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artistic influences: workplace (and a jazz song)

October 14, 2007

avedon_1969_staff members of WBAI

This is a photograph (above) of staff members of WBAI (an anti-war, non-commercial New York radio station of the 60s) including Bob Fass, Larry Josephson and Steve Post. It is a photograph made by Richard Avedon in 1969.

And this is a photograph (below) by Brian Griffith from a massive corporate photography project he has just completed for his client London and Continental Railways. He has produced a wide and impressive range of portraits of the people who built the Channel Tunnel’s high speed rail link.

brian griffin_lcr

The final work, a collaboration with art director Greg Thorton called Teamphoto, is exhibited right now at the German Gymnasium, 26 St Pancras Road, London until 19 November. You can view more of these photos here.

In a recent interview in BJP (3 October 2007, p.28) Griffin points out his influences, which were Avedon’s classic ‘In the American West’, Russian constructivism, Edward Hopper, David Lynch, 17th century painting and 1960s fashion photography.

Griffin, as seen in the photo above, depicts the men in suits in a rather humorous way, emphasising something of the egocentricity or conceitedness of the management. It is in fact a contrasting approach compared with the glorifying images of workers and labourers as seen in his other work.

Avedon’s influence nevertheless is stark: Both, in the formal arrangements (use of frame lines to crop figures and faces, merged bodies, lack of three dimensional space by removing foreground and background elements), and in the emotional impact of the photo, capturing something of isolation and egocentrism, nonetheless creating a sense of rather irritating but interesting, intense context.

Through a bizzare series of mental associations and following the viewing of these ‘workplace’ photos, I went seeking in my room for an old jazz record by John Coltrane, The Africa/Brass sessions. I played the second track, ‘The Song of Underground Railroad’ based on folk tunes from the past of African people in America. The songs of the underground railroad refer to the slavery period and had coded meanings to bring the slaves to freedom.

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