September 29, 2004
Hungarian Photography Past and Present Pt. 1
One of the great pleasures of the web as a resource is having access to vast archives of interesting photography representing movements, genres, influential individuals, and even the output of entire countries, at least when put together by diligent, hard-working and (reasonably funded) archivists. One of my favorite examples discussed in the past was the Side Photographic Collection, and the Eggleston Trust has gotten off to a great start with its website devoted to William Eggleston's work and what has been written about him.
Another recent and pleasant discovery is the amount of good Hungarian photography online, available through two or three art and photography portals. I’ve never known much about Hungarian photography, and looking to certain big names (a/k/a the "great men/women" theory) to serve as a guideline doesn't work; highly prominent natives like Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Robert Capa left the country early and produced much of their greatest work and thinking elsewhere. Their output doesn't lend itself to pigeonholing obvious tendencies or trends in the photography coming out of their native country.
I had personally tended to lump what little I had seen from Hungarian photographers in the past with work from other Eastern European countries: a little bit of avant garde here, a little bit of surrealism there, and some hard-hitting photojournalism from rural areas as well, with Communism and its aftereffects providing the fuel. Horribly simplistic, I know -- there's more than just fiddlers, fat ladies, farms and photograms -- and there's clearly more nuance to be teased out on the intertwining of Hungary's political and cultural histories, given that the country occupies a more unique position in having been the subject of numerous upheavals historically, and yet managed to get through many of them and transition into capitalism and globalization (for better and for worse) more cleanly than a number of its neighbors.
I thought about some of this as I encountered the work of Tamas Nagy and Zsuzsanna Kemenesi online at the Blue Sky Gallery. Both Hungarian photographers with highly graphic work with mystical overtones. Their work can be admired on its own merits, without thinking much of country of origin…but nevertheless, I was curious enough to do some research.
Tamas Nagy tea-toned image
As it turns out, online image resources are substantial, as well as resources like the Hungarian Museum of Photography. Unfortunately, I haven’t found as much historical perspective (at least in English) provided in the form of essays or critique, but the photographic archives are substantial enough to provide at least a flavor for the wealth of photographic talent in Hungary dating back over a century.
1) A good place to start for an overview is this tour through some of the leading lights of Hungarian photography in the twentieth century (including giants like Moholy-Nagy and prominent but unknown photographers like Joszef Pecsi and Kalman Szollosy).
"Darling" Kalman Szollosy image
2) Then there's the project Taken In Hungary, which presents various images taken in Hungary by foreign photographers – a view from the outside looking in – which includes the contributions of notables like Sylvia Plachy, Inge Morath, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. (Warning: navigation through this project is a bit counterintuitive, but it's fascinating to see how many of these photographers used Hungary as a subject)
3) Move to the present, and check out the ample contributions of contemporary photographers and photographers working with alternative processes at the Foundation for Hungarian Photography, which is a real treasure trove of interesting photographers and images…here are a few of my favorites, and I’ll mention a few more in another post.
"Korinthosz" Gabor Kudasz image
*Andras Bozso uses alternative processes to produce superb portfolios of portraits ("Ferc" and Manipulated Portraits") and of the homeless, which he renders anonymous through creative use of blur and toning. Outstanding work.
Hajlektalanok 2 Andras Bozso image
* The aforementioned Zsuzsanna Kemenesi has a more substantial portfolio of graphic, black and white images with a surreal, shadowy sensibility at the foundation:
Zsuzsanna Kemenesi image
* For those who can't get enough of alternative process still lifes, including photograms and cyanotypes, Gabor Kerekes has a large number of portfolios devoted to various subjects, all highly accomplished. In the best of these (like in Sense of Orientation), the abstraction achieved through the processes and toning provides a level of interest that keeps the images from being merely pretty or ornamental.
* István Halas' portfolio consists exclusively of diptychs, consisting mostly of graphic color images, which are haunting and elliptical.
Istvan Halas diptych
Sarolta Szabo image, from Pleasure series
More good stuff to be recommended in Part 2 of this post...
September 21, 2004
Photographer Updates, and Two More Unique Perspectives
Some updates on photographers I've discussed in the past whose online presence has been updated thanks to current or recent exhibitions, or where additional information has popped up...plus two more peculiar and interesting photographers:
* Alessandra Sanguinetti was a real find for me when I talked about her a few months ago, and it seems she was popular with at least a few visitors here, based on emails and other website links I noticed. She's not terribly well-known, even though she's with one of the better New York galleries for contemporary photography, but it looks like she may be gaining more visibility with a new exhibition at Yossi Milo. The Yossi Milo site has some images I hadn't seen before, and of course if you haven't checked her out, you should...playful, colorful, dreamlike settings of two striking girls growing up, and it never gets too sentimental or weighted with false drama.
* Greg Miller's romantic and interestingly staged photographs of Italians got a recent write-up and feature at Digital Journalist that I missed until now...when I first wrote about Miller, I speculated that he was using a large format camera, but I figured it was 4x5. Now I find out he's been using an 8x10 Deardorff, and he loves it mightily, based on a few rambling and highly entertaining video clips (available on the front page of the feature). As I've been shooting 8x10 myself for the last five or so months, I couldn't help but be entertained by his descriptions about the burdens and pleasures of using the Deardorff...my favorite part is when Miller confessed to even taking the 8x10 on his honeymoon.
It's nice to see a site like the Digital Journalist have an open mind to work like Miller's...photojournalists can get rather self-righteous about staging in photographs, but the article on Miller recognizes the artifice in Miller's work (8x10s don't exactly have the ability to capture the decisive moment) but nevertheless acknowledges its charm and beauty. In my original post, I liked the work a lot myself but had some reservations; with the additional context provided by the interviews and article, and the chance to look at even bigger images, I've really warmed up to it.
Miller's camera and subjects
* Machiel Botman mixes words with moody black and white photographs to create mini-dramas laced with mystery, abstraction and (according to his profile) small bits of autobiographical detail. He has several portraits online that use the gradual accumulation of words to fill out profiles of his subjects; he also has stand-alone images at the Glitterman Gallery, the best of which use blur and abstraction creatively (though not ostentatiously).
"Marika" Machiel Botman portrait with words
* Croatian photographer Mario Lalich's work is more commercial, crowd-pleasing, and occasionally more garish and vulgar than any of the other artists mentioned here, but he's also got a very interestingly skewed perspective in the best of his highly graphic and surreal color images.
Mario Lalich image
September 16, 2004
Female Portraits of Awkwardness, of Remaking Oneself, and of Beauty
* The awkwardness of adolescence and the onset of sexuality characterize the female portraits of Hellen Van Meene, whose images are featured in the latest issue of Aperture. Her work can be seen online at her own website, at the Matthew Marks gallery website, and over at postmedia. The online images look good (if somewhat flat color-wise), but the magazine images are really lovely -- a great selection, with luscious color. Check it out at the newstand if you get a moment.
As the magazine article and these online write-ups (1, 2) note, what appears to be quietly eerie documentary is actually the product of very elaborate staging, though the staging serves the purpose of teasing out and underlining certain unpleasant realities of being a girl at a particular age, while maintaining a simultaneous undercurrent of fantasy.
* The work of Margie Geerlinks also explores the nature of identity and sexuality, but more aggressively asks questions about beauty and expectations in her more explicitly staged, conceptual, and confrontational photographs. An article about Geerlinks can be found here , and an extensive portfolio of images here; a few more from artnet here.
"Living Dolls" Margie Geerlinks image
* Geerlink's work can also be found in a collection of images by highly regarded women photographers presented by Dove Canada as part of the project "Beyond Compare: Women Photographers on Beauty". The exhibit, according to Dove, "speaks to the uniqueness of each artist's interpretation of beauty...Dove's hope is that this work will help increase the number of women who take great care of themselves and feel beautiful each day". This type of corporate project sounds like the recipe for an icky disaster, but the diversity of talent represented is very impressive, including such decidedly non-mainstream photographers like Laura Letinsky, Desiree Dolron, Tomoko Sawada, and Julie Moos.
A certain brightness and uniformity of presentation is nevertheless inevitable (some of the edgier photographers come across as glossier and more girl-powerish in this context than they might have intended, especially with only one image per photographer), but on the whole it's quite interesting and well-intentioned. Your mileage may vary, of course.
"Friends and Enemies (Anne and Bayley) Julie Moos image
* Finally, Amanda Tetrault is a Canadian photographer with a reasonable establishment pedigree as a photographer (interned at Magnum, worked with Maine Photographic Workshops and with Steve McCurry), but she tackles her subject matter with a style and sensibility that is fresh, offbeat, contemporary, and frequently moving in its sense of the absurd (as is the case with her upcoming book about life with her schizophrenic father, Phil and Me). The Observer has an essay from Tetrault about the book and her father, and Photo-Eye has a book-tease. (Tetrault's website is also worth checking out for the "fruit nudes" and especially the "anecdotes" projects).
September 13, 2004
Imaginative Figure Studies, Color, and Controversy at National Geographic
Apologies for the sudden hiatus, but as they often say, stuff happens. Start of a school year, getting back to work, preparing photographs for final presentations in photography class and for open studios (35mm images, digital images, 8x10, you name it), planning for shooting upcoming events, just a lot going on. There's still a lot worth passing on and occasionally rambling about...I just have a lot less time to do it these days. So quickly:
* An imaginative and mysterious take on nudes and the human figure generally: Japanese photographer Kiriko Shirobayashi, with her portfolio, Sublimation. Her website also has other interesting projects worth checking out.
Kiriko Shirobayashi image, from Sublimation series
* One more imaginative, impressionistic portfolio involving the figure, which is really more about color and form, comes courtesy of Tapp Francke. Actually, Francke seems to really love color, based on her lieonize portfolio, filled with images that explicitly evoke color field paintings.
"The Dim Tangled Roots of Things" Tapp Francke image
* Just caught up with the latest issue of Cozytone, a web-based publication of cool and playful illustration and photography from various young artists, edited by Ryan Boudoin and Amy Shutt (who I've mentioned here before). Some of it might be a bit cryptic or navel-gazing, but it's a very nice effort overall with a lot of talent on display. I especially liked Gina Clyne's garage sale images (more on her website) and Sara Padgett's work (also mentioned here previously) among the numerous portfolios on display.
Sara Padgett image
* I somehow missed this when it came out: National Geographic is working through a Jayson Blair-type controversy with misleading photographs published in its July 2004 issue about the Barabaig people in Tanzania. Interesting reading.
September 06, 2004
Postindustrial Architecture: Portraits of Emptiness
* From my many years in corporate life, I've developed an odd fascination with empty and anonymously configured work and living spaces, and how they seem to replicate themselves so effortlessly nationwide, and increasingly, globally. Many photographers have been documenting this continually expanding post-industrial architecture of anonymity, but Daniel Mirer is one of the few that really seems to have the pulse of this phenomenon, perhaps because he had experience building many of these spaces while working his way through college. He writes particularly thoughtfully about what he is trying to do in photographing what would look to many people like...well, a lot of nothing.
From his essay, "Wishing Rooms -- Photographing Rooms":
"These architectural portraits, in their seeming matter-of-factness, demonstrate the primary function of the still photographic image: to record. What they record are both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of postindustrial experience. Spatially, by photographing these interiors from a direct, frontal point of v iew, at sufficient distance to include the entire space, I seek to reveal their flat, banal, melancholic, uncanny aspect, in which the individual vanishes in the glare of fluorescent light. And temporally, they evoke an often haunting sense of the ephemeral. They are cheaply built spaces for people constantly passing through, designed to be easily reconfigured to the shifting will of new tenants, product lines, or markets. There is the sense that nothing is permanent here.
My interest in these spaces derives not only from my desire to understand this world, but also from my feeling of intense separation from it. I come from a working-class background, and when I was working my way through college, I earned money by doing construction and demolition work, building and tearing down the very types of corporate spaces that I now photograph, spaces that I never had access to after the project was complete, unless I was brought in for reconstruction, when one tenant vacated and another moved in. I became fascinated by the ephemerality of these spaces and by the people who worked in them."
Daniel Mirer image, from Columbus, OH portfolio
The Priska Juschka gallery has an intelligent selection of Mirer's work online, but Mirer's website has the largest selection of his images organized geographically -- Finland and New York are good places to start, and the power plants/malls/trailer homes section provides some equally compelling slices of emptiness in all their horror. There's a sense of distance, and flatness of perspective and lighting that Mirer employs that makes these images so weirdly unsettling...I was surprised that I lingered over these images as much as I did, though clicking away in boredom may be an equally valid reaction (and would prove Mirer's point just as well).
This is not the "cold" aesthetics and distance that people typically associate with a more European perspective (such as the Bechers) -- in fact, Mirer demonstrates a subtle sense of dynamism in using diagonals and isn't above a sense of humor with a number of his compositions, such as the one below (which I love). But Mirer seems most effective to me when he isn't being overly nostalgic, romantic, or jokey...when he observes (which he does very well) and then provides the framing that lets the emptiness and facelessness of the spaces that fascinate him speak for themselves without much fanfare.
"Smoking Area", Mirer image, from Finland portfolio
(The image quality on Mirer's website seems a bit erratic to me, and there are a few better quality images to be found here, along with a little more written about him).
* Mark Peter Drolet is a Toronto-based photographer who also expresses a desire for documenting the postindustrial, and photographs empty spaces and plenty of roadside Americana (portfolios V and VI on his site), but with the more typically dry humor and totemic approach that these subjects receive from many commercial and fine art photographers. Drolet is a lot less glib than many photographers, however, and he's particularly good with color, light and the square image, and finding a unique angle on his many subjects. He also does a lot of portraits (1, 2, 3, 4 portfolios worth) -- typically with subjects in side profile or looking away or down -- and he has an excellent sense of style.
Mark Drolet image
September 01, 2004
Photojournalism, Portraiture, Storytelling and American Polaroids
Andrew Buurman is the kind of old-school photojournalist I like: modest but penetrating style, with an assured way of drawing out details and insight from a variety of situations, without hitting the viewer over the head with the point he's trying to make or with flashy technique. He is most well known for his excellent (and award-winning series) Serpentine Swimming Club:
"The Swimming Club are a tribe and I wanted to show them in an almost anthropological way reminiscent of the formal nineteenth century portraits that documented race and social, groups. They have a dress, a look that distinguishes them.. Swimming trunks, goggles and hats are also cheap and utilitarian and these pictures are almost the opposite of formal painted portraits, which by their dress and environment categorise the subject. The club includes a Member of Parliament, a teacher and a scalper, but these photographs make them indistinguishable."
Andrew Buurman image, from Serpentine Swimming Club
Beyond the Swimming Club, many of Buurman's other stories are worth looking at: I thought Signs, about the people who hold advertising boards on busy streets, was clever, and I also liked "Jumble Sale", about people and their purchases from (what I assume) is the equivalent of a yard sale or thrift store sale.
* Liam Sharp is a Canadian commercial photographer with the standard array of advertising and editorial shots, but he also has interesting portraits from southern Ethiopia, specifically documenting the influence of guns in the conflicts there. His Avedon styled portraits are the ones that caught my attention as being particularly chilling, though the whole folder is worth a look, even though the general image quality on the website is not nearly as good as what I've seen of his work in magazines (and for that matter, on other photographers' websites).
Liam Sharp image
* Natalie Schonfeld is another Canadian with a good mix of black and white and color photodocumentary projects on her website. I'm surprised I haven't run into more projects that use cross processing, as Schonfeld's La Mar project (about fishermen on the western coast of Venezuela) does. The project I found most interesting was Tueri: A Look Within, which uses a more impressionistic method of storytelling:
"In contrast to the straight photo documentary stream of photography this body of work is not particular to a certain group of people, a certain faith or a specific space. It is more about the condition of being, about the relationship between the individual experience and the collective, rather than simply the individual. We are conscious of being in relation to something else."
Natalie Schonfeld image, from "Tueri" series
* Finally, not technically photojournalism, but clever and funny storytelling regardless: Helsinki based photographer Mark Maher's American Polaroids. Sometimes it seems a bit too clever and obvious, but as a series, this accumulation of details and kitsch, combined with that inimitable Polaroid palette, is really good stuff.
"Military Surplus Madonna" Mark Maher image