called 'situations' - involving objects and people situated in landscape and indoor settings which were recorded photographically, and in which the artist and his behaviour were increasingly important as subject matter. In Self Burial (Television Interference Project) (1969), Arnatt presented still images of himself gradually being buried further into the ground, so that when the images are run in sequence it is as if the earth has swallowed him. He said 'It was originally made as a comment upon the notion of "the disappearance of the art object"’. The project was aired on German television network WDR Television, Cologne in 1969, when for one week programming was interrupted without explanation for two seconds every night, and the image of Arnatt was broadcast.
Inspired by the photography of Walker Evans, August Sander and Diane Arbus, Arnatt began to explore the documentary photography form at a time when it was an unfashionable medium. He worked initially in black and white, before moving into colour and looking to details in his immediate surroundings for his subjects; these ranged from items unearthed in rubbish dumps to tourists visiting Tintern Abbey. One of his best known series is titled Notes from Jo for which Arnatt photographed and enlarged domestic reminders written by his late wife. Arnatt reveals the beauty, intimacy and humour in these seemingly mundane missives.
His later works, like Brick (1990), were printed on glossy paper with the object to the fore and the background thrown into deep black. The photographs are of a series of close up large scale images of banal objects including paint tins and garden ornaments. The artist was well aware of the analogy to advertising in this seductive rendition of the subject, but in Arnatt's work they are 'the last rites of consumer goods'.
Arnatt had no formal gallery representation but his photographs were toured extensively overseas by the British Council and a major retrospective exhibition entitled I'm a Real Photographer was shown at The Photographers Gallery, London in 2007.
Made in Britain Contemporary Art from the British Council Collection 1980-2010,China Federation of Literary and Art Circles Publishing Corporation 2010. ISBN 978-7-5059-7014-4.
Existing or coming into being at the same period; of today or of the present. The term that designates art being made today.
The term ‘Documentary’ was not coined until the 1920s, and then used by the British film-maker, John Grierson, to refer to moving pictures. It has a long and continuous history in British photography, reaching back to the invention of the medium. Many critics claimed that the documentary impulse, which can perhaps be best defined as the systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world, is inherent in the medium itself. It was this view which came to be known as the realist paradigm - the belief that a photograph represents a ‘slice of reality’ easily understood by the viewer. This belief governed understanding of photography from the moment of its invention in the era of positivism in the 19th Century, until it was itself subject to interrogation in the 1980s.
Early British practitioners included John Thomson whose visual essay Street Life in London (1876) documented the life of the London poor, and Hill and Adamson who portrayed, in the mid 1840s, the customs and way of life of the fisher folk of Newhaven near Edinburgh. In the early 20th century, following the emergence of documentary film-making and Mass Observation (a study undertaken in the North of England by the anthropologist Tom Harrisson), this new aesthetic found its most persuasive outlet in the mass circulation weekly magazines, such as Picture Post and Life. In time, however, pressure from advertisers combined with the restrictions of group journalism and curtailed the independence of creative photographers, with only exceptional individuals such as Bill Brandt able to survive as both a photojournalist and an independent photographer. His images of Britain’s class-ridden society along with his more experimental nudes, portraits and landscapes had a profound influence on a younger generation and established Brant as a major creative force in the development of modernism in Britain.
Mass Observation was designed to emulate the radical achievements of the worker-photography movement which had arisen in Germany during the 1920s. It proved influential on the evolution of British documentary, especially on those photographers associated with the Side Gallery in Newcastle. The gallery fostered a regional, community-oriented form of documentary practice. Its philosophy was rooted firmly in the notion that an authentic document can only be generated by those familiar with the local community. Photographers associated with Side Gallery included Sirkka Konttinen, Isabella Jedrecyck, Graham Smith, Peter Fryer, Chris Killip and Julian Germain.
It was, however, across the Atlantic that the more enduring legacy concerning the ethics and status of documentary was to be found in the work of the photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the American rural poor during the Depression. One of its outstanding photographers was Walker Evans whose use of signs and symbols (such as billboards and advertising hoardings) as images of desire created a text or narrative to accompany the careful sequencing of images. The direct inheritors of the photograph as social sign were the American photographers of the ‘social landscape’, namely Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus whose unsympathetic vision of the American landscape reflected the anxieties of urban life during the booming consumer decade - store fronts, billboards, graffiti and advertising. They chose to portray people, situations and artefacts in a casual and objective way that allowed the viewer to interpret the work freely; a strategy that became known as the ‘snapshot aesthetic’. One of those who experienced many of these developments first hand was the British photographer Tony Ray-Jones. His work was widely reproduced in the 1960s and his book A Day Off (1974) proved a particular inspiration for the generation of documentary photographers who developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The work of early documentary photographs can be found in the collections of the Royal Photographic Society www.rps.org)
The Mass Observation archive is held by the University of Sussex www.sussex.ac.uk/library/massobs/
The work of the Side Gallery can be seen at www.amber-online.com/gallery/
The archive for the Farm Security Administration is now in the Print and Reading Room Collections of the Library of Congress in Washington www.loc.gov/rr/print
A transparent, flexible plastic material, usually of cellulose acetate or polyester, on which light-sensitive emulsion is coated, or on which an image can be formed by various transfer processes.
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
Refers to either the material used to create a work of art, craft or design, i.e. oil, bronze, earthenware, silk; or the technique employed i.e. collage, etching, carving. In painting the medium refers to the binder for the pigment, e.g. oil, egg, acrylic dispersion. The plural form is media.