Category Archives: Women

Victoria Meng: Book Review – Susan Sontag’s, On Photography

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Venus and the Rags. Photo: Victoria Meng, Copyright 2018

 

Photography and Text by Victoria Meng, Copyright 2018

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Book Review – Susan Sontag’s, On Photography

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Raw emotions frozen in time, the essence of an era preserved forever, ecstatic motion immortalized in texture. Empirically, photographs are magical. From light and film, life is created within two dimensions, from detail and abstraction comes an irresistible invitation to stop and stare.

Yet the incredible experience of viewing a masterful photograph is inherently linked to the process behind the camera. Susan Sontag’s On Photography, ultimately invoked within me the idea that photography is far more than just capturing reality. Rather it is creating a new reality reframing the world to illustrate both metaphorical and literal light and darkness.

Interestingly, Sontag strays away from fixating on a photographer’s inherent talent, expressing that “time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.” So it seems a true differentiator of great photographs lies in the ability to preserve fragile “ethical content” and to convey the emotional charge of a moment. I now understand that by hiding more of reality than it exposes, photography is infinitely flexible. The most mundane scenario can be made exotic and dangerous, while the strangest of subjects can be humanized.

Another fascinating facet of photography was revealed in Sontag’s discussion of Surrealism. Defying conventional associations between Surrealism and imaginative, albeit alien, interpretations of life, Sontag’s emphasizes a discussion of politics and class. In her view, “what renders a photography surreal is its… intimations about social class”, that Surrealism itself is a bourgeois disaffection. This resonated with my own concerns about the ethics of documentary photography and the concept of voyeuristically capturing the plight of other human beings. Here the documentation of strife becomes “the gentlest of predations”, especially when one has not experienced that strife first hand. The danger of social tourism through photography is especially pertinent now in the social media age, and as I continue my own journey as a photographer empathy will be an added dimension I will strive to capture.

However, the potential for exploitation in photography is also coupled with the potential for exploration and celebration. Later essays in “On Photography” explored the idea of democratizing beauty through photographic interpretations. A camera can introduce paradoxical elicitations of aesthetics, either being extremely forgiving of flaws in a subject or exaggerating those flaws to the point of creating a newly invented interpretation of beauty. I find this unconventional view of the world inspiring as it creates within the minutiae of everyday life the potential for ingenuity. 

The idea that potentially any subject can serve as a blank canvas for crafting a message, or what Sontag so eloquently describes as “sensorially stimulating” confusion, inspired my choice of image for this report. For greater context, my grandfather, who first introduced me to photography, accompanied me to the National Mall this summer. As we weaved between museums trying to avoid Washington’s scorching August heat, we eventually wandered into the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Upon entering the building, I can’t say that I was instantly impressed. Paintings came in the form of a few abstract dots on the wall, while a sculpture consisted of dilapidated car crash wreckage. Perhaps it was the heat exhaustion or simply my own preferences for non-contemporary art, but I felt in that moment that the entire art world had evolved into the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Looking around the Hirshhorn, I certainly experienced the confusion Sontag described, but no residual effects of emotion or humanity. However, upon wandering upstairs, “Venus of the Rags” provided me with a suspiciously timely answer. A cheekily ironic sculpture, which I have photographed above, “Venus of the Rags” relies on jarring juxtaposition to relate a simple message: art, like life, is what you make of it. Conventions about aesthetics are often overly institutionalized, even arbitrary. Perhaps the value we assign to the perfect figure of Venus could just as well be applied to the chaotic abstraction of the rags.

Ultimately, reading On Photography helped me consolidate an insight I’ve been struggling to grasp since my experience at the Hirshhorn this summer. I’ve now come to realize that rather than fixating on the inherent artistic worth of different subjects, I should apply my own creativity to explore the context of a presented reality. While it is ultimately impossible to gain 100% of the truth in any circumstance, when I am behind the viewfinder of a camera, I will try to capture with honesty and dignity my own understanding of the world around me.

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in Washington D.C., I was truly seeing.

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About The Author: Victoria Meng is a Sophomore enrolled in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Victoria Meng, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/victoria-meng-artist-statement/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Book Reviews, Documentary, History, Photography, Popular Culture, UPenn, UPenn: Photography Students

Julia Chun: A Review of Susan Sontag’s Classic, On Photography

Photo: Julia Chun, Copyright 2018

Photo: Julia Chun, Copyright 2018

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Photography and Text by Julia Chun, Copyright 2018

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A Review of Susan Sontag’s Classic, On Photography

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Throughout the book, I felt that Sontag’s messages were quite heavy, as if she was warning me about the weight my act of photographing could have. She described the act of taking a picture as an act of non-intervention, aggression, possession, work, interpretation of reality, beautification, and truth-telling. I didn’t agree to and couldn’t possibly resonate to all the claims she made, difference in view which probably comes from our difference in professionalism as well as our personal views. But to someone so newly introduced to photography and in a stage caught up with taking a visually pleasant photo, the points she brought up were a timely reminder on the weight and implications of photography. 

Since I never had the intention of becoming a professional photographer, the purpose of every photo-shoot has been either for class or for my own satisfaction. I thought of it as a great opportunity to bring to life what I always pictured in my mind or a way of recording a fragment of my life using professional equipment I didn’t previously have access to. Its consequences were never heavy. But regardless of what my end goal was, I realized that some picture had to be captured in a certain way to fulfill my intention. Activists giving political speeches would be captured at the moment I felt best represented them, based on my subjective view of the matter. If I choose to take a picture of a particular moment, I am deciding to do so rather than taking an action to prevent something dangerous from happening or even asking my subjects to put themselves in the particular situation.

So although I may never grow to be a photographer whose pictures are used to let the citizens of the country reveal the horrors of war, while I continue to grow as a photographer aware of everything a picture could do, many of the points Susan Sontag made in the book will be relevant to me.

There were also points that just struck me, which made me happy to know that someone so professional also had the same experience in the journey as a photographer. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed”. I always want to capture the best representation of each subject and I feel a strong sense of possession when I take a satisfying picture. Consider the picture below for instance.

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About The Author: Julia Chun is a computer science major enrolled in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Julia Chun, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/julia-chun-art-dance/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life, UPenn: Photography Students

Victoria Meng: Artist Statement

 

Photography and Artist Statement by Victoria Meng, Copyright 2018

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October 2011. I could contain the world within 8 megapixels with my first point and shoot camera: a small purple Nikon CoolPix. I was off on a school trip and my parents wanted me to capture every moment.

After a week in Washington D.C., my new photo gallery was not quite what anyone had expected. Sure, I visited famed monuments and attractions, the pride of our nation. But, my artistic vision did quite not reflect that. 50 photos, for example, were dedicated to the White House lawn, or at least a squirrel on the White House Lawn.

At the time, my eccentric view of the city was definitely not borne out of genius, but rather attention deficit. However, I do believe it embodies an important sentiment. The idea, that once in awhile, as we go through the motions of our chaotic lives, we should stop and look around. If you have the time and a hint of humor, the streets of any city can be brimming with life, excitement, and indeed squirrels.

I began this project, wandering through some of Philadelphia’s most iconic neighborhoods and tourist attractions, looking for things that were out of the ordinary. Instead, I found among the kaleidoscopic streets of our city, something extraordinary. I found, that for perhaps the first time since I was a seventh grader in Washington D.C., I was truly seeing.

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About The Author: Victoria Meng is a Sophomore enrolled in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Victoria Meng, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/victoria-meng-24-hours-philadelphia/

 

Also posted in Architecture, Blog, Documentary, Environment, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel, UPenn Photography

Diary: Maggie. Portrait of the Day

Portrait of the Day: Maggie.

Portrait of the Day: Maggie.

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Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018.

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Portrait of the Day

I met Maggie back in the 1990’s during a period when I was photographing a lot of young women in my hometown of Philadelphia.  Maggie is the daughter of my old friend; Neil Stein the visionary restaurenteur who transformed the Rittenhouse Square area during the early 1990’s with the birth of the Stripped Bass and later Rouge, boutique dining at its finest. Neil was a fan of my work and amongst the early collectors of vintage prints from the collection. 

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To see additional Diary entries  from this period, click herehttp://tonyward.com/2017/07/07/diary-isabella-reneaux-first-sitting/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Diary, Erotica, Fashion, Film, Glamour, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Ria Vaidya: Icon

 

Photography and Brand Concept by Ria Vaidya, Copyright 2018

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ICON

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Psychotic but Iconic

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An icon is a symbol. They are people that represent something significant. In this generation, the spectrum of fashion style has been expanded. One of the emerging trends of this generation is the idea of all black, grey and white, also known as monochrome. In the past, being bold in your fashion often had a lot to do with the colors you showcased. ICON is a clothing line that encompasses an individual who chooses to live as a bold minimalist. The brand plays on the irony of how a minimalist who chooses to stick to monochromatic colors can be bold too. ICON is meant to show that deep within these dark color schemes lies a personality that can be interpreted in many ways. A bold minimalist individual could very well be psychotic, but nonetheless they are iconic.

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About The Artist: Ria Vaidya is a Senior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2018. To access additional articles by Ria Vaidya, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/ria-vaidya-psychotic-iconic/

 

 

Also posted in Accessories, Art, Blog, Erotica, Fashion, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, UPenn, UPenn Photography