Photography Is isolation – Part 1 Main Project

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Assignment 3/4/5 Major Project - Isolation

This post summarise my first paper on Isolation.

The full transcript  available on request and this post highlights a few extracts from it.


This paper explores the concept that photography is all about isolation and why it is so important in any photograph that needs to impact the viewer. The first part of this document, studies isolation in art, and highlights its importance across a range of art disciplines. It will then focus on why the photographic version of isolation is so unique and powerful before discussing why some writers are critical of its power. The study of isolation then look at some of the reasons why isolation is at the heart of how we see and what drives us towards being engaged with a photographic image. The final section explores a range of photographers works to show both the variation and the power of their technique of isolation.

Key Findings and Conclusions

  • Isolation is practiced by all artist and is an essential ingredient for creativity, and is used to focus and engage the viewer. The key differentiator for photography is that its process of isolation is instant, whereas in other art forms it is a journey.
  • Photographs capture a trace of reality, and isolates it on film or digitally. Because of this, it has the power to be more influential because people believe what they see in a photograph as ‘the truth’. This power has worried a number of critics who distrust certain types of photography, (such as photojournalist ), but has delighted the advertisers and the media who use it to sell stories, ideas, and merchandise.
  • Our brains and eyes used isolation to process the world we live in. We focus in on what is important to us, and let our subliminal mind do most of the work as we only see/notice about 10 % of what is around us. Therefore a photographer has to try and identify the right ‘ brain/eye’ triggers that will draw the viewer into their pictures.
  • All of the photographers reviewed have a defined style that acts as a recognition trigger to initially catch your interest and then they provide the focus for the viewers attention which triggers the emotional response in the Limbic system of the brain. In most cases this involves technique at such as isolating the subject, isolating a moment in time, or providing visual clues that takes the viewer away from the real world into the dreamscapes that then drive other thoughts


Part 1 Isolation in Art


All artist strive towards isolating their work from others – to provide an uniqueness as well as special emotive response for their viewers. This is often translated as their personal style or ‘fingerprint’, and genre, but the process of isolation goes much deeper then this and is found within the details of their art. I believe that it is through the processes of isolating one thoughts about a work of art, that true creativity is born. This is true of my own work as well as through studying other artist across all disciplines – evidenced by the findings of the BBC program called ‘What do Artist do All Day. For more details, see the blog links at the end of this document. (BBC, 2012)


What do Artist Do all Day, – BBC 2.

I will use the program called ‘What do Artist Do All Day’ to illustrate how different artist work and how they use isolation as a means of creativity and for producing their work /exhibitions. These programs appeared on BBC iPlayer and were available for several weeks therby allowing me to make detailed studies on how other artist worked.

The following artist were studied:-

Cornelia Parker – an installation artist who creates some amazing and tranquil pieces of work, that were often created with an act of violence, but which also possess an isolation dimension

Jack Vettriano. – a self taught painter who is one of Britain’s most popular artist, with his nostalgic paintings of a lost age of glamour.

Polly Morgan – a taxidermy artist who blends taxidermy with art to create wonderful installations

Norman Ackroyd – who is a famous landscape artist who focuses on a few selected themes for his series of work and uses a unique etching process for his prints


Photography and Isolation

Photography as an art form, has a special relationship with isolation, in that ‘isolation’ is it’s primary component. In all the other forms of art, the artist deploys time, technique, imagination and materials to produce their work. They use the processes of isolation to help them focus in on their idea and to help their creative processes. Conversely photography uses a mechanical/electrical device to instantly create the image based on a real event. It is the photographer who has to decide the moment in time, the location and the subject before they press the shutter and hence capture/isolate the image. The result of their decision can be quickly exposed, judged, replicated and distributed across a variety of mediums. No other art form is able to compete in terms of its speed to market, replication, reality and accessibility, and so it is often ‘isolated’ and shunned by the art world because of its potential power and availability. It’s perceived success depends on the viewer and whether the isolated image is able to trigger the desired emotional response that the photographer intended. The audience who view photographs is far larger then those who view the other forms of art, and hence the factors that drive the isolation parameters varies based on it’s use. This is clearly evident when comparing what is isolated in an art photography to ones used in advertising, news or a family album – all of them were taken for a purpose and were intended to illicit a certain response from the viewer

Part 2 How we see



Our isolated ways of seeing

We are hunters by design, and as such we are programmed to be on the lookout for our basic fears and desires, whether it is prey, dangers or a mate. Our brains and senses are hard wired to isolate signals from all around us and our environment, and then respond in either a conscious or a sub conscious way. One of our primary sense is sight, and both art and photography use this to trigger responses in our minds – ideally to create some kind of positive emotional attachment.

The way we see and respond to the world is very complex, and beyond the scope of this paper, however I have explored a number of key areas about the way we see and isolate our personal view of reality, which I have summarised in my blogs shown at the end of this document.

In summary, we have our own isolated view of reality which is based on where we are in the world, our state of mind and our field of view. Even when we are consciously looking at what is in front of us, we are only taking in a very small proportion of it, – around 10% , and this is just the information we need to make a response to the visual signals we are receiving at around 24 frames a second. Our brains are doing most of the internal processing, and triggering both conscious and unconscious responses to the events that our senses are picking up.

High level analysis

John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing – BBC, clearly illustrated that our eyes are constantly focusing and isolating parts of the world we see. The program opens with John Berger standing next to a picture of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, with a Stanley knife which he uses to cut out the face of Venus – in total silence – and present it to the audience as if it was a cutting from a piece of paper. The effect is that you don’t get absorbed in the painting as a whole, only the knife cutting into the canvas, and when he had finished you only focus in on the hole rather then the rest of the painting. What this tells us is that our eyes are continually moving and focusing on small details in order to make sense of the works and to trigger an emotional response – (In the Berger program it was disbelief, shock and anger). This emotional response is what a photographer tries to impart on the viewer by framing the photograph and its content in a way that focuses/manipulates the eye and then the brain to illicit the desired response. (BERGER, John, 2008)

John Berger was immediately able to get his point across simply and with few words, and to make them memorable – he used drama to stimulate our eyes and simple of television techniques in order to launch his program’s on how we see! This opening scene had additional resonance for me from an isolation perspective because not only had he isolated the head from the painting, but isolated our gaze.

Isolating the Personality in a Photograph.


Carl Jung believed that there four main types of personality, and these are:-thinking, intuition, feeling, and sensing, and that each of these have both a extrovert and an introvert component. (ZAKIA, Richard D, 2007)

It’s is therefore possible to appeal to these personalities through a photographers personal style and their subject matter – in effect isolating his audience.

The ‘thinking’ mans photographer would be someone like Harold Edgerton with his rational photographs that isolate a physical event like a drop hitting a surface.

The ‘intuition’ photographer would be someone like Minor White who uses the viewers unconscious knowledge and mystic to connect with his viewers.

An example of a ‘feeling’ photographer would be Ansel Adams who photographs were both rational and capture the deep feelings of the place.

Edward Weston would be an example of a ‘sensing’ photographer who’s images tend to be non rational but are intended to trigger other images and senses.

All these photographers deploy the concept of isolation differently, and all to great effect


Part 3 Photographers and their use of Isolation

This part of the document looks at a small selection of photographers and analyses how they use isolation in their work, and how it varies based on the type of photography that they do.



Edward Weston – Simple and Natural objects in Isolation

Like many of the great photographers, Edward Weston has a ‘deep intuition and belief in the forces beyond the real and the factual’, but he often dwells on the simple mystical properties of ordinary objects. He will focus on objects such as rocks, vegetables and even toilets in order to give a honest yet mystical expression of these simple objects. He also uses light to bring out these characteristics, and will orientate the image multiple times until he finds the image that delivers the qualities he is after.

The emotions that his pictures bring to the viewer are personal and individual, as demonstrated when he produced his photograph entitled ‘Sensuous Peppers’. Weston interpretation of the images was that it ‘showed visions of sheer aesthetic forces’, his friends thought it was ‘ erotic and mystical’, whereas his lover Modotti thought they were ‘pure and perverse’.

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At a practical level, a good photograph is more about being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to take then the type of camera, skill and technique. My ambition is to show how anyone with a camera can produce great photographs when they visit London.

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