My choice of photograph to respond to is this one, from David Levinthal’s Wild West, 1986 – 1988 series.
Untitled. Levinthal (1986-88) AT: http://www.davidlevinthal.com/artwork/ww-86-88.html (Accessed 25/05/2017)
Here is my response to this photo.
Levinthal’s photo depicts a ‘cowboy’ and a native american, in mortal combat. Most of the image is out of focus, with dark red atmospheric lighting. If there is a focal point, it is the tomahawk… a potentially deadly factor in the struggle. It is slightly more in focus than much of the image, and the danger that it represents adds an element of fear and desperation to the scene. The shallow depth of field and unfocused nature of the shot disguise the fact that these are merely toy figures
The scene is reminiscent of those seen in early western movies, while the colour and unfocused nature of the image remind me of picture stories in ‘Boys Own’ type comics my father used to read in the 40s and 50s.
As a response to Levinthal’s photo, I have used two poseable figures from a Spider-Man 2 souvenir pack, to create a scene that would not seem out of place in the film itself.
Like Levinthal, I have used a shallow depth of field to obscure the fact that these are simply toys, and to remove all detail from the background (a photo of a night time cityscape displaying on my PC monitor).
Lighting was very simple… I held a small lamp up and to one side of the figurines as I took the shot, while my PC monitor provided backlighting.
As in Levinthal’s image, the scene is one of potentially mortal combat, and again, there is one aspect that is focused on… one of Doctor Octopus’ clawed tentacles. Like the tomahawk, it is a manufactured object that adds significant danger to the situation. In this image, it perhaps adds a greater sense of alarm to the viewer, as it appears to be reaching out to attack the viewer, rather than a character in the scene.
In terms of context, my image is a response to the ‘original context’ of Levinthal’s photo, as explained by Barrett (1997) ‘that which was physically and psychologically present to the maker at the time the picture was taken…’ (Goldblatt & Brown, 1997:114)
Eakins, Hoff, Simmons, Skoglund (1997:274) describe this ‘original context’ in terms of intent: ‘Levinthal’s aesthetic strategy is to generalize his images so that the audience is forced to reflect on the idea: heroism, struggle, action, catastrophe.’
In using a similar methodology, and with a modern take on Levinthal’s classic theme, I feel I have paid a fair homage to Levinthal’s work.
Eakins, Hoff, Simmons, Skoglund (1997) The Photo Book. London: Phaidon.
Goldblatt, D. Brown, L. (1977) Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts. New Jersey: Patience-Hall Excerpt AT http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf [Accessed 25/05/2017]