Repetition in photography

Repetition happens everywhere and all the time. Our hearts beat approximately 72 times a minute, our eyes blink 100 in an hour, and the blood in our veins flows almost 3 kilometers a day. The earth spins around its axis once a day, the moon rotates around the earth once a month and the earth orbits the sun in a year. Repetition is something natural, something that has always been present.

Repetition is also needed. We use thousands of words a day, we can drive a manual car without thinking about changing the gear, and we know what to do when we go to the local grocery store. Without repetition all of this would need huge effort. We might not remember how hard it was to learn how to speak, but I am sure everyone remembers how hard they found driving the manual car for the first time, or learning any new skill. ‘Repetition is the mother of learning’ is not just a worn out saying, but it is true. By using repetition, the famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner managed to even teach a pigeon how to play ping pong.

Repetition is also needed. Without it everything would be chaotic. We would feel like newborns all the time, if everything changed constantly. We need routine, and many of us find it comforting, and many times it makes us feel we are in control of what is happening around us.

Interestingly enough the element of repetition can be seen in photography as well. Repetition can be used to create unity, cohesiveness, rhythm, vividness, harmony or organisation, but it can be used to get our attention as well, or it can decrease the identity and value of one figure. Visual patterns comfort us, because we can assume what happens next in the pattern. This harmony what patterns create can also be used to emphasize something, when one suddenly breaks the pattern.

This blog’s aim is to show different forms of repetition in the photography, and introduces some of the artists, photographers and concepts that has been influential in my own photography during this study-unit.

Influential artists

When I started searching artists that specifically use repetition in their art, I got stuck. I found out that pretty much almost every artist used repetition in a way or another, and that repetition is actually one of the main elements of visual arts (Israel, 1997). After hours of research I found Frank Stella, American painter and printmaker, (http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=5640), and his almost hypnotic paintings. What fascinated me was the way his artwork seem so simple but at the same time not boring. It surprised me how long I stared at such simple geometrical patterns, without feeling bored.

Below you can see a painting called Fez (2) painted by Frank Stella. It is a good example how repetition can create a sense of continuity. When I look at the lines it feels like they will continue outside of the painting.

I can see so many different pictures in this one picture. Is it 4 separate squares or just one big square? Is there continuity?

When I did my research on the history of photography I came across Eadweard Muybridge (http://www.eadweardmuybridge.co.uk/). Muybridge is famous for photographing movement. He took so many pictures of the same moving figure that in the end those pictures together create a movement. In order to do this Muybridge needed to photograph the same items repeatedly, and that is why I found him relevant to my topic.

'Lawn tennis' Animal Locomotion plate 298, 1887 Collotype.

Andy Warhol’s (http://www.warhol.org) art is a good example of repetition as well. I love the way how his artwork has a meaning that really makes you question the way things work in our daily lives. His artwork ‘Green Coca-Cola bottles’ made in 1962 is a good example of decreasing a value of one figure by repeating it. This artwork summarizes the downsides of mass-production and the lost of individualistic products, and creativity. Ironically the Coca-Cola brand, symbol of capitalism, reminds me of communism when repeated.

Green Coca cola bottles

Other photographers that I found influential during this study-unit were Gordon Parks, Sol Lewitt and Stephen Wilkes.

Gordon Parks’ photograph ‘Ethel Shariff in Chicago’ taken in 1963 is a photograph of women. By repeating the figure of woman the Parks creates unity between these figures. The emphasis is on the woman in the middle of the picture, but at the same time I have a strong feeling that all those blurred woman behind her are supporting her.

By repeating the figure of nun, there is sense of harmony in the picture. However the emphasis is on the nun in the front, because all the other figures are blurred. Nevertheless it feels like all the nuns behind her are supporting her.

Sol Lewitt’s artworks were appealing to me, because of the repetitive patterns in the sculpture he uses. Splotch no. 3 (2000) below is one of my personal favorites. It is interesting how the colorful sculptures somehow seems to create a pair with the skyscrapers at the background.

Sol Lewitt uses repetitive patterns of sculpture in his art.

Stephen Wilkes photography inspired me because of the movement in his pictures and the various small details. One of my favorite pictures from him is the series of pictures he took when he spend 24 hours inside of the Walmart in 2000. Below you can see a picture called ‘Fortune cashier’.

Stephen Wilkes did a time-lapse experiment in the Walmart. I find it interesting how the colors and shapes in the Walmart actually create a pattern.

My own photos

I tried to find repetitive elements and patterns in both nature and in the urban environment, and actually found out that nature is a lot better in forming nice patterns, than the urban environment.

Nature’s cloning: the natural repetitive patterns

In the first three pictures I used the macro setting in my camera to take these photos of different plants. It is fascinating how the nature forms identical shapes. I learnt that by using the macro setting you can find shapes in the plants that your eyes would rarely detect. All these plants are a lot smaller than they look like in the pictures.

Nature’s cloning part 1.

Nature’s cloning part. 2

Nature’s cloning part. 3

Nature’s cloning part. 4

Repetitive colors and shapes in the nature

I tried to photograph things in the nature that repeat the same colors, and that way creates harmony in the picture.

Metallic flower

The shadows in the Yarra river

Urban life and repetition

Many skyscrapers = a city

Adorable break in the pattern

After all the trees

Sandford bridge

Cables and cars

Urban reflection

Cupcake heaven

Urban chick

Original color?

If I was a Matrjosjka doll, how would I look like?

References

Biondi, E, Jacobs, C, Koepke, G, Knepfer, R & Posner H 2000, American photography, HarperCollins International, New York.

Davis, D 1982, Photography as fine art, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London.

Israel, G 1997, Artwise Visual Arts 7-10, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Melbourne.

Stepan, P 1999, Icons of photography the 20th century, Prestel Verlag, Munich.

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