April 29, 2004
More Women Who Rock: The Nymphoto Collective
Nymphoto is a collective of women photographers formed in 1999, representing an interesting and varied group of commercial and fine art contemporary approaches. Though the group does not preach for a particular aesthetic, and encompasses talents in many genres (documentary, fashion, editorial, etc), many of the photographers appear to favor color, square (and squarish) compositions, and a contemporary, unsettling sensibility....even the rare black and white documentary work that's displayed (like Nancy Pastor's images of Maryland tobacco farmers) has a dark, quirky, and theatrical feel.
From Nymphoto's statement: "In an effort to overcome the many odds stacked against the emerging female photographer, Nymphoto collaborates to initiate dialogues amongst our own members and the art world at large; thus creating a more accessible pathway for the female photographer." In another press release, the collective describes themselves thusly: "We are our own school; we are our own
representation; we are our own gallery."
Just about every artist in the collective has a strong pedigree and portfolio, which makes the entire site worth browsing. The photographers that happened to catch my eye were the following:
April Gertler combines anonymous rural and urban landscapes in conjunction with staged scenes to comment on travel and globalization. An effective sampling of her work can be seen at the nymphoto site, and more details and images can be seen on her personal site under "Projects- Fliegen", which presents her work as a series of interesting diptychs and triptychs.
"Brooklyn and Elise" April Gertler diptych
Candace Gottschalk has several curiously compelling photographs of women and sharp objects in her portfolio, with a strong sense of understated color and an interesting range of scenarios.
Candace Gottschalk image
Margot Knight is one of the more "in-your-face" image-makers in the nymphoto collective, with her highly surrealistic, jagged edge explorations of sexuality and bodily deformation. A lot of her work pushes the envelope, with results that are sure to polarize, but at its best (in particular, her portfolio "Taking Care", which can be seen in full on her web site), her work seems strongly heartfelt and even poetic, rather than didactic and gratuitously unnerving.
"Aftermath 01" from "Taking Care" by Margot Knight
Tema Staufer is a Minnesota-based photographer with a beautiful portfolio of saturated, almost mystically colored night landscapes from the Midwest.
Tema Staufer image
And Amy Yang has one of the more peculiarly diverse series of images in her portfolio -- luminous photograms of underwear juxtaposed with more reflective (and gorgeous) portraits of various family members. Her own web site shows off her work in larger sizes (no pun intended).
April 28, 2004
Kudos to A Very Stylish Designer, and Sleater-Kinney
A while back I had the site redesigned, but in the swirl of activity around the time of the redesign, I never gave adequate credit to Colleen, who is responsible for all the good things about the way the site looks now, and is just a terrific designer overall. She has her own fabulous looking blog, Une Very Stylish Fille, which has a list of her growing client base. (As for the bad things about the look of this site, blame them on me, as I forced Colleen to stick with a few of my annoying idiosyncrasies, like small text size and massive posts).
So thanks Colleen! And here are a few photos of the band Sleater-Kinney, a group we both love, that I finally got to see in concert the other day. Fantastic concert. For the photo geeks, the concert was a photographer's nightmare (at least, if you didn't have credentials)...I was quite a ways from the stage, and had to photograph through a sea of hands against changing (and very dim) colored lights, shooting wide open with 800 color film pushed to 1600. The result was mostly blurs against pitch black backgrounds, but some of the shots turned out better than I thought. (I've gotten decent results at other concerts with what I had, but I was generally much closer to the stage in the past)
I wanted to watch the show first and foremost, plus I was scared of having conspicuous camera equipment confiscated...as it was, I was questioned about the small bag I brought in, and told I'd get thrown out if I started taking pictures. But because the band is very cool and laid back with their fans, quite comically, the start of the concert was a sea of flashes coming from pocket sized digital cameras, with nary a bouncer in sight. Perhaps next time I'll bring a big flash unit with a bracket and see what happens. :-)
Corin Tucker soloing
Carrie Brownstein soloing
Sleater-Kinney Group Shot
April 25, 2004
Additional Sites, Street Photographers Talk, and Documenting Transitions
First off, a belated thanks to Phototalk for listing this site as "recommended reading" --highly flattering, given everything they have to choose from. Phototalk is a very interesting site in their own right for their focus on developments in stock photography, photoblogging, moblogging, and other topics relating to blogging and the sharing of images on the web. Good stuff.
Second, a couple of additions to the bostonstreet links that I have on my sidebar (representing the galleries of fellow photographers on a yahoo list and occasional dining group): Cathy and Patrick. Cathy has actually started a photoblog, which isn't exactly unique these days, except that she is particularly good at capturing a sense of neighborhood and people in her periodic entries, which most photobloggers have a tough time doing given their inherent shyness.
Need help getting over that shyness? Check out the tips offered by selected street photographers in Popular Photographer's May issue, with web exclusive extended interviews with these photographers. Links to the photographers' galleries, and an interesting accounting of these photographers' approaches to candid photography and their influences makes for entertaining reading. The street photographers' stated influences stretches wider than I would have expected, which is nice to see...they're avid fans of photography first, and not tied to a specific genre or approach that would limit their way of seeing.
As for Pop Photo, it's one of those magazines experienced photographers love to hate, with their catering to hobbyists and their consistently positive lens and equipment tests (leading to accusations of toadying to manufacturers). I find them less useful in terms of photo tutorials than the British magazines geared toward amateurs such as Practical Photography or Photography Monthly. But I like Pop Photo's goofy enthusiasm and their coverage of topics most "serious" photography magazines wouldn't dare to cover, such as distinguishing between the numerous flavors of inexpensive point and shoot cameras out there, or especially Herb Keppler's witty research into arcane equipment such as off-brand 500mm mirror lenses, or various inexpensive Eastern European and Asian cameras. Plus you can always find Pop Photo at a supermarket or an airport newstand if you're hard up for photography related reading far from home...it beats reading People anyway.
Apart from the interesting interviews and the perusal of the street photographers' own galleries, two worthwhile finds: Bee Flowers (courtesy of John Brownlow) is a fine art photographer who can make the statement: "my photography must crack open the everyday, the common and the banal, in order to reveal what lies beneath" and actually produce imaginative work that lives up to his statement. Russia and the West Bank are his main subjects, and the way he documents transitions and states of mind through unsettling photographs (and diptychs) of off-kilter interiors and mundane everyday objects is something that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Bee has a lot of outstanding stuff (a bit overwhelming, really) on his web site...a good start for me was "Soviet Sublime", his latest series, since I'm partial to diptychs and triptychs, and "Sublime" features a much more creative use of diptychs than I'm accustomed to seeing (and there are a lot of them at the school where I take classes).
Diptych from "Soviet Sublime" by Bee Flowers
Tom Wood is an Irish photographer who's documented the streets and youth in a distinctly contemporary manner -- it's more superficially "ordinary" and more disjointed than most decisive moment street photography, but is also more postmodern and layered in its presentation when viewing closely...his sensibility seems closer to someone like Paul Graham than it does to Cartier Bresson or Winogrand (though Winogrand has praised his work highly). I recall seeing numerous images from the "Bus Project" a few years ago in various magazines, and it's nice to see all the work collected here .
(UPDATE: the bus projects link is behaving peculiarly, so if you get taken to another page in the gallery, click on "artists" and "Tom Wood", and try clicking on the bus image again).
LONDON ROAD - CITY CENTRE, 1993 image by Tom Wood
Sorry I've once again been out of commission a little longer than anticipated...I was traveling and then things got crazy when I returned. I look forward to posting more about new discoveries and projects in the coming week. Here's part of what I was doing while I was away...photographing my sister's latest hip-hop dance production at the Hothouse in Chicago, and helping out a couple of dancers with their portfolios, while continuing some of my own experimental work.
Still from "The Girlie Show" at the Hothouse, Chicago
April 22, 2004
Powerful Documentary: The Side Photographic Collection
Is documentary photography dead? There have been frequent assertions of its irrelevance and much hand-wringing (going back nearly 40 years) regarding how compelling and useful a straight "objective" approach is in depicting certain realities.
It's a big topic that's been addressed in endless ways by various art and photography critics, and various waves of "new photojournalism" and "new documentary" have seemingly sprung up over the last twenty years, to try to go beyond the standard attempts at "objectivity" that tend to produce earnest but mostly uninsightful reportage, or (worse) conceal biases that provide a misleading and skewed perspective.
Documentary photography and photojournalism, in my opinion, will always have relevance, for there are constantly stories that demand our attention that images give greater illumination to...but a number of critics and essayists have argued compellingly that the best photography needs to go beyond the "photographer as dispassionate documenter" approach. In other words, documentary approaches should actively include the photographer's viewpoint, or at least some acknowledgement of the role of the photographer (or the institutions that employ the photographer) in telling and framing the story.
In this regard, an online treasure trove of documentary photographs, the Side Photographic Collection, belonging to the Amber film and photography collective, is worthwhile viewing. The Amber collective, based in the North East of England, formed in 1968 with the goal of documenting working class communities, and many of the online exhibitions depict communities in the throes of post-industrial transformation and displacement, with the photographers themselves often being active members of the communities they were documenting.
There are also galleries featuring the work of classic photographers such as Lewis Hine, Weegee, August Sander, Martin Chambi and many others, as well as more recent documentary and photojournalism work focused on issues in other countries, but the latter feel weirdly out of place. The documentary work providing numerous perspectives on the working class communities in the North of England were the most interesting and fascinating viewing for me, though there are many galleries focused on other European communities that are rewarding.
Many of the galleries present a somewhat romantic view of families and the working class life 20 to 30 years ago, but the best photo-essays don't shy away from the pain of the changes and displacement that disrupted their communities and personal lives. And even the romanticized stuff...even the simple snap shots provide an amazing time capsule documenting a way of life that seems very, very far removed from today. There are also written essays accompanying many of the galleries, though I longed for more specific explanations regarding a number of the photographs and projects.
Jimmy Forsyth image, from Scottswood Road exhibition
There are over 2000 photographs organized in several different ways, with a lot of images in black and white. It's easy to go through many of the galleries given the modest image sizes, though the sheer amount of black and white can make the journey a little wearying in a single session...the color photography, when it does appear, stands out significantly. But black and white has been used masterfully in many cases to present documentary realities effectively, even though web sized images fall short at times in making one feel the texture of these working class lives and places.
Here are few of my favorites from the vast collection at Amber Online, but if you have a soft spot in your heart for this type of documentary, you should definitely wade through as much as you can:
1) Nowhere Called Home -- the story of Sicilian immigrant workers traveling to Germany to work at a Volkswagen plant, caught between two cultures.
2) Meadow Well -- the resilience of a community in the late 1980s in North Shields in England fighting massive unemployment and poverty.
3) Ashington -- documentation of an English mining town in the late 1970s, early 1980s
4) Letters from Ernestine K -- haunting portraits of women at a psychiatric institution in Germany in the late 1980s
5) Scottswood Road --Irresistible early color photographs of a working class community in Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1950s/early 1960s
6) Steel Works -- One of several perspectives in the Side Collection on the former steelworking town of Consett. Distinctive and moving color photo documentary.
7) Writing in the Sand -- beach life in the North East of England between 1973 and 1988. A bit romanticized but superb photographs full of motion and fine compositions and light.
8) American Mining -- early documentation, circa 1940s, of American mining communities. One of the better non-European exhibitions in the vast Amber collection.
9) Sovinec -- documentation of one photographer's home village in Czechoslovakia.
10) Unclear Family -- a powerful multi-photographer exhibition documenting the experience of family in Southwest Durham in the UK.
Image from American Mining
Image from Steel Works
Image from Ernestine K
Richard Grassick image from Unclear Family
April 20, 2004
Flying Houses, Houses of Ill Repute, and Mating Performance with Photography
I'm going out of town for a few days, but I hope to be able to post once or twice when I have down time. In the meantime, enjoy another magazine with high quality design and aesthetics that incorporates photography...it shines primarily offline, but the online component is pretty ingenious at its best. 2wice Magazine started out as a more targeted dance performance publication with a special connection to photography, but it's evolved to more specifically act on "the desire to see film, design, art, fashion, and photography brought into proximity with dance and performance" as the editors noted in the introduction to the seventh issue.
Because I've been photographing dancers and have always had a special interest in dance of all forms (and because I also appreciate good design), I'm especially partial to 2wice, which has won several awards. Those who could care less about performance or names like Tharp or Taylor will still find a number of clever articles and much to admire about the design, but the photography may not be anything special, especially since the online version really skimps on the images for each article. It was nice to see a few images from Timothy Hursley's photographs of legal brothels in Las Vegas; he has a book out full of similarly highly saturated images...the book is almost too much of a good (or not so good) thing, based on a quick browse through in my local Barnes and Noble, but online there isn't quite enough. The issue I have with the book is that it's almost too straightforward in its presentation of the photographs. Online, though, there's more of an Egglestonian buzz to the color and detail in the few well selected images that are available.
Comforte's Suite, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, 1986, Timothy Hursley image
Even more entertaining and abundant are Peter Garfield's "Mobile Home" images, fairy-tale like photographs of airborne houses in the throes of destruction. There's a good selection in the "Glow" issue on 2wice's website (click on "Night Flight"), but you can also find a comprehensive selection of work here.
Mobile Home (Farm) image by Peter Garfield
Photographers slumming around the site might especially find the "Camera" issue of 2wice to their liking...not a lot of actual art photography, but articles on Martin Parr, the Twiggy campaign photographed by Sokolsky, and personal reflections on Zeiss microscopes and Minox cameras.
April 19, 2004
Signs, Places, and Distressed Polaroids: Looking Back At One Group Show
Group exhibitions of artists can be exhilarating and exasperating simulataneously. It's worthwhile to group the work of multiple artists around an open-ended theme, and see the work of well-known and unknown artists in a different light. Sometimes, a group show is used by a museum or gallery to recycle interest in their permanent collection or representative artists' work in an expedient manner -- though being the optimist that I am, I find even commercial expediency can produce pleasant surprises. The exposure for (relatively) lesser-known artists can be especially valuable for artist and viewer.
I randomly came across an online archive for the group show Inside/Out (held nearly two years ago at the June Bateman Gallery), and there are an impressive variety of contributions. I don't know how well the dots connect to the broad theme in hindsight, even with the extended essay -- it's difficult to judge outside the gallery, and there are many styles, maybe too many, represented in this show. The reward, then, is in seeing work from specific lesser-known photographers that caught my eye. A great start is Charlie Bidwell's spare and square images of signs and obvious landmarks (I'm actually starting to do some vintage sign photography myself), and Bidwell has one of my favorite artist's statements:
"I hate artist's statements. I use a lot of negative space in the work, it's up to the viewer to decide what it all means, if any meaning exists at all."
Charlie Bidwell image
I also liked Petra Ruzickova's impressionistic series on her hometown of Prague (a welcome antidote to the tourist trap image it's become known for in recent years). Artists with a more limited presence that also contribute some interesting images include Seth Taras and especially Philip Buehler's asylum images.
Ruzickova image, from Prague series
Seth Taras image
Finally, Gail Thacker from this exhibition deserves her own spotlight for her distressed Polaroid work, which I've seen before and still enjoy today. This kind of Polaroid work is hardly unique, but her work has always seemed to me just a bit fresher than most other similar attempts...and for such rough-seeming work, she uses the technique of printing B&W polaroid negs (specifically 665 film) onto color paper with real facility to produce interesting results, whether it's landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.
Gail Thacker image
April 18, 2004
Big Prints, the Art-Making Impulse, and Time-Motion Panoramas
One unmistakable aspect of photographs in most contemporary venues these days is their size: they seem to be getting bigger (and bigger and bigger), if my experience with AIPAD and especially the Armory show recently are any indication. You know things are getting out of hand when you see a 40x50 Sarah Moon toned print (as I did at AIPAD) and it actually feels small. The New York Times has an article on this phenomenon, "Why Photography Has Supersized Itself" (registration required). Here's one representative excerpt regarding Joel Sternfeld, whose landmark book "American Prospects" has just been reissued:
Joel Sternfeld first exhibited his series "American Prospects" at the Daniel Wolf Gallery in New York in 1980. The prints were 16 by 20 inches and 20 by 24 inches. This same body of work was shown last fall at the Luhring Augustine Gallery in prints that were 45 by 52 inches. Several years ago, Mr. Sternfeld had the original 8-by-10 negatives electronically scanned as a way to preserve them; the process also enabled him to make the larger prints on finer paper with better control over tone, sharpness and clarity. "We're at a tipping point," he said recently. "The digital print is becoming the look of our time, and it makes the C-print start to look like a tintype."
"Pumpkins" Joel Sternfeld image -- here's a classic shot that actually deserves to be blown up as big as possible
Because I've been out of commission the last few days, I've been delinquent in thanking everyone who's emailed me or commented here or linked to this blog. Thanks a ton to everyone (and I am just starting to catch up with email)...thanks especially to Marja-Leena and Rachael (whose blog has become one of my favorite working artist journals...it's no small trick to make others *feel* your passion as you work through your art, as Rachael does). Both women have chimed in thoughtfully on the question of "why make art?" on their own blogs, as well as commenting on the art-making impulse (along with a score of other artists) on Danny Gregory's blog "Everyday Matters".
Finally, I just got the new issue of Ag Magazine (probably only accessible to UK readers, since I have never seen this magazine anywhere in the US, unless you subscribed through Amazon like I did). The latest issue is just as enjoyable as the first one, which I wrote about in my blog a while back -- combination of fine art photography coverage, criticism, and darkroom and digital technique, with all of it being well-written and comprehensive. It includes yet another article on Daido Moriyama (as with the Modern Painters article, written in anticipation of the Moriyama retrospective at the Shine Gallery). It appears Ag really liked his recent exhibition in Paris last November. An excerpt:
"'One of the best photography shows I've ever seen.' Several people at Paris Photo last November were heard to say this about the...exhibition...including, incidentally the man who largely inspired Moriyama, William Klein. Depending on who said it, this remark was possibly a reaction to the show's presentation, which was exemplary, or to a body of work they were faced with for the first time -- one of the major bodies of photographic work in our time (and I don't say that lightly)."
Ag seems to feature at least one lesser-known photographer in every issue that catches my attention -- last issue it was Laurence Demaison, this issue it's Ansen Seale. Seale uses a chronoscope, a rotating digital vertical slit camera he designed originally for the production of 360 degree panoramas, except he's disabled the turning motor...and as a result, he's created surrealistic images that depict a series of moments in time through a distorted sequence of representations across the frame. The images are playful, artful, and oddly tranquil, and according to Seale, there's no post-processing or Photoshop trickery...all the effects are in the camera. The neatest paradox about Seale's time-motion images is that only moving objects register distinctly and clearly...static objects render as repeated lines and tend to smear.
Best of all, he has reasonably large images on his website, though I can't find an explanation of his technique on the site, oddly enough. Go check them out. (UPDATE: the explanation of his technique can be found at one of his galleries here. Thanks to the folks who went out of their way to actively point me to this information).
"Interference Pattern Detail", Anson Seale image
April 15, 2004
Anachronistic Photojournalism, and a Funny Fashion Story
Still not feeling perfect, so some quick nods to worthwhile stuff...
The latest issue of PDN has a feature on photographer James Whitlow Delano, who's had experience assisting or working with established photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Joel Meyerowitz, and Deborah Turbeville before moving to Tokyo 10 years ago, which began his journey through various regions of Asia, photographing these areas in the throes of change. He works mainly with a Leica and a single 35mm lens, cites as his major influences Atget and Cartier-Bresson, and works in soft-toned black and white with a highly pictorial style.
It feels odd seeing such anachronistic photojouralism...Delano has a great deal of beautiful work in his galleries, but this clearly feels like the photographer as tourist...having spent time in many of the cities he's photographed, I'm not sure how much insight I really get into them from his images, and the most problematic images flirt with National Geographic style Orientalism. The PDN article makes it clear that he has strong opinions regarding the destructive changes of projects like the Three Gorges Dam in China, but he appears to prefer not to channel his opinions through his photographs. To his credit, the most interesting of his images seem to raise questions in the nature of the compositions and the distance he establishes from his subjects. And his images do look great. I was partial to the images from the Siberia and China galleries...you may have your own favorites.
James W Delano image, from Siberia series
And a funny story to add to the fashion and fiction post from yesterday...I mentioned the ambivalent relationship photographers with regards to their fashion work, and Philip Lorca diCorcia is certainly a photographer who fits in this category. An excerpt from a gallery talk given by diCorcia last year at the Tate relates the amusing story of how diCorcia managed to find a rather different way to photograph Sigourney Weaver in dealing with the ridiculous demands of fashion editors. You can click on this link to listen to the talk on your media player (fast forward to around 38:20 on the talk to hear the story), but for the multimedia phobic, here's a quick transcript (imagine diCorcia in his best world-weary New York voice):
"The way it happened was…I was coming back from someplace, and they called me up, and asked “Would you like to photograph Sigourney Weaver?” and I said “Oh, alright” (audience chuckles).
And they said…”Well, so what do you want to do?” ...and I was really working on something else, and I hate that question anyway...
So I was irritated and so I said, I don’t know, I’ll photograph her with a f**ing chicken!!” and the editor goes “BRILLIANT!” (laughter from audience, louder laughter from diCorcia)
So here you go (even louder laughter)..."
April 14, 2004
Fashion and Fiction: Upcoming Exhibit of Great Interest
I don't have time to do this juicy subject justice right now, as I'm a bit under the weather, but there's a very interesting looking exhibit opening this week at the Museum of Modern Art in Queens, "Fashioning Fiction In Photography Since 1990". One of the ongoing themes in my posts has been the contradictory artfulness of the best fashion photography out there, and this show sounds almost tailor made for a pop culture, art and photography junkie like me. I've been aware of other museum retrospectives and fashion-themed shows, and fashion lifestyle images have been part of single artist retrospectives and shows exploring broader themes for many years now, but this is one of the first shows I've been aware of to tackle head-on the intersection of art and fashion photography.
I know better than to get my hopes up too much, though, regarding the scale and ambition of any such exhibit, given the curious sniffing about fashion images that comes from most art and political circles (including many of the artists themselves, who often find their fashion work a necessary evil). I hope to get to NY to see the show myself before its run ends in June, but there are two interesting early write-ups on the show: Art That Wears $780 Shoes in the New York Times (which is more of a roundtable discussion between fashion and art experts), and a review by Vince Aletti in the Village Voice.
The Times discussion is entertaining, but despite its length, it mostly dances around the issues raised by the exhibit beyond the most obvious hook, which is the art of storytelling that '90s fashion photography and conceptual photography share. Aletti notes something I'd feared about a show like this: the air of mocking satire hanging over the show (just to make it clear that no one actually, ahem, approves of fashion images). Nevertheless, the confluence of photographers like Tina Barney, Nan Goldin and Mario Sorrenti can't help but make for an interesting show, and given that the artists are each represented by a single fashion campaign with multiple images (to bring out the storytelling angle more explicitly), rather than freeze-drying and isolating individual fashion images to make them more museum-worthy, should make for an exhibit that stimulates some thought...maybe even opens up some minds.
Philip Lorca di Corcia fashion image, from W magazine, 1997
Both the Times and the Voice highlight the photographer that I would have guessed would be the centerpiece of an exhibition like this: Philip Lorca di Corcia, one of the greatest and most enigmatic photographers playing in both art and fashion photography over the last decade. There's a lot more to say about diCorcia, and I hope to be able to share some of my thoughts tomorrow if I'm feeling better.